These days, singer/songwriter/empire builder Jimmy Buffett has become known -- not least 'round these parts -- as a delivery vessel for a familiar brand of light trop-rock that comes off as accessible, geographically appropriate and, some would say, overly simplistic. Once summer sails into the Lowcountry, it's not unusual to encounter a constant wave of Buffett songs on local boats, beaches and bars (Big Bamboo even hosts a full-time Buffett cover guy, Jack the Jammer), which, depending on your take, can be a welcome addition to your island experience or eye-rolling escapist silliness delivered by a multi-quajillionaire.
But often lost in the drive-by assessment of Buffett's work is that over the years, the man has recorded some pretty good songs. It can be hard to imagine on an island that doesn't get much past "Margaritaville," "Come Monday" or, ugh, "Cheeseburger in Paradise," but Buffett first came to light in the '70s as a singer-songwriter in the vein and orbit of John Prine, Jim Croce, Steve Goodman and Jerry Jeff Walker. He started life as a country singer, adopting the flip-flop-blowing-out persona after being brought to Key West by Walker in the early '70s and relocating there shortly thereafter.
And it was during the profile '70s that he recorded some of his best songs; outside of the "Come Monday"/"Margaritaville" zone there were "Havana Daydreamin'," "Tin Cup Chalice," Goodman's "Banana Republics" and more, songs that argue, sure, there's the guy who routinely draws vanloads of middle-aged Hawaiian shirt people to amphitheaters across the land every year, but there's also an actual musician there.
But don't take it from us: Here's an incomplete chart of connections to and from Buffett, proof that his reach -- and the reach to him -- goes to the mainland and back again.
In 2009 music critic and writer Bill Flanagan asked Dylan about his favorite songwriters. Guess who came up first. "Buffett, I guess," said Dylan, also mentioning Gordon Lightfoot, Warren Zevon, Prine and Guy Clark. When asked his favorite Buffett songs, Dylan went with the little-known "Death of an Unpopular Poet" from the 1973 album "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean," and the unconscionably depressing "He Went to Paris," both of which an appreciative Buffett took to playing in concert the summer -- after a sincere, slightly disbelieving thank-you.
A guy who knows a little something about fostering a fan base that some find religious and others find inexplicable, Matthews sang Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" with the Coral Reefer Band in 2005 for a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina. A mutual admirer, Buffett took to playing DMB's "Tripping Billies" that same year.
The legendary jam-band with local ties has performed with Buffett on stage; Buffett returned the favor by contributing a cover of "Gumbo" to an obscure Phish tribute record called "Sharin' In The Groove."
The British indie band, a favorite of Buffett's daughter Savannah, serves as the house band for a cover of the Crowded House track "Weather With You" that appears on Buffett's 2006 album, confusingly titled "Take The Weather With You."
The Dire Straits frontman contributes guitar to Buffett's 2006 cover of his own "Whoop De Doo." Yep, actual title.
Prior to recording their now-inescapable "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere" did OK, Jackson and Buffett recorded a cover of "Margaritaville" for a 1999 Jackson covers record.
The Chicago-born singer-songwriter was a frequent Buffett collaborator before his untimely death in 1984 -- Buffett filled in for Goodman, who was slated to sing the national anthem in the Cubs' first postseason game since 1945. Buffett's recorded a number of Goodman songs over the years, but most evocatively began playing Goodman's "City of New Orleans" after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, dedicating the song to the broken city.
In 2006, Buffett, Flanagan and Chris Blackwell, the guy who basically brought Bob Marley to America, walked into a bar in Cape Verde, saw Ferreira performing, got in touch and brought him to the states, arranging his debut at the 2009 edition of Bonnaroo in Tennessee (Buffett joined Ferreira for what was likely his only noon set time in the past 30 years). Ferreira has spent the past few years opening for Buffett and occasionally joining his Coral Reefer Band. He also played Remy's in 2010; if he returns, go check him out.
No surprise here: The terminally laid-back Hawaiian surfer/singer and Buffett share seas-and-songs DNA. Buffett has performed Johnson's conservationist anthem, "The Horizon Has Been Defeated"; Johnson has regularly played "A Pirate Looks At 40."