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IN SEARCH OF. . .
by Becky Sue Epstein
IN SEARCH OF. . .
Used to live in an apartment on the outer reaches of Key West, Florida, until it became "overpopulated". Moved onto his boat but is still a regular at bars where the shrimpers hang out. Drinks with them, swaps sea yarns (grandfather was a seafarer), spends a lot of time sailing and writes songs embroidering local characters and his own life. Keeps to himself in Hemingway-esque fashion and is becoming legendarily famous through his songs. "Margaritaville" shoots to the top of the charts, and Buffett smiles on his 45-foot sloop.
No: grew up in Mobile, Alabama, got a B.A. in journalism, which proves he can write. So, on to Nashville to record his immortal words in song, it being the only music business capital he could afford to drive to at the time. First album (Down To Earth on Barnaby Records) was not magic, and master tapes to the second one were "lost" (mysteriously re-appearing, pressed into vinyl in record stores after "Margaritaville" hit). ABC Records rescued him with a recording contract resulting in " A White Sport Coat And A Pink Crustacean". AOR radio stations loved the title, and at least they played it. Then came "Livin' And Dyin' In Three-quarter Time", "A1A", and "Havana Daydreamin' ". His cult following, mainly located in his native Southeast, never pushed album sales past one or so hundred thousand until . . . WQAM in homeground Miami breaks "Margaritaville"! Single and album (Changes In Attitudes, Changes In Latitudes, a prophetic title if I ever heard one) both hit top-ten in the summer of 1977 on rock, MOR and country charts.
Or was it: rejects traditional college-to job route in favor of breaking into show biz. Touring, touring, touring in little clubs and coffee houses endlessly throughout the Southeast and more. Discoveries by A&R people from record companies don't bring instant fame, strangely enough. Until "Margaritaville". In six months the audience changes from tens in tiny clubs to 70,000 at an Eagles concert he opens. Ah . . . a sought-after rock star.
Which is true? All of the above. But what happens now? Does Buffett sail out of the Key West harbor toward Tortola and other ports-of-call in the endlessly lazy Caribbean? No, he'll only be gone for three weeks, says his management company.
Does he continue working with Norbert Putnam, famous Nashville producer who helped him to his first hit, and become a commercial success? His record company hopes so.
Does he spend more time in his Colorado home to be closer to the Los Angeles music business? Well, he did recently attend the ABC luncheon at which he was presented with his first gold record.
It's true that Buffett was re-signed to ABC records in 1976, for four years and four albums, in a "high dollar deal" (in the words of his secretary). ABC Artist Development head Corb Donahue proclaims Buffett's "dead-set commitment to make 'Margaritaville' successful". Buffett seems to have a sense of commercialism which ABC and Putnam doubtless helped instill in him, recently.
These few weeks on his boat in August aren't just a vacation -- he's writing material for the new album, now. He has to do it now, because he goes straight from a September-October Southeast tour into the studio. He enters a Miami studio at the beginning of November, and the new album would be finished and released this winter, unless another single is taken off Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes. Then there'll probably be another national tour next year.
Sounds like the life of a typical rising rock star. Or is it? Buffett is supposed to be doing millions of radio and other publicity interviews in between appearances and recording sessions. But when you look for him, he's not there. ABC says "We'll find out when he'll be in town and we'll get back to you." Frontline Management stalls with his manager out of town, and it's almost the weekend. Finally, they come up with the number of his secretary in Nashville and one person at ABC who has talked with Jimmy Buffett. This is three months after the subject of a Buffett piece has been broached and dropped because he wasn't "available" in May.
A Xerox of a feature article on Buffett provided by the record company has a scribbled note accidentally Xeroxed onto it. The article is sub-titled "Jimmy Buffett is as hard to find as to define" and the note says "Straighten his ass out; these interviews are very important. Regards, [name withheld]."
So, Jimmy Buffett continues to guard his personal life in spite of or because of all the people who are working for him. He's not supposed to really be as eccentrically private as he pretends to be -- it's just that he needs more time to sail and to write. Scoring Jack Nicholson's new film, Going South, takes a lot of time, as does writing a film with old friend Tom McGuane (Missouri Breaks).
It's tempting to try for the big bucks at the top of the rock world, from this position. But you've got to put out a lot of time talking to a lot of people you'd rather never meet, and you might have to do just as much compromising in your music as in your living habits. It's easier to get seduced into the often unhealthy Los Angeles music industry (which is really an industry now) than to retain the freedom which is illusionarily dangled before you as an incentive to work hard and be a commercial success. At this point, Buffett could go either way. After 1978, he'll know.
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