Empty Seats to Parrotheads

Come Monday/Changes In Latitudes/Why Don't We Get Drunk Live - Jimmy Buffet

It was 1973 and I was doing Regional Promotion for ABC Records out of Dallas, when I got a call about an artist coming to town, his name was Jimmy Buffett. We had one album titled: "Living and Dying in ¾ Time," with a picture of Buffett sitting on the deck of a wrecked boat that threw off a hit single, "Come Monday," but nothing much more.

The next day I went to pick him up, and I remember the first thing he asked me was if I knew how to find the eccentric singer/songwriter, Townes Van Zandt, and I replied that I had no idea. He said he had a gig in town that night at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium, but we had not been informed. That night I took him to the venue, where there were only a few cars in the usually packed parking lot. Not a good sign.

We entered through the artist’s entrance and I peeked out at the room. There didn’t appear to be 50 people in the seats, and there was no promoter or contact to talk to. But Jimmy said he was still going on and play the gig, so they’d have to pay him. Since there was no one to introduce him, I walked out on stage, took the microphone and did a short introduction.

He played a full acoustic set, got some courteous applause from those present, and we packed up and I took him back to the hotel. He was upset and I wasn’t happy either--it’s a horrible thing to happen to a performer. The next day we visited radio stations and he departed. I doubted if I’d ever see him again.

Then came A1A.

One day I opened a new box of albums with Jimmy’s picture sitting in a lawn chair under a Palm Tree and gazing at the ocean as if in a trance. I put it on the turntable in the office and found it very tasty, the songs started to have what would be his signature Nautical themes reflecting his recent move to Key West, Florida.

‘A1A’ is the major State road running north to south along the Atlantic coast through all the beach towns. We took it to the album rock stations that loved its hip, happy sounds in kind of a country-folk- rock mode that would eventually be the favorite of his dedicated followers, "The Parrot Heads," who attend his concerts and party hearty, many in costumes. But it wasn’t time for that yet.

A1A contained at least one hit single called "A Pirate Looks at Forty" that was all over Top 40 radio for weeks, and went to #1 on the Billboard chart. It’s still part of every Buffett set list, the so-called Top 8, that Buffett plays at every show, always in the second half. A pretty clever way to keep the crowd around until the end.

About the time the single peaked we got word that Jimmy was coming back to town with the Coral Reefers Band, which featured the phenomenal mouth harp (harmonica) player, Greg "Fingers" Taylor, whose distinctive sound would be on many Buffett records. Anyway, Jimmy was set to play at the Dallas Blues Club, Mother Blues, a showcase for many major acts. He was to do two shows that night, and I wondered if we could fill the room twice; but my fears were unfounded, both shows sold out.

We had a who’s who of radio and record folks there that night, and it’s still fondly remembered by those who attended as a very special show. I had gone in one year from introducing Buffett to an almost empty auditorium, to a new star rising; one of the rare great thrills of record promotion, and good for sales too.

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