From USA Today: Jimmy Buffett talks releasing a new album during a pandemic and why he stopped drinking margaritas
True to character, Jimmy Buffett’s quarantine has consisted of playing guitar, practicing French and spending time out on the water with his family in southern California.
But one thing it does not include is margaritas. In 2018, the beach bum icon sent shock waves through Margaritaville when he revealed he no longer imbibes his signature drink. Instead, he prefers straight tequila on the rocks, and typically only on weekends.
“Margaritas have gotten very sweet. I like real lime juice; I don’t like a lot of sugar,” Buffett tells USA TODAY. “The other day I was watching ‘Queer Eye’ and they were doing a makeover, and the guy had what he called a Redneck Margarita, which was just bad tequila and Mountain Dew. And I went, ‘That’s way too far, I’d never do that.’ But good tequila and a lime, yes.”
Regardless of what’s under his cocktail umbrella, Buffett is the same master storyteller we’ve known for five decades on new album “Life on the Flip Side,” out Friday, his first album since 2013’s “Songs from St. Somewhere.”
The music is a return to the “Key West phase” of Buffett’s early ’70s albums, which spawned hits including “Come Monday” and “Grapefruit – Juicy Fruit,” and featured playful lyrics about finding love in paradise, years before cheeseburgers hit the menu. The album’s 14 songs cover expected Buffett terrain – lazy beach days (“Who Gets to Live Like This”) and wine-soaked nights (“Half Drunk”) – but also hit on more poignant subjects that resonate differently during a global pandemic.
“Live Like It’s Your Last Day,” for instance, was inspired by the singer’s past experiences with a 1994 plane crash and 2011 stage fall.
“I’ve had a couple close calls and I’m still here, so I think I’ve been living like it could be my last day for a long time,” says Buffett, 73. “I would just write out of personal experience, and all of a sudden, along comes a pandemic and a lot of other people can (relate). But that’s what songs are for, and I think that’ll happen with some of these songs.”
Buffett recorded the album earlier this year in Key West, Florida, with his Coral Reefer Band, to coincide with a sprawling U.S. tour this spring and summer. The dates were soon postponed due to coronavirus concerns, and his team considered delaying the album’s release as well.
“Jimmy, however, was the first to shut down that thinking,” says Mac McAnally, Buffett’s longtime co-writer and bandmate. “Since we can’t be there in person in this pandemic, he wants to be there to lift spirits any other way possible. Jimmy’s been making folks smile for several decades and continuing that tradition is much more important than maximizing any marketing plan. That’s one of the things I like most about him and our whole organization: We’re like a traveling circus with guitars.”
In lieu of live shows, Buffett has embarked on a so-called “virtual tour”: rebroadcasting archived concerts on his website and SiriusXM radio station every Wednesday and Saturday night. His devoted fans – collectively known as Parrotheads – often share pictures of themselves on social media “tailgating” in their living rooms and backyards, wearing bathing suits and flower leis as they drink and dance along.
“In the middle of dealing with tragedy, you have to have a little bit of fun and that’s really apparent in the people who are loyal fans of ours,” Buffett says. “We’ve always had the ability as Americans to solve problems. I’m not very keen on any of the political situations happening with it, but I believe in the intelligence of some of the people out there with the funds and wherewithal to get through this.”
As for Trump’s handling of the pandemic, “Let’s just say I knew him in Florida and he hasn’t changed since then,” Buffett adds.
And although the future of live music seems grim – with experts predicