I spent the past week in the Canadian Rockies. Like most people, when I am in the Rockies my thoughts turn to Jimmy Buffett. No? More of an island vibe? Buffett wasn’t always a man-made island of self-parodying merchandizing empire.
I saw someone remark somewhere that Jimmy Buffett was Kenny Chesney before Kenny Chesney was Kenny Chesney. Like Kenny Chesney, Buffett’s music suffered from self-imitation of his own self-curated island image. More surprisingly, like Kenny Chesney, Buffett has roots in country music.
Michael Streissguth’s Outlaw was one of my vacation reads; Streissguth mentions Buffett as one of the young, hip songwriters who descended on a pre-outlaw country Nashville. The country influences were more evident in his early work and, frankly, it was his better work.
Buffett’s “Big 8” includes two great songs—A Pirate Looks At Forty and Come Monday—two very good and very fun songs—Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude and Why Don’t We Get Drunk—one very good song kept teetering on the edge of being annoying by incessant play—Margarittaville—two annoying songs—Fins and Volcano—and one of the most extraordinarily annoying songs in the history of recorded music—Cheeseburger In Paradise.
As usual, the Bobos are to blame.
Drag Buffett for his novelty songs all you want, but of course novelty songs and planting a tongue firmly in cheek are quintessential aspects of country music. Texas country great Jerry Jeff Walker is to blame for introducing Buffett to Key West.
The reason for my association between Buffett and the Rockies is a little-known song of his titled A Mile High In Denver that far outstrips some of his far better known songs. It has obvious folk influences, to be sure, but is safely a country song, with nary an island reference to be found.
A Mile High In Denver is off Buffett’s debut studio album Down to Earth, an album both Parrotheads and Buffett like to pretend never happen.
He Went To Paris ends on the islands, but it is a storytelling song directly in the country music tradition. Waylon Jennings covered the song and Buffett recorded the album in the studio of Tompall Glaser, another key figure in the outlaw country movement. It is also a great song.
He Went To Paris is off A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, Buffett’s first major-label album from his “Key West phase.”
Despite the thoroughly punchable picture of Buffett on the album cover, Son Of A Son Of A Sailor is a great song. “Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks, and I learned much from both of their styles” could be the motto of both my blogs. With Buffett at his best it’s impossible not to feel the romantic pull of the sea, even if my people are more at home in trailers than on boats.
Son Of A Son Of A Sailor is the title track from Buffett’s first post-Margarittaville album. But, like A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, Son Of A Son Of A Sailor peaked higher on the country charts than it did the pop charts.
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