Jimmy Buffett launched his storied musical career in Nashville, Tennessee in 1970 with an introspective debut folk-rock album called Down to Earth. It wasn’t until late in the following year when he made a life-altering trip to Key West, Florida with singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker.
Buffett quickly fell in love with the surrounding island paradise and began carving out his signature beach bum persona and easy, laid back sound which blended elements of country, folk, pop, and rock with tropical-themed lyrics. This upbeat, eclectic, fun-loving combination would ultimately define him as an artist.
1977 marked another pivotal year for the Mississippi native artist, with the release of Buffett’s seventh studio album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, which spawned the iconic sun-baked hit “Margaritaville.” The feel-good song caught on with listeners everywhere who longed to be smack in the center of Buffett’s easy, breezy musical island escape.
It’s probably back then the spongecake nibbling, flip-flop wearing Buffett could never have predicted just how fiercely the song would be embraced, how many generations of listeners would croon it, or the kind of monumental impact it would have the trajectory of his own life.
Buffett’s prolific star was launched in the wake of the indelible Billboard Top 10 single’s breakout success. Over 40 years later, “Margaritaville” (which is a Grammy Hall of Fame inducted song) is still treasured and sung at parties, bars, and in groups with giddy enthusiasm all over the world.
Buffett went on from that mid-'70s hit to release a staggering 29 studio albums in his prolific career. Today, he continues to dazzle and delight audiences at live shows all over the world. Jimmy Buffett remains an absolute legend and here are five reasons why.
1. He helped popularize and pioneer a lifestyle-loving musical sound.
By mixing so many different music genres with lyrics steeped in lush with island life themes, Jimmy Buffett helped popularize and pioneer a signature sound. Whether you call it “Gulf and Western,” “Caribbean Rock and Roll” or “Island Escapism,” Buffett has built a style, sound, and song catalog that’s almost synonymous with sunsets and carefree living.
In a 1979 Rolling Stone interview, Buffett revealed his love of the sea has been lifelong, born out of stories his sailing master grandfather told him when he was young. He turned that love into a musical legacy that would transcend multiple decades.
2. A Broadway musical is based on his work.
Launching a musical like “Escape to Margaritaville” featuring a host of Jimmy Buffet classic songs is the stuff that true legends are made of. Buffett is credited with the show’s music and lyrics with the book written by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley. Set in a fictional Caribbean paradise, the musical opened on Broadway in 2018.
3. He launched a business empire with a song.
“Margaritaville" is so much more than a hit song for Jimmy Buffett. In fact, Buffett became a savvy business magnate who launched a multibillion-dollar lifestyle brand from the song. The venture started with a string of “Margaritaville”-themed restaurants and stores in the ‘80s. Per Forbes, as of 2017, the brand contained 50 licensed categories including 10 destination resorts across the U.S. and Caribbean, as well as 60 restaurants and more– pulling in a grand total $1.5 billion in annual sales.
4. Jimmy Buffett birthed a globally-recognized international fan base.
Fan groups are well-known in the music industry today with the BTS Army, Taylor Swift’s Swifties, and more. But, there arguably may not be a more unique, ardent, or instantly-recognizable fan base than Jimmy Buffett’s Parrotheads. The noun “Parrothead” is impressively listed in the Urban Dictionary, has a dedicated Wikipedia page and the fan group has several chapters all over the world. Plus, Parrotheads proudly wear their parrot-wielding hats at every Jimmy Buffett live show and their shared enthusiasm helps set the tone for a colorful and crazy-fun concert experience.
5. His music career is closing in on five decades and counting.
Jimmy Buffett will mark a milestone 50th anniversary of his debut album in 2020. With 29 albums and thousands of live shows under his belt, Buffett shows no sign of slowing down. He is a true music legend who continues to entertain fans of all ages, across multiple generations. Watching Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band perform his greatest hits live is still like taking an incomparable trip to a breezy island paradise where it’s always 5:00 somewhere. Parrotheads far and wide will still attest it can’t get much better than that.