From 1989: Jimmy Buffett Just Wants to Hear His Voice on the Radio

The tropical troubadour has performed annual concerts in Atlanta and recorded part of his 1978 “You Had to Be There” album live at The Fox Theatre
Jimmy Buffett with his parrotheads ham it up at the Lakewood Amphitheater

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

Jimmy Buffett with his parrotheads ham it up at the Lakewood Amphitheater

Originally published 7/22/1989

Now that he’s on the shady side of 40, maybe singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett will make up his mind about what he wants to be when he grows up.

He’s got a new album - “Off to See the Lizard” on MCA Records - his 17th or so, he’s got a book of short stories coming out in September, he’s working on a novel, he owns a restaurant-bar and store called Margaritaville in Key West, and he recently bought an interest in a Class A baseball team called the Miami Miracles.

And, oh yes, the summer tour is going nicely, with those New Orleans mellow fellows the Neville Brothers (You did see “The Big Easy,” didn’t you? Aaron Neville wailing “Tell It Like It Is”?) helping guarantee sold- out dates from California to the Midwest to the Friday concert at Atlanta’s new Lakewood Ampitheatre.

If you think Jimmy Buffett is just an acquired taste for party- hearty Southerners who’ve stayed too long in the sun, think again. His appearance in Cincinnati earlier this summer drew 22,000 fans, more than a Bon Jovi stadium show in town that same night. “It’s amazing,” says the singer. “Our biggest audiences have been in Ohio, New Jersey and Massachusetts. We’ve been discovered by the Yankees.”

The Atlanta concert was an immediate sell-out, but word along the coconut telegraph is that you can buy a scalped ticket - if you want to pay $150 per.

With all that success, though, it still bugs the barefoot balladeer that he can’t get a little radio play.

“I don’t know why,” the 42-year-old troubador says with a sigh over the telephone from Chicago, a stopover on his current tour. “I’m still fighting the airplay battle, and I don’t have a clue why.”

On “Off to See the Lizard,” some of which was produced in his new Shrimpboat Sound studio in Key West, Mr. Buffet has a new producer, Elliot Scheiner; a new band from St. Louis; and some nice tunes, including an irresistible anthem called “Pascagoula Run” and a funny ditty about catching a mermaid.

But you probably won’t be hearing too many “Lizard” cuts on the radio. It’s like Mr. Buffett said in last year’s well-received “Hot Water” album: “Homemade music ain’t on the radio.”

“Well, I tried to make an album that was acceptable to radio and to the Jimmy Buffett fans, and if it doesn’t work for radio, I don’t care,” he insists. “I think it’s good music. I hear other things, and, you know, I don’t think I’m that far off base from Edie Brickell or Tracey Coleman.”

WQXI program director Craig Ashwood said this week that his station regularly plays two Buffett standards, “Margaritaville” and “Come Monday,” but it hasn’t played any cuts off “Lizard” because the record company didn’t promote the new album to them. However, the station was planning last week to add a song from the new album to its playlist as a tie-in to a Buffett promotion it was having at Rupert’s.

Oh well, Mr. Buffett offers, “If it all falls down, I still have Plan B, which is my live bait and sushi bar. I guess I can always play cocktail hour there. I’d miss the big time, but, hey, I’ve had a great shot at it.”

Actually, for the man possessed of a Caribbean soul he can barely control, Plan B seems to have several different variations.

He’s excited about the publication of the short story collection, called “Tales of Margaritaville” and being published by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. “It’s Jimmy Buffet’s factional and fictional look at life,” he says. “A lot of the stories came out of songs from the Margaritaville album. What was easy for me was to go from compressing everything into a three-minute song. With a short story you have room to expand. I just wrote them like long songs.”

Also this fall, Harcourt will publish “The Trouble Dolls,” the second children’s book he has written with his 12-year-old daughter, Savannah Jane. The first, “The Jolly Mon,” goes into its third printing this fall, and it will feature an accompanying audio cassette with the two authors telling the story.

Don’t look for him on a book tour, though. Not this son of a son of a sailor.

“Noooo.” he says. “I do not do book tours. You might see me on the Carson show, or the ‘Today Show,’ but that’s it.”

Now, he says, he’s got the writing bug bad, and that’s good.

“You know, I’ve always thought about being John MacDonald and Travis McGee. I think the world needs another John MacDonald.”

If he couldn’t be the late Florida-based mystery writer, Mr. Buffett says he wouldn’t mind filling the flip-flops of another Florida writer, Carl Hiaasen, a Miami Herald columnist whose “Tourist Season” is one of his favorite books. “I told Carl if they ever make a movie of that book, I want a part in it,” the singer says. “I even used Skip Wiley [the book’s protagonist] as an alias for a while.”

His own novel in the works is a concoction called “The Black Bean Expansion,” and, according to Mr. Buffett, it’s “a story of caviar theft, overweight and murder.”

Of the baseball team, he says, “It’s a lot of fun,” even though the Miracles aren’t exactly tearing up their league. “It’s a building year for us. And I think you could also say that Pete Rose will not be managing for us.”

Actor-comedian Bill Murray also owns a piece of the Miracles, who play about 10 games a year in Key West. Mr. Buffett has even been known to show up at the ballpark and take a turn at the stadium organ.

