A BRIEF JIMMY BUFFETT BIOGRAPHY
Jimmy Buffett arrived in Key West in November 1971 with singer and songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker (already famous for "Mr. Bojangles") and Teresa "Murphy" Clark. Jerry Jeff, Murphy and her young son, Justin, had offered Jimmy refuge in their open-air Coconut Grove home after Jimmy fled Nashville's weather and business climate.
His marriage to his hometown sweetheart had ended, and he'd failed to find many open doors in the Music City. The record industry didn't understand the young man's style, motivation or lyrics. Murphy and Jerry Jeff wanted to deliver some happiness to dispel Jimmy's gloom and sense of loss. After a week or two of Florida-orientation, they piled into "Flying Lady," Jerry Jeff's elegant silver and maroon '47 Packard sedan, for a drive southward. Jimmy Buffett had never before seen the Florida Keys. Key West was an outpost over 100 miles from our mainland - closer to Cuba than to Florida - a place of fascinating history and charm, dependent upon the ocean for much of its income yet subject to the whims of weather and the perils of change. Jimmy's discovery of the island meant everything to the man.
It changed his life and countless other lives in turn. As time passes, that quick November 1971 jaunt to the Keys means more and more to the island, the state of Florida, and the national culture.
Read more about Jimmy Buffett HERE.
THE OLD ANCHOR INN - "THE SNAKE PIT"
People slept in their cars behind the bar. The restrooms often flooded; you walked on bricks to keep your shoes dry. Men in clothes swiped from clotheslines gambled tens and twenties at the pool table. The picket fence lining the sidewalk was erected to appease the city; there had been too many complaints of saloon patrons falling out the front door. Murals on the insides of the window shutters were painted by Monkey Tom, swapped for a "bottomless" bar tab. Bud and Dorothy MacArthur's place at 208 Duval always was crowded - but more at three in the morning that at three in the afternoon. A blue cloud hung low, directly above the roof.
Many survivors of The Snake Pit recall wee-hours dance marathons and Joe Cocker singing "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" 20 or 30 times a night. Speaking of the subject, there was a fine message crawled on the wall in the men's room: "Life and ink run out at the same time. - Squid" As we know the quote found its way to immortality.
There are more Anchor Inn stories that can't be told than ones that will be told. One evening, in 1972, Jimmy was fortunate to escape the bar's upstairs apartment and a woman gone crazy on Lower Duval. Curse words, a broken beer bottle and a hasty exit were reported. Several of Jimmy's most valued possessions escaped harm and possible theft. Indeed, that's one of the stories we don't tell.
THE CHART ROOM BAR
In November 1971, when Jimmy was brought for the first time to Key West by Jerry Jeff Walker and Teresa "Murphy" Clark, the trio's first stop in town was the Chart Room Bar at the Pier House Motel. The bartender on duty was Tom Corcoran, a friend of Jerry Jeff and today an author whose mystery novels are set in Key West and the Lower Keys. Tom gave Jimmy his first beer "on the house" as a welcome to the island. Jimmy saw the freebie and the bar's ambiance as omens of great things to come.
Jimmy began his tropical career playing for drinks in the The Chart Room for treasure divers, pot smugglers, beachcombers, politicians and friends. Some nights he was joined by Vaughn Cochran on washboard ( and today a well-known artist ), Steve Goodman (writer of Banana Republic and City of New Orleans), and even Jim Croce. Jimmy's earliest Key West related songs were tested on the Chart Room audience, and he sang a few that might surprise the die-hard fans: Tell Laura I Love Her was a frequent request, as were Danny's Song by Loggins & Messina, and the obscure, beautiful On My Own, written by B. W. Stevenson.
There's some debate about who'd been hired for the gigs, but most believe it was Jerry Jeff Walker. That didn't keep Jimmy from sharing the spotlight. And a single spot it was, with the stage being the ten square feet normally occupied by Coffee Butler's piano bench in the front window of Howie's Lounge at 109 Duval Street.
Howie employed only females, so the joint drew a willing crowd. The ten or twelve people who cared and knew what they were seeing fought for the barstools that bordered Coffee's grand piano.
They got to witness such spontaneous wonders as "Go-Jo," about Jimmy and Jerry Jeff having to rebuild the front suspension of a old Packard in order to travel down the Keys.
They pulled their lyrics out of smoky air (to which they returned). Memorable performances; too few, too short.
Inventor-industrialist Foster Talge (the Rival Manufacturing Company - maker of Seal-a-Meal, Crock-Pot and electric can openers ) retired to Key West to fish as often as possible from his yacht, Petticoat III.
He hired Norman Wood, a local bank director, to be his captain. Norman loved deep sea fishing as much as Foster did, and his $175 weekly salary was more an object of false contention than payment for his skills and time.
Several men whom Norman had met in the Chart Room - including Rick Lutz and Jimmy Buffett - were hired as mates for the regular fishing trips.
One has to believe that their paychecks compared favorably to the captain's. The bonuses were tops: all the fresh fish they could eat.
Norman and Shirley Wood became loyal supporters of the new entertainer in town. Buffett relished the time he spent in the company of the Wood family. When his musician's income required a supplement, the First Mate job was always open. When the first pressing of A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean arrived by air express, Jimmy took it directly to the Woods' living room for an island debut.
A LOT TO DRINK ABOUT
On any given Thursday night in Key West, the spirited staff from Margaritaville don their domestic caps and assume the laid-back lifestyle that our island is known for; walking the beach, applauding the sunset, lounging poolside or in my case, hoping to hell I don’t fall out of the hammock as I dose off….again.
But last Thursday was different, last Thursday was better, last Thursday the sun set a little slower, last Thursday Jimmy Buffett was in town.
We got the word on Wednesday and even though we were sworn to secrecy, by 8PM the following evening a throng of locals were choking the 500 block of Duval. I’m not sure how they all knew because I told my friends not to tell anyone. But no worries, this time there was a list, a VIP list I suppose you could say and we were all on it. This time Jimmy saw to it that the employees were in first, seated first, and had a drink in hand…first. Of course we had to pay for the drink(s) but being on the list is, at the risk of sounding cliché, priceless.
Jimmy had spent the week in CMA Musician of the Year Mac McAnally’s Muscle Shoals recording studio working on new songs. The current state of the country prompted our troubled troubadour to take pen in hand and put his spin on the state of the union, noting in particular that "we have a lot to drink about.” And since drinking was involved, what better place than Key West to premier the new song.
Key West’s current living legend embodies the spirit of our islands infamous forerunners in the guise of shipwreck salvors, road weary writers and bar owners; it’s safe to say that best-selling author Jimmy Buffett has certainly found treasure in Margaritaville. So he and Mac came into town on Lincoln’s Birthday to share the new song, spend some time with old friends and favor the Margaritaville crew with Key West classics, the songs we know by heart.
Tryin’ to reason with hurricane season while reminiscing over lost landmarks and cousins who’ve crossed over, Jimmy took us all on a nostalgia trip that I for one, at times, wish was one-way. The past is so pleasant, the memories so malleable, the beer is too cold the daiquiris too fruitiful….but I digress. Jimmy played the good old songs for over an hour, recorded a video of “We've Got A Lot To Drink About” that is probably already on YouTube, gave a heartfelt thanks to partners and supporters and then told the staff, “…you don’t have to go to work tomorrow!”
The economy is in a bad way, my 401(K) took a hit, and the ATM machine kept my card, but this is one night that I can truly say that it pays to work at Margaritaville. So despite Jimmy’s verbal permission slip and the protestations of the morning shift, Friday morning its bidness as usual. But in our case, usual is pretty special.