Sunday, June 14, 2009

Say what you will about Jimmy Buffett...

Say what you will about songwriter, performer and restaurant chain owner Jimmy Buffett. I've heard it all. And yes, I'd agree that some of Buffett's releases since the early 90's don't pack the same emotion and feel that his work from the 70's and 80's did.

That's not to say there are not some good tunes on his stuff after the early 90's. It's just that much of the later tunes don't speak to me, or to many of my friends and family, the way the old stuff does.

And Jimmy does very well at making money doing what he likes, which is making music. And that is so frickin' rare that it has to be admired. And he made it without the help of the radio industry, who in it's day controlled to a large extent who made it and who didn't. So Jimmy made many of his own rules as he went along.

But despite being rich, probably beyond the comprehension of all of us, he can still be a good guy.

At the Bonnaroo Music Festival, going on right now in Tennessee, a musician from Cape Verde named Ilo Ferreira was brought to the US by Buffett after Buffett and some of his well-heeled world adventurer buddies heard the singer on a recent trip. You can read one story about it here

According to the media reviews coming out today, Buffett absolutely stole the festival from the rest of the performers, and Ilo received a great American reception.

Buffett is not the sort of performer normally seen at mega-festivals like Bonnaroo. I've never been, but over the years I've kept up with who plays there. Bonnaroo seems more the type of festival for jam bands like Phish, who might be able to play 2 or 3 whole songs in an hour and a half set.

Now it seems this year's Bonnaroo is going out of the way to cater to some of the old guys like me who might not be Phish phans. A quick glance at their lineup shows Bruce Springsteen, Robert Earl Keen, Al Green, Elvis Costello as a solo act, The Beastie Boys and even the hallowed Merle Haggard. Yeah, there's other famous acts I can't get excited about, like Wilco, Snoop Dog and Nine inch nails. Each to their own.

A further look at the line-up shows some GREAT musical acts that are not as mainstream and as popular as some of the guys above. Acts and artists you might not be familiar with (but who are either critically acclaimed, jazzy or popular in their region/country) like Bela Fleck and Toumani Diabate (who says a banjo can't rock?), King Sunny Ade and the African Beats, Femi Kuti and the Positive Force, Alejandro Escovedo and a host of other bands. has a review of Jimmy's and Ilo's performance at high noon on Saturday, June 13th, 2009, which quotes Buffett's opening line as: “Well, it may not be the breakfast you’re used to, but we’re going to serve it”.

I'm not sure who exactly was in the Coral Reefer Allstars, but the press releases only mentioned longtime guitarist Mac McAnally (who has been with JB forever) and female backing vocalist Nadirah Shakoor. Although some of the articles about their Bonnaroo gig implied or even said that Ilo brought his band from Cape Verde, after looking at the pictures, I don't think that's the case, unless back home Ilo has a bunch of middle aged white guys playing in his band.

No, the Coral Reefers Allstars looks like just an abbreviated Buffett Coral Reefers. You figure he's got to have keyboardist and main man Michael Utley, and then probably the regular bass/guitar/drums guys from the Coral Reefers. Word is that a few years ago, maybe back around 2006, Buffett trimmed his Coral Reefer band down from the huge sized carnival it had grown to over the 1990's.

Now, I realize, regular readers (and the few people who actually know who I am) are losing massive amounts of musical respect for me. Among my many musician friends, only a few like Billy Ray and Amarillo Scotty Ray are big Buffett fans. And it's been that way as long as I can remember.

One more golden Jimmy Buffett memory lane story and then I'll get back to the main focus of this post. The first time I saw Buffett was opening for the Eagles in the summer of 1977 in Houston at an outdoor stadium. I was already listening to him, as his radio hit Margaritaville was already out, and the folks I was sailing with at the Houston Yacht Club were big listeners and had all of his tapes. This is so long ago that they had his eight track tapes.

In fact, my friend and I were listening to Buffett and Eagles 8-track tapes as we drove to the concert which was at Jeppensen Stadium at University of Houston off Cullen. In his parents faded pee-yellow station wagon. But it had a raging stereo system and an 8-track.

We were having a good time, sitting on the field about 50 yards from the stage, except we had to move because some random older lady about 50 or so kept playing with our hair and trying to get us to drink whatever kind of whiskey she was drinking. She wasn't phased by our leaving at all...she just turned her attention to the fellows sitting next to her.

It was the Eagle's Hotel California tour, and Joe Walsh was playing with them by then. Probably the best Eagles line up ever. I'm not sure who Buffett was playing with, but I remember he played a very long opening set.

So, back in the day, I thought Buffett was just it. I was sailing and fishing and on the water for much of my life, and it seemed his songs were the soundtrack to the life I was living back then. We still like to listen to Buffett when we hit the beach, but I don't listen to him constantly like I did in my teens and twenties.

But Buffett grabbing some guy literally out of a working bar in Cape Verde reminds me of the Buffett I used to think I knew. Not the mega-millionaire Buffett. Not the restaurant and gift shop owner Buffett. Not the Casino operator Buffett.

But the Buffett who took chances. Who sang songs from his heart. The Buffett who once worked the waterfront bars of the south before he was famous and lived in his car in the early days. The Buffett who claimed he had a band on his first few albums. Although he called them the Coral Reefers, it was a fictitional band, with members like Al Vacado, Ms. Kitty Litter, Marvin Gardens and Kay Pasa.

Like the Buffett who in 1978 wrote a song about his African Friend, maybe Jimmy has come full circle with his assistance to Ilo. I think it's cool he has not forgotten where he came from.

And if you or your people are reading this Jimmy, I'm available as a drummer.

And just for the record, the coolest Jimmy Buffett song EVER is Tampico Trauma, followed closely by A Pirate Looks at Forty.

And even if you don't need me as a drummer, take this tip, Jimmy. There's a band out of Baton Rouge that I've played with that covers many of your songs called Hannah's Reef. The leader of that outfit, a cat named Gerry, has an original song called Sunday Morning in New Orleans. You can find that song here,, just scroll down the song list on the left to #6 and tell me that song doesn't kick ass.

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