Jimmy Buffett is an American singer-songwriter, author, actor, and businessman. He is best known for his island-themed music and laidback lifestyle. His songs often reference tropical themes and portray an “escapist” way of life.
Buffett has recorded over 30 studio albums, with his biggest hits including “Margaritaville”, “Come Monday”, and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” He has sold over 20 million albums worldwide. In addition to his prolific music career, Buffett is also a successful author and businessman.
Early Life and Career Beginnings
James William “Jimmy” Buffett was born on December 25, 1946 in Pascagoula, Mississippi. His family eventually settled in Mobile, Alabama where he attended McGill Institute for elementary school. As a child, Buffett had an interest in sailing and coastal exploration – interests which would heavily influence his later music.
After graduating from high school in 1964, Buffett enrolled at Auburn University. However, he left after just one year to pursue a music career. He briefly attended Pearl River Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi, but did not graduate.
Early Musical Influences
Buffett was influenced by the Gulf Coast environment where he grew up. The tropical atmosphere and sailing culture inspired his future songs about beachlife and boating.
Musically, Buffett was drawn to folk, pop and country artists like James Taylor, Jim Croce and Eagles. Buffett taught himself how to play guitar and began performing at coffeehouses and town squares in the Mobile area. He started writing his own songs, blending folk music with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about beach towns and boating.
Moving to Nashville
In 1969 at age 22, Buffett left Mobile and headed to Nashville to pursue a record deal. He auditioned for several labels but was initially rejected. To support himself, he played cover songs in the tourist spots around Nashville.
Eventually country singer Jerry Jeff Walker took interest in Buffett’s music. Walker brought him to Key West, Florida for the first time in 1970. This trip inspired more tropical-themed songs. When Buffett returned to Nashville, he finally landed a record deal with Barnaby Records.
Rise to Fame in the 1970s
His follow up album, High Cumberland Jubilee (1971), included his popular early song “Railroad Lady”. Other albums in the early 70s like A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean (1973) featured more of his signature coastal and Caribbean inspired tracks.
Buffett released his first album, Down to Earth, in 1970 on Barnaby Records. The album featured Buffett’s Gulf Coast influenced folk songs like “The Christian?” and “Ellis Dee (He Ain’t Free)”.
While these initial albums did not produce any major hits, they helped establish Buffett’s beach bum persona and built him a dedicated fan following. This allowed him to continue growing his career.
The Big Break – “Margaritaville”
In 1974, Buffett wrote and recorded what would become his signature song – “Margaritaville”. Released on the album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it quickly became a huge commercial success.
The song’s clever lyrics about wasting away on a beach, blending folk-pop melody with steel drums, perfectly encapsulated Buffett’s playful musical style. “Margaritaville” reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Thanks to the popularity of “Margaritaville”, the Changes in Latitudes album went to #23 on the Billboard album chart – Buffett’s first Top 40 album. This propelled him into mainstream popularity.
Continued 70s Success
Now an established star, Buffett released several more successful albums over the late 1970s:
- Son of a Son of a Sailor (1978) – featuring the hit “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. #10 on Billboard album chart.
- Volcano (1979) – included the songs “Fins” and “Volcano”. #27 on album chart.
During this time, Buffett also began touring extensively, promoting his fun-loving beach bum persona in sold out summer concerts. By the end of the decade, he had solidified his niche in the music industry.
Major Success in the 1980s and Beyond
Though his early career was spent trying to find mainstream success, throughout the 1980s and onward, Buffett’s popularity grew primarily through his devoted fanbase and thriving touring business. Some highlights:
- 1983’s One Particular Harbour album reached #3 on Billboard and went platinum.
- His 1985 best-of compilation Songs You Know By Heart sold over 3 million copies.
- Buffett wrote his first #1 Billboard Hot Country single in 1994 with “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” featuring Alan Jackson.
- 2003’s License to Chill album won the Country Music Award for Best Album.
Beyond records, Buffett continued packing huge concert venues, even playing sold-out NFL stadium shows. His tours grossed incredible sums, cementing him as one of music’s top live acts.
In all, Buffett has released over 30 albums and continues to be a major concert draw into his 70s. His relentlessly devoted fan base, known as “Parrotheads”, remains captivated by his beach-inspired escapism.
Other Business Ventures and Projects
In addition to his prolific music career, Buffett is also an accomplished author and businessman.
Buffett has written multiple New York Times best-selling books, both fiction and non-fiction. This includes:
- Tales from Margaritaville (1989) – a collection of short stories mixed with songs
- Where Is Joe Merchant? (1992) – an adventure novel co-written with Tom Corcoran
- A Pirate Looks at Fifty (1998) – an autobiographical memoir and travelogue
Several more fiction and non-fiction books followed in the 2000s and 2010s as Buffett expanded his writing portfolio.
