Feature: Jimmy Buffett

By GARY GRAFF   |   June 20, 2003 at 7:00 AM
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DETROIT, June 20 (UPI) -- Jimmy Buffett sings about wasting away in Margaritaville. But it doesn't seems that he wastes much time when left to his own devices.

From albums to tours, musical to movies and the occasional book, the veteran singer-songwriter -- a Mississippi native who began recording 33 years ago -- always seems to have a full plate of projects to feed to his fans, affectionately known as the Parrotheads.

This year, Buffett is touring (as usual), promoting a new album -- the hits collection "Meet Me In Margaritaville" -- and putting a new film in motion. His Shrimp Boat Sound Studios in Key West, Fla., has been busy with artists such as Billy Corgan, Toby Keith and Alan Jackson (whose new single, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" features a duet with Buffett), and his label, Mailboat Records, is distributing new albums by Boz Scaggs and Dan Fogelberg.

"I don't apologize for being a businessman as well as being a performer," says Buffett, 56, who kicks off his summer tour on June 24 in suburban Detroit. "As an artist, it's amazing what you will do when you realize that what you do affects what you get, directly, as opposed to doing all the (things) you used to have to do for record companies -- and then fight for your money.

"It's like getting equity in yourself. If you can get yourself in a position where you can be in charge of your own fate, that's a good thing. I think the more kids that see you have to do that in this business, the less train wrecks you're going to have down the road to success.

"`I don't want to be on `Behind the Music,' y'know -- the soap opera of `We made our money, we did drugs, we got divorced and we're gonna come back.' I'd like to avoid that scenario as much as possible."

The "Meet Me in Margaritaville" anthology certainly attests to a musical career well-spent. Its 38 tracks not only feature fan favorites such as "Margaritaville," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Fins" and "Volcano," but also several new recordings, including live tracks, covers of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin' " and the Beach Boys' "Sail on Sailor," and even fresh takes on hits like "Son of a Son of a Sailor" and "He Went to Paris."

"I didn't want to just do the typical `two new tracks, a couple of new pictures and sell it' thing," Buffett explains. "So we went back in and looked at some things we really wanted to do differently.

"It was fun. The band, now, is a collection of some of the best players we've ever had. There are certain songs that stick out that I thought we play better now than we when recorded them, so why not go at `em again?"

Buffett's other major project at the moment is a movie -- and not his long-delayed film adaptation of his best-selling novel "Where is Joe Merchant?" Instead he's purchased the rights to Carl Hiassen's 2002 children's book "Hoot;" a script is being developed, and Buffett has also enlisted Lost Highway Records chief Luke Lewis, who oversaw the Grammy-winning "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, to help come up with a musical scheme for the movie.

"I've kind of quietly put this thing together with the intention of going in and making a very modestly budgeted movie in Florida, with people who get it," says Buffett, who previously worked with author Herman Wouk on a theatrical production of his novel "Don't Stop the Carnival."

"I won't give up control of it for money, which is what you usually have to do. I don't know if I will be successful or not, but I'm gonna try."

And while Buffett's other enterprises include Margaritaville restaurant franchises and a new line of tequila, he's most enamored with Mailboat Records, whose roster also includes the hard rock band Poison. With Mailboat, Buffett says he's out to create a new model for the music industry, one that's artist-friendly and leaves the performer in total control of everything from creation to promotion.

"The great thing is you don't have to run it like a record company," explains Buffett, who's planning to record a country album next. "I've never had to make any decision on an artist other than `Are we gonna sign them to the label?' We don't pay recording costs, and we don't do promotion. It's up to (the artists). We distribute and, on occasion, we might advance you some money.

"It's that clean; `Bring us a record and it's on your shoulders.' And the interesting thing is people are seeing what we're doing, and Mailboat is becoming the model for the future. When we're in the midst of the end of the record business as we know it, I'm glad we're leading the pack."

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