Jimmy's own words describe his early days: "I got into music basically to meet girls, no doubt about it. Women have always been an influence on my music, good and bad. It looked like the greatest job in the world. I was in college at the time, a freshman at Auburn University. I was a shy, awkward kid from Mobile, kind of a wallflower. My roommate had a guitar, and even though he knew only three chords, he always seemed to be the center of attention with women. I said, 'Teach me those chords'." So I learned the guitar and started hanging around Folk clubs, watching the bands. They all had big shiny Martin guitars; I would've given my right arm for a Martin guitar. And the women, all the time women were hanging around the band. I thought: this is the job for me."
Before he signed his first record contract in 1970, Jimmy worked as a writer for Billboard magazine in Nashville, Tennessee. He released one album for Barnaby Records, called "Down to Earth" in 1970, the single from which, a socially conscious song called "The Christian" suggested he might be more at home protesting in Greenwich Village. Barnaby lost his second album, "High Cumberland Jubilee", though they would find it and release it after he became successful. Instead, he moved to Key West, FL, where he gradually evolved the beach bum character and tropical Folk / Rock style that would endear him to millions.
Jimmy tells the story: "I was always a lover of the lyrical song, and I think the people who influenced me in those days typified my upbringing. I grew up in Mobile, and my relatives on my grandmother's side were a kind of Cajun, Indian, wild people from that area. My grandfather was a sailing ship captain who migrated from Nova Scotia. So it was a gumbo type of musical experience. I'd listen to the radio from New Orleans, Benny Spellman, Irma Thomas, and great old Black New Orleans artists, which is contrary to what most people think. They assume if you come from Alabama, you listen to Country music. I didn't really like it much; all my early influences were out of New Orleans. I first started playing in Folk clubs, and I drew on all this great Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Black input. I was also listening to people like Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell, who were great writers above everything else. I wanted to write clever, good songs like those people. I was in Nashville in 1971. I'd been turned down by twenty-six record labels and couldn't get songs published. I had wrecked my first wife's car, and I had no alternative I thought, but to look toward warmer climates. So I took an expired Diner's Club card, held my thumb over the expiration date, went to the TWA counter, and bought a ticket to Miami. I was supposed to have a job at a little coffee house called The Flip, he in place for folkies in south Florida then. At any rate, I got to Miami, and of course there was no job. I was in Florida with no job, and I was broke. Fortunately my old friend Jerry Jeff Walker had a house there and took me in. So I lived in Coconut Grove for about six months and worked the Folk circuit. I had always wanted to go to Key West. Watching Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo was the catalyst that sent me farther South. So we got into Jerry Jeff's '47 Packard and took the old overseas highway to Key West. We got there sometime in November. The temperature was about 85 degrees, there was a sailboat race going on, I found a bar, and the rest is history."
Signing to ABC-Dunhill Records, Buffett achieved notoriety but not much else with his second released album, "White Sport Coat & a Pink Crustacean" (1973), which featured a song called, "Why Don't We Get Drunk" ("... and screw?," goes the chorus). Buffett revealed a more thoughtful side on "Living & Dying in 3/4 Time" (1974), with its song of marital separation "Come Monday", his first singles-chart entry, which topped out at #30. "I was in Europe on a film documentary, shopping in a department store in London, when I heard 'Come Monday' over the loudspeaker. I thought I'd better call home and see what was happening, and by that time it was #10 or so. I had to stay in Europe for three more months, yet everything had taken off in the U.S." But it took the Top Ten song "Margaritaville" and the album in which it was featured, "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes" (1977), to capture Buffett's tropical worldview and, for a while, turn him into a Pop star. He would later admit that he wrote that million selling tune in about six minutes. The next release, the title track from the album, sounded so much like Margaritaville that it received little air-play and follow-ups like "Cheesebuger In Paradise (#32) and "Fins" (#38) got even less. Still, Buffett's beach bum image made fans flock to his concerts and he became a top draw.
By the start of the '80s, Buffett's yearly albums had stopped going Gold, and he briefly tried the Country market again. But by the middle of the decade, it was his yearly Summer tours that were filling his bank account, as a steadily growing core of Sun Belt fans he dubbed Parrotheads made his concerts into Mardi Gras-like affairs. Buffett launched his Margaritaville line of clothes and opened the first of his Margaritaville clubs in Key West. He also turned to fiction writing, landing on the book bestseller lists. He also found time for his passion of flying, purchasing his own sea-plane and taking off in an F-14 Tomcat from the deck of an air-craft carrier. Although his recording career languished, a hits compilation called "Songs You Know By Heart" sold millions, a 1990 live album, "Feeding Frenzy", went Gold, and a 1992 box-set retrospective, "Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads", became one of the bestselling box sets ever.
