Sometimes, life is a beach

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 10:00am

I first heard of Jimmy Buffett in the winter of 1975 while living on Daytona Beach, Florida, in my shanty Irish camper, and raising standard issue hell on said beach and in the local saloons. Buffett’s name would pop up with some of the — ahem, characters — I played my guitar with at house parties and bars. Some of these same guys went to see him in Gainesville that winter, and said he was a great saloon player. He wasn’t a household name that winter; that would happen later. In 1974 he wrote a great song called “Come Monday,” which I’d hear on some country stations — the song has a great lyric, nice pedal steel playing, string arrangement, and a killer bridge. The song got placement on the Billboard, Easy Listening, and Country charts. In 1977, he wrote a little song called “Margaritaville,” and then Jimmy Buffett became a household name — he still is. The guy has had a hell of a run bashing his guitar and writing some great songs. And it appears that he’s made a beautiful dollar doing what he loves to do — good on him — and more importantly he did it on his own terms.

The music business can be a fickle way to make a living. It’s basically a stacked deck for newcomers because of the nature of publishing rights. If a musician gets a shot to make a record, the record company will probably take the lion’s share of the publishing rights — if not all of it —then they’ll put the musician on a road tour to go stump the record around and make some money. If said musician does a good job, and sells a mess of records, the company will let him do it again; it’s a simple business plan that benefits the record company. Subsequently, through some valuable experience, Buffett learned the game and played his hand accordingly. First, he started his own label called Mailboat Records — he would own all of his publishing. Secondly, he nailed down all of his own merchandising deals — a very smart move. Thirdly, he learned how to tour for short money. Finally, and most importantly, he kept making records and touring. Buffett didn’t really ever take time off from his job, and for a guy who espouses a laid back, sun baked, hang-on-the-beach lifestyle, I’ve got to tell you, this guy hustles! I remember reading an article about him in Forbes, and it became very apparent that this guy has serious business acumen, and the shorthand of his success is that not only did he work very hard, but he also cut out the middle man.

Ok, so maybe the guy works hard; however, that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy the slack time he does have. He likes boats, airplanes, surfboards, and probably guitars, and has these things to work and play with. About 20 years ago, I’d see a Grumman Albatross flying around while I was sailing up in Narragansett Bay. It always seemed to be landing at Quonset State Airport. (This airplane is a twin radial engine amphibious rig that was used primarily by the U.S. Navy as a rescue aircraft.) It turns out that it’s owned by Buffett, and is called The Hemisphere Dancer—cool name. One day a student of mine who volunteered at the Quonset Air Museum told me to stop by on a weekend and he’d show me the airplane — it was tied down there. The kid showed me the Albatross and gave me a litany of facts about this kind of floatplane. What intrigued me — as I looked in the windows — was how the wooden interior was like the inside of a sailboat; lots of teak and mahogany. Moreover, I noticed that this rig would be prone to rust and would need to be impeccably maintained. This was a beautiful airplane.

“Changes in Atts and Latts, key of G, zook break after the second verse,” is how a guy I played with in barrooms would cue up Buffett’s song, “Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” Me and Jon Campbell covered this song and a few others by Jimmy Buffett when we played music together. During the bouzouki break, Campbell would rig a straw through his strings, and do Calypso style rhythm shots with his instrument. We tried to jazz up the song. We did “Margaritaville” and “Son of a Sailor,” too. In those days, if you were playing bar gigs, you had to toss some Buffett songs into your sets. Also, Campbell’s bouzouki and mandolin playing added some subtle nuance to the songs. Me and Campbell aren’t playing these songs anymore, but Jimmy Buffett is. Whattacountry!

Jimmy Buffett’s career continues on with his touring, recording, and song writing. Furthermore, he has written a couple of books. And his new musical — written by a couple of guys — “Escape to Margaritaville,” is currently on Broadway, and I’ll bet my nickels that this thing will play well. Buffett has a loyal fan base — Parrottheads and, now, their children: Parakeets (or just ‘Keets). This guy has made a living by managing his deal the way he sees fit, and is not slowing down at all. I just think he’s a working stiff by nature — pure and simple — and he’s not happy unless he’s hustling, or pulling off a creative caper. Finally, I read something recently about one of his latest business ventures, and it got me giggling. In the same little funky, salty, and sandy beach town of Daytona — where I lived on the cusp of vagrancy in my rolling slum in ‘75 — Buffett is creating a retirement community for baby boomers. I find this hilarious, and I bet if I showed up at the gate in my shanty Kelly green van, I would not be invited in the gated community, and would end up parking in the Holiday Inn South parking lot, caging hotel ice for my icebox and flopping on the down low; like I was when I was a real Daytona Beach dweller.