Capitalizing on his brand, Buffett opened the first Margaritaville restaurant and store in Key West, Florida in 1985. There are now over 20 locations around the world.
He also owns the Margaritaville Cafe restaurant chain and co-developed a SiriusXM Radio station called Radio Margaritaville. Buffett has licensed his name extensively to products like beer, tequila, food, hotels and more.
In 2006, Buffett partnered with video game makers THQ to create a Margaritaville-themed online game and Facebook game to engage with fans.
The Save the Manatee Club is Buffett’s long-running nonprofit to protect endangered manatees and their habitat in Florida. He founded the charity in 1990 and frequently donates concert profits to the cause.
Buffett also often lends his name and resources to disaster relief, especially for Gulf Coast areas affected by hurricanes like his native Mobile, Alabama.
Buffett married his first wife, Margie Washichek, in 1969 and divorced in 1972 with no children.
He married his second wife, Jane Slagsvol, in 1977. They divorced in 1995 and had two adopted children: Savannah Jane and Cameron Marley.
In 2004, Buffett married his third wife, Jane’s childhood friend Jill Kercher. They live primarily in Palm Beach, Florida.
In 1994, Buffett was diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer but recovered after treatment.
In 2000, he suffered minor head injuries after an accidental fall from his concert stage. He recovered fully.
In 2011, Buffett fell ill while on a concert tour and was diagnosed with new onset kidney failure. He took a hiatus from touring in 2012 to recover. Buffett credits his improved health regime of proper diet, exercise and rest for his ability to keep touring into his 70s.
Jimmy Buffett’s Musical Legacy
While Buffett never had massive pop chart success, his immense cultural impact is undeniable. Some key aspects of his legacy:
- Escapism: Buffett’s songs embodied laidback escapism, allowing fans to imagine a tropical “Margaritaville” lifestyle of beaches and boats.
- Loyal following: His devoted fans, “Parrotheads”, have fueled album sales and sold-out tours for over five decades.
- Showmanship: Buffett entertains crowds with an infectious, fun energy during his marathon live shows.
- Business savvy: Beyond music, he built an empire licensing his Margaritaville brand.
- Philanthropy: Buffett has raised millions for manatee conservation and disaster relief.
Now in his mid-70s, Buffett continues to record new music and tour extensively, refusing to “retire”. His popularity and cult following show no signs of slowing down.
Jimmy Buffett’s long and vibrant career has earned him icon status thanks in large part to the passion of his fans. Though his chart hits have been modest, the “Parrothead” community has supported him as one of music’s most successful touring acts for over 40 years.
Beyond packing stadiums, Buffett leaves another key legacy – the perpetually upbeat escapism his island music provides. For millions of listeners, songs like “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” transport them out of everyday life to a tropical state of mind. Even in his mid-70s, Buffett maintains a relentless touring schedule to deliver that fun, carefree experience in-person.
With additional business ventures like restaurants, hotels and licensing, Buffett has ultimately created more than just music – he fulfills a fantasy. The “Margaritaville” vibe he cultivated so adeptly continues to resonate and thrive. Above all else, the enduring loyalty of Buffett’s fanbase is a testament to the power and impact of his musical world. Nearly 50 years since his first release, Jimmy Buffett remains the quintessential ambassador of beachfront escapism.
Frequently Asked Questions
How did Jimmy Buffett get the nickname the “Gulf and Western Troubadour”?
Jimmy Buffett earned the nickname the “Gulf and Western Troubadour” due to the Gulf Coast influences in many of his early songs. Coming from coastal towns like Mobile, Alabama shaped his musical themes.
What was Jimmy Buffett’s first #1 song on the Billboard Hot Country chart?
Jimmy Buffett’s duet with Alan Jackson in 1994 called “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” was his first and only #1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country chart.
How many restaurants are there in Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville chain?
As of 2022, there are over 20 Margaritaville-themed restaurants associated with Jimmy Buffett’s brand, with locations across the United States and internationally.
What illness caused Jimmy Buffett to take a touring hiatus in 2012?
In 2011, Jimmy Buffett developed kidney disease which escalated to stage 3 chronic kidney disease by 2012. He took time off touring to receive treatment before returning to the road.
How many books has Jimmy Buffett written?
Jimmy Buffett has penned over 8 books, both fiction novels like Tales from Margaritaville and non-fiction like his memoir A Pirate Looks at Fifty. Several books like Where Is Joe Merchant? were co-written with other authors.