Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett is known for humorous chronicles of a laid-back seafaring life; his philosophical outlook is encapsulated in tunes like "Why Don't We Get Drunk (and Screw)" and "My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don't Love Jesus." In addition to releasing popular albums, Buffett has built a small Florida-based financial empire, written several best-selling books, and become a leading environmentalist.
Raised in the Deep South, Buffett attended Auburn University and then the University of Southern Mississippi, majoring in journalism (he later worked as a Billboard reporter). He moved to Nashville in the late '60s, intent on becoming a country singer. His first album, 1970's Down to Earth, sold 324 copies. Barnaby Records then temporarily misplaced the master tape of his second album before its release. By 1972, Buffett had left both Nashville and a failed marriage, moving to Key West. There he helped to support himself by smuggling a little marijuana from the Caribbean. He signed to ABC-Dunhill, and his 1983 release, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, found Buffett developing his drunken-sailor persona. Although he'd had a Top 30 hit with 1974's "Come Monday," Buffett's commercial breakthrough came in 1977 with the platinum Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes (#12) and its hit single, "Margaritaville" (#8).
During that period Buffett toured infrequently, spending most of his time living on his 50-foot ketch Euphoria II. He frequently docked at Montserrat, where his 1979 LP Volcano was recorded. He formed the first version of his Coral Reefer Band in 1975. Buffett scored and acted in the 1974 film Rancho Deluxe, and appeared in the 1977 movie FM. His 1981 Coconut Telegraph album inspired a fanclub newsletter of the same name, which has maintained a worldwide subscriber base of "Parrot Heads" – Buffett's fans rival the Grateful Dead's in their enthusiasm for their hero.
The 1985 compilation Songs You Know by Heart (subtitled Jimmy Buffet's Greatest Hit[s] in self-mocking reference to the fact that "Margaritaville" was his only major pop hit) sold 2 million copies; 1992's Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads also went platinum. By that time Buffett had established a Margaritaville empire, including a record label and Margaritaville Store and Café outlets in Key West, New Orleans, Orlando, and Charleston. He wrote three best-selling books: Tales From Margaritaville, a collection of short stories; the novel Where Is Joe Merchant? ; and the memoir A Pirate Looks at Fifty, which made Buffett only the sixth author ever to top both the fiction and nonfiction lists. He has also coauthored two children's book, The Jolly Mon and Trouble Dolls, with his daughter Savannah Jane. In 1993, 1994, and 1995 Forbes magazine included Buffett on its list of highest paid entertainers. The singer spends some of his time and money on various charities, especially the ones supporting environmental issues – he crusades on behalf of Florida's endangered manatees and created the SFC Charitable Foundation in 1995. Buffett continued to pick up steam all through the '90s, performing to sell-out crowds, his albums becoming more successful than ever – he hit the Top 10 with Fruitcakes (#5, 1994), Barometer Soup (#6, 2995), Banana Wind (#4, 1996), and Beach House on the Moon (#8, 1999). Secure in his success, Buffett collaborated with Herman Wouk on the musical adaptation of Wouk's novel Don't Stop The Carnival. The show briefly ran in Miami in 1997, and Buffett released an album of songs from that production the following year. In 1999 Buffett, ever the entrepreneur, launched his own independent label, Mailboat Records (the first release was a live album recorded in Nantucket), and Radio Margaritaville, an online radio station.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).