Right now, though, Mr. Buffett is concentrating on his tour. For Mr. Buffett, performing in Atlanta has been an annual affair since 1981 (with the exception of 1984, when he didn’t tour), and even earlier, when he started playing at the now-defunct Bistro on Peachtree Street back in the early 1970s. Dates there led to a long string of appearances at the old Great Southeast Music Hall, whose first radio commercial touted him as “Jimmy Buff-A.” He also recorded part of his 1978 “You Had to Be There” album live at The Fox Theatre.

For years, Parrot Heads - the singer’s term for his fans - flocked to Chastain Park armed with live potted palms, plastic yard flamingos and Thermoses full of margaritas to hear their spiritual leader’s sell-out concerts. That ended in 1988, when Mr. Buffett defected to the Six Flags Southern Star Amphitheatre, a venue that many found to be lacking in the ambience necessary for a true Buffett experience.

“The only reason I played Six Flags was that there was no other place to play at the time,” he explains. “I played Chastain as long as I could stand the aggravation with the sound system. It’s a pity I can’t play there any more, but there are a lot of places like that around the country that are great playing venues, but they’ve become surrounded by growth and people in the neighborhoods who object to the noise levels.”

At Chastain, Mr. Buffett said, “the people in the first 10 rows could hear us, but when you sell out, you’ve got people in the far back that can’t hear you. And I’m not going to play any more when half the people are saying ‘turn up the system’ and I can’t.”

For Mr. Buffett, a native of Mobile, Ala., who has degrees in history and journalism from the University of Southern Mississippi, touring in the South is coming home.

“It all started in the South,” he says. When he comes to Atlanta, where he ha s old friends, Mr. Buffett’s routine usually includes a round of golf at The Atlanta Country Club and some soul food at The Beautiful Restaurant on Auburn Avenue.

“And if I get a day off, I might go to a Braves game,” says the diehard Chicago Cubs fan. While in Chicago, he had planned to watch the Cubs at Wrigley Field on the Fourth of July.

Sometime when he’s in Atlanta, he says he’d like to meet novelist Pat Conroy. Mr. Buffett’s 1988 “Hot Water” album contained a song called “Prince of Tides” based on Mr. Conroy’s novel of the same name. “I’ve exchanged letters with Conroy,” Mr. Buffett said. “He told me that when he was writing ‘The Prince of Tides’ he was listening to different kinds of music and his kids were playing my songs. Then I was reading his book, and I was up on what was happening with development on Daufuskie Island, and it all just rang true.”

These days, the more Mr. Buffett tours, the more he thinks about trying to stay a little closer to home, or at least playing at cozier venues.

“I’ve always envisioned playing smaller places, like the Fox, and there are still a lot of old theaters in places like Mobile and Biloxi,” says Mr. Buffett with a tinge of wistfulness. “I’ve got a farm down in South Georgia [near Thomasville], and I’ve started thinking about just staying on the farm and drawing a circle around it and just playing there. I still love going back to play the small bars. You know, we start my tour every year playing in Margaritaville, my place in Key West, and we can fit 200, maybe 225 people in there, if you really jam ‘em in.”

Folks in Key West, where he has long had a home, are generally laid back enough to let him enjoy his privacy, says Mr. Buffett. “I gotta pick my times. During spring break, the kids bother me, but most of the time, they sort of leave me alone. I even eat at my restaurant, not just because I own it, but because the food’s good.”

A notable exception came recently, when some miscreants stole what Mr. Buffett describes as “a voodoo Thai duck” out of his front yard. “That pissed me off,” he says. “I consider my home my one piece of sanctuary. I don’t think people should bother me there. On the street, that’s fair game. It’s my job. But not at my home.

Mostly, though, the parrot heads are a zany group the singer and his band love to watch while they’re giving a concert. “It’s gone beyond going to see a show now,” he says. “They get all dressed up, and it’s an event. We had a guy in California, he had on a shark outfit for my ‘Fins’ number, the thing had lights on it and everything.”

Mr. Buffett has done a video for the “Off to See the Lizard” album, which is on the light rotation list at VH-1, but he said he wants his next to be a performance video in which he shoots long segments featuring the Parrot Heads in the audience. “We did one long video in Miami, but we still missed the magic of why you go to see Buffett,” he says. “If we do another video, I want to direct the next one.”

He laughs at the audacity of it - a songwriter who wants to be a novelist, a children’s book author who wants to write short stories, an entrepreneur who wants a piece of a baseball team.

“I want to do it all, and I want to do it now,” he admits. “I don’t want to regret anything. When I retire, I want to go fishing. I’m not gonna be trying to make up for what I missed when I’m 60.”

Wasting Away Again . . .

Here’s a mean margarita recipe from the man who put Margaritaville - the state of mind where Buffett fans regularly vacation - on the map.

Fill shaker with broken cubed ice

Squeeze 2 fresh lime wedges into shaker

Savor the fresh lime aroma

Add 2 oz. of Cuervo 1800 (tequila)

Add 1/2 oz. of Jose Cuervo White (optional)

Add 1 1/4 oz of Roses Lime Juice

Add 1/2 oz. of Bols Triple Sec and a splash of Bols Orange Curacao

Cover shaker tightly and shake vigorously

Rim outside of glas with lime peel and salt

Add fresh ice; strain mixture over ice

Squeeze in a lime wedge and toss rind over left shoulder

Now . . . kick back and turn up the tunes.

JIMMY BUFFETT AND THE CORAL REEFER BAND. With opening act the Neville Brothers. Friday at Lakewood Amphitheatre at 8 p.m. Sold out. Lakewood Fairgrounds, I-85 at Lakewood Freeway. Parking $4 per car. No food or beverages may be brought through the gates.