It’s 5 O’clock Everywhere: The Surf World Remembers Jimmy Buffett
“I know you’d be smoking a joint with a drink in your hand, and a huge smile on your face like any good pirate would.” – Kelly Slater
It is with a heavy heart today the surf world learned that Jimmy Buffett has died, after a hard fight with lymphoma, according to those close to him.
Buffet was a songwriter, businessman, and entrepreneur, a smuggler, pilot, King of the Parrotheads, and the man responsible for the popularization of the phrase “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” Born in Mississippi in 1946, Jimmy started his music career in the late-60s like so many American rock and roll and country songwriters at the time, in Nashville, Tennessee, working on his first record, Down to Earth, while spending time busking in New Orleans, playing his country songs for tourists.
In the early 1970s Buffett took a trip to Key West, Florida, where he played for tourists in exchange for drinks at the Chart Room Club, developing what would become his entirely unique mix of Caribbean, calypso, roots American country, folk and pop music, writing songs that would become more than anthems for decades. This also began his love affair with the Florida Keys, the Caribbean islands, especially St. Barths.
In 1973, Jimmy was signed to ABC Records, and over the next four years released his now iconic albums A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, Living and Dying in ¾ Time, AIA, and Changes in Attitude, Changes in Lattitude, which featured his first international hit, “Margaritaville.”
Buffett’s rabid following grew and grew, and debates rage between fans of Buffett and the Grateful Dead, over what crew is more devoted: the tie dyed, pot smoking, psychedelically inclined Deadheads, or Jimmy’s army of aloha shirts margarita-drinking Parrotheads. Like the Dead, Springsteen or the Stones, Buffett’s success and longevity was largely built on live performances, though nearly thirty years after his first major hits, Buffett would eclipse all of his previous accomplishments with the smash hit duo with Alan Jackson, “It’s Five O’Clock” Somewhere” which dominated the American country Billboard charts for weeks and weeks, eventually becoming the #3 country song of the decade. The Album, License to Chill, earned Jimmy his first number one pop record.
A savvy businessman and entrepreneur, Jimmy founded and grew his Margaritaville brand into a handful of wildly successful restaurants and hotels, while bouncing between his homebases of St. Barths, Hawaii, Key West, and
A lifelong sailor and surfer, Jimmy’s decades-long obsession with boats and Caribbean exploration led him to design his own personal strike mission machine, the Surfari50, an ultralight, easy to sail boat designed for quick surf strikes around the islands.
Over the last twenty years or so, Jimmy has become very close to the surfing world, first through Jack Johnson, who first learned learned to play guitar doing Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” and who has toured, played, and collaborated with Buffett over the years.
“I learned my first chords on the guitar because of Jimmy Buffet,” Johnson writes. “My dad’s friend taught me how to play A Pirate Looks at 40 when I was 14 years old.”
“Years later our paths eventually crossed when Jimmy joined me at one of my shows to play that song together. Backstage as we ran over the song he pointed out that I had been playing the wrong chords for about 15 years. But in his laid back style he said “let’s do it like that…I love your version” and so that’s how we always played it.”
“Jimmy Buffet was as easy going and as sweet of a person as his songs were on the ears.”
On Buffett’s 2020 release Life on the Flip Side, Stephanie Gilmore and Kelly both appear on the song “Hey, That’s My Wave”
Kelly Slater has considered Buffett a “surrogate dad” since they first met in 2010. Like most kids growing up in Florida, Buffett was a huge figure in daily life, a near religious figure in many Floridian households. Kelly’s father was a huge Buffett fan, and Kelly and Jimmy became very close after his father passed.
“I grew up listening to Jimmy Buffett with my family,” Kelly writes. “His music basically outlined the lives we desired—fishing, diving, dreaming about being in the tropics, playing music, and just living the dream.”
“I met Jimmy in France in 2010 about 8 years or so after my dad died and the first day I told him how much he reminded me of my own father and from that moment on he kind of became a surrogate to me, occasionally calling me from some far off land telling me he missed me and I had to come visit him wherever he was. He told me life was too short not to take every good opportunity that came along and go live it.”
“I’m not sure I’ve met many people with as positive an attitude who were as welcoming and giving as Jimmy has been to me, just one of the many thousands of friends he’s had around this world. He laughed about making a living out of 3 chord songs and once told me, ‘Ya know, if Jack [Johnson] would just let me do his marketing I could make him a looooot of money!’”
“Yesterday Jimmy passed on to the next life. And I’m having a tough time accepting that. But I do feel blessed to have had some really incredible memories every single time I hung out with him, whether it was him flying me to my brother’s bachelor party in Key West, joining us for a surf and a dinner in Hossegor, making me play a song with him at his restaurant, or giving me his guest house in Palm Beach for the night and taking me for a round of golf the next day. I really don’t want to believe such a fine man is gone but I’m thankful and lucky for the times we had.”
“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, Jimmy, and I know you’d be smoking a joint with a drink in your hand and a huge smile on your face like any good pirate would. Thanks for being one of the good guys. It was a real dream to know you. And as he always signed off—Fins Up!”
With his death, we lose one of America’s most famous, prolific, and devotedly beloved performers and musicians. No matter where you are, or what time—even if it’s only half-past twelve, I don’t care: pour one out, and tip one back for Jimmy. It’s five o’clock everywhere.
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