Mississippians claim Jimmy Buffett as their own. Susan Marquez takes a look at a life of meaning.
Mississippians claim Jimmy Buffett as our own. No matter how big he became in life, he was one of us, and we embraced him wholeheartedly.
Born in Pascagoula on Christmas Day, 1946, Buffett grew up not far from there in Mobile. He attended Southern Miss.
While in Hattiesburg, Buffett met Greg “Fingers” Taylor, a talented harmonica player who became a member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. Taylor was a Jackson native who played with Buffett’s band from 1974 to 2001. Southern Miss erected a bronze marker in front of the student union building commemorating the place where the musical duo first met and jammed together.
Greg Taylor’s sister, Melanie Johnston, remembers the first time she met Buffett, nearly fifty years ago. “I was ten years old and Greg brought a blond mop-headed tan guy in white cutoffs and an old t-shirt home,” she says.
“He came with a guitar and stayed at our house on Nisquilly in North Jackson. My mother cooked for them and let him stay on our couch. He and Greg made music in the den and I danced as they played. He called me lil sis.” Johnston maintained her friendship with Buffett through the years. “God, it hurts. I have really struggled today. So much I should have said. I wish I could have seen him one more time.”
Like most of us, Johnston was shocked to wake up Saturday morning and learn that Buffet had died overnight. How can that be? He was so vibrant, and seemingly more relevant than ever. The fact that he was 76 years old didn’t compute in most brains. Despite a balding head and graying beard, Buffet was eternally young.
He loved living on the water and that informed much of his music, beginning in the 1970s with hits including “Come Monday,” “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Fins,” Volcano,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” and the song he will forever be remembered for, “Margaritaville.”
A savvy businessman, Buffett licensed the Margaritaville name, turning his laid back lifestyle into a brand. The Margaritaville name was parlayed into a number of spinoff products, from tequila, margarita mix, casinos, hotels, retirement communities, RV parks, airport restaurants, retail stores, even the Margaritaville Paradise, a 658-cabin cruise ship that runs from Florida to the Bahamas. The newest venture is the Margaritaville Resort Times Square in New York. Margaritaville also operates vacation clubs in tropical locales.
Those businesses will live on, but his fans, known as Parrotheads, will never see the self-proclaimed beach bum in concert again. Over the years, Buffett has released 31 albums. He did 45 concert tours, including this year’s Second Wind Tour. Forbes magazine reported that Buffett’s concerts had produced $570 million in revenue.
He perpetuated the island vibe music he was so famous for when he established Mailboat Records in 1999. Artists on the label include Jeff Bridges, Jesse Winchester, REO Speedwagon and more. There is even an official Buffett cover band on the label.
His music is known worldwide, but it is in Mississippi that Buffett was most beloved. He did his time as a Golden Eagle, though he’s admitted he was not a dedicated student. His 1973 song “The Great Filling Station Holdup,” from the A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean album, is said to have been inspired by a late night beer run in Hattiesburg.
While he will always be remembered for his music, Buffett will also be remembered as a talented author. He wrote multiple novels (A Salty Piece of Land, Where is Joe Merchant, Swine Tale) and non-fiction works (A Pirate Looks at Fifty, Tales from Margaritaville). He was one of six authors to ever top the New York Times best-selling author list for both fiction and non-fiction.
Although it wasn’t a big hit with the critics, Escape to Margaritaville, made its Broadway debut in 2018. Buffett wrote the music and lyrics for the musical which closed after 129 performances.
Buffett was an avid conservationist and he was involved in charity efforts, including cofounding the Save the Manatee Club with former Florida governor Bob Graham in 1981. It is still active, and serves as the world’s leading manatee conservation group.
According to a message on his website and social media, “Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs.” The cause of death has not been made public, although he had to cancel some concert dates earlier ithis year due to a hospitalization.
Jimmy Buffett leaves behind his wife, Jane Slagsvol, three children: Savannah, Sarah and Cameron and two sisters, Laurie (LaLa) and Lucy (LuLu), as well as Parrotheads around the world, who will forever remember “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”