Before Margaritaville: Why Jimmy Buffett Is An Alabama Boy At Heart
Before there were Parrotheads or cheeseburgers in paradise or any such place as Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffett was just another kid growing up in Mobile.
Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, but moved to Mobile as a boy, when his dad got a job with Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Buffett's parents wanted him to be a priest or a naval officer, and sent him to study at what is now the McGill–Toolen Catholic High School. When he wasn't studying, he was enjoying life on the Gulf Coast—fishing, swimming, boating, and waiting until he was old enough to visit the Flora-Bama.
He headed to Auburn in 1965, studying public relations and pledging the Sigma Pi fraternity, where he befriended another pledge, Johnny Youngblood, who taught him how to play guitar. He spent his time partying and practicing, much to the frustration of his landlord at the Plainsman Apartments who showed up in a recent documentary, Buried Treasure, complaining about Buffett's beer-drinking, guitar-playing ways, calling the future mega-star "a bum." Like many a college student before and after him, Buffett found it hard to balance his interests in guitar and girls with his studies and ended up failing out of Auburn in 1966. While his parents were undoubtedly frustrated by the turn of events, that ending was just the beginning for Buffett.
To avoid the draft, he re-enrolled in school, this time at a junior college in Mississippi, and played music to pay for his education. He earned spending money as a street singer in New Orleans and played shows up and down the Gulf Coast. He eventually earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. When he got a medical exemption from military service, he married his girlfriend Margie Washichek at St. Joseph's Chapel on the campus of Spring Hill College in Mobile. With a wife to support and his future in front of him, he set about establishing a career as a musician.
WATCH: Listen Up, Parrotheads: Sneak a Peek at Latitude Margaritaville
He would perform his songs at Mobile's The Admiral's Club and cut his first single—"Abandoned on Tuesday" on one side of the single, "Don't Bring Me Candy" on the other— at Product Sound Studio, at a makeshift recording studio above a dentist's office in Mobile in 1969 when he was 22 years old. The songs helped him get the attention of Nashville, where Buffett recorded his debut album, Down to Earth. The album wasn't an immediate hit and Buffett wouldn't find fame until six years later when he released Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes featuring his laidback hit, "Margaritaville".
Since then Buffett released more than 40 albums, developed two successful restaurant chains, and become a New York Times' best-selling author in both fiction and nonfiction. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.
While Buffett is frequently associated with Key West, his time in Mobile clearly stuck with him, as can be heard on his recent compilation album, Buried Treasure, Volume One, which looks back at his early years, including the album's final track, "Close The World At Five," which was written by Buffett in the hours "before his nightly gigs at The Admiral's Corner in Mobile," according to a press release reported by AL.com. If that's not Alabama enough for you, try this one: Also on the album is a cover version of "California Dreamin'" that was "recorded at a Mobile breakfast buffet celebrating America's Junior Miss Pageant and featuring backing vocals from the Junior Miss contestants themselves." While Buffett may be a Margaritaville resident, he's clearly an Alabama boy at heart.