By Josh Bell
Jimmy Buffett is an industry. Even if you can’t name a single song he’s ever recorded or have never heard his music in your life, chances are you’re familiar with his image as a laid-back beach bum who loves drinking margaritas and being the life of the party. Thanks to his books, restaurants (including Margaritaville at the Flamingo in Las Vegas), alcoholic beverages and frozen-food items, he’s a ubiquitous pop-culture presence, a sort of mascot for a relaxed island lifestyle.
But Buffett is far more than a symbol and a shrewd businessman: He’s an accomplished singer-songwriter who’s been making music for more than 40 years, and thanks to his devoted fans (who call themselves Parrotheads), he doesn’t have to worry about things like having radio hits or topping the album charts. Aside from the 1977 hit “Margaritaville” (from which Buffett’s restaurant chain takes its name), Buffett hasn’t had a lot of mainstream exposure, but to Parrotheads, songs like “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and “Volcano” are bona fide classics, and you can hear an entire arena singing along to them at pretty much every Buffett concert.
Buffett has been reaching wider audiences in recent years, thanks to duets with country music stars like Alan Jackson (“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”) and Zac Brown (“Knee Deep”), which have helped him connect with a new generation of fans and expand into a new genre. It’s all part of the ongoing Buffett industry, a well-oiled machine dedicated to the higher calling of chilling out and having a good time.