Buffett finally got around to making a new album in 1994, when "Fruitcakes" became one of his fastest-selling records, reaching Platinum status. The title track received plenty of radio air-play and the LP entered Billboard's Top 200 album chart at #5. It was followed in 1995 by "Barometer Soup", which entered the charts at #6 and went Gold (with some help from The Weather Channel even), and the #4, Platinum selling "Banana Wind" in 1996, from which he got air play with a radio single of James Taylor's "Mexico". The following year, Buffett began working on a musical adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel Don't Stop The Carnival with the author himself. After Broadway producers expressed little interest, the production ran for six weeks in Miami during 1997. In spring of 1998, Buffett released "Don't Stop The Carnival", an album based on the book and the play. He began mulling over the idea of taking the play on the road (it went to Miami and the Bahamas). He also released another book, the number one selling A Pirate Looks At Fifty. 1999 brought more successful live shows and the release of two new albums, "Beach House On the Moon" and "Buffett Live - Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays", both of which went Gold.
March of 2002 saw the release of "Far Side of the World", Buffett's first studio album for his new self-run label, Mailboat Records. In mid 2003 a double-album hits compilation "Meet Me In Margaritaville" was released and his 2003 Tiki Time Tour shows were recorded and released on Mailboat. Amidst the Summer tour was a number one single with Alan Jackson on "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere", which topped the Billboard Country chart and made it to #17 on the Hot 100.. The Tiki Time Tour ended in January of 2004 in Hawaii. The live album and DVD was released through Mailboat in the Fall of 2004 and was released nation wide in the Spring of 2005 with the same DVD from the two shows. In December, before the Hawaii shows, he recorded a new record in Key West with a group of Country stars and various well respected musicians. Originally called "Conchy Tonk", and later changed to "License To Chill", it debuted at number one on the Billboard LP chart in mid-July of 2004, Jimmy's first ever number one album. It spun off two Top Ten videos on CMT, the Hank Williams cover of "Hey Good Lookin'" and the Buffett / Martina McBride duet "Trip Around The Sun". Jimmy was even featured in Rolling Stone magazine. The Summer of 2004 was truly Buffett's Summer. Part of the Chill tour was playing Fenway Park in Boston.
Just in time for Christmas of 2004, he released another book, a continuation of the travels of Tully Mars (from Tales From Margaritaville). A Salty Piece of Land did not get to number one, but it did sell very well. Its first printing run included a song called "A Salty Piece Of Land" that was a leftover from the Conchy Tonk / License To Chill sessions. A Salty Piece Of Land 2005 Summer Tour saw Jimmy playing in football stadiums (Pittsburgh) and another baseball stadium (Wrigley in Chicago for two nights) along with the usual ampitheatres. In February, 2006, Buffett announced that he would take the Summer off from touring. "I'm kinda taking it easy now," he said in a conversation with Radio Margaritaville DJ Miles Hampton. "It's the last Summer with my kids before they go off to boarding school, so I'm gonna travel with them and work the Spring and the Fall. I don't want to do much right now." Buffett also put in time at his Shrimp Boat Studios in Key West, Florida, recording the follow-up to 2004's "License to Chill", called "Take The Weather With You", which was released in August of '06.
Jimmy Buffett remained one of the hottest concert draws ever, playing sold out shows to legions of Parrot Heads where ever he goes. His 2007 touring schedule was cut down to about 25 shows, in part because he is also the head of a massive empire that includes recording, distribution, publishing, merchandising and concerts, as well as his best selling novels, internet radio, movie and stage productions, two restaurant chains, a brewery and casino interests. On 8th December 2009, Jimmy released his 28th studio album entitled "Buffet Hotel". In April the following year, a double CD of performances recorded during the 2008 and 2009 tours called "Encores" was released exclusively at Walmart, and Margaritaville.com. In May 2011, Buffet announced that he had partnered with game makers THQ to make a Margaritaville game for Facebook and iOS devices.
For 2012, Buffett's Lounging At The Lagoon tour kicked off on May 30th, while he continued to work on new material for "Songs From St. Somewhere", which was released on August 20, 2013 and debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 chart. In July, 2014, Jimmy launched Margaritaville TV, an online channel that streams select Buffett concerts live. In mid-February, 2015 he announced a Spring and Summer tour across the U.S. In February, 2016, Parrothead Productions announced that a Jimmy Buffett musical would make its world premiere in May, 2017 the La Jolla Playhouse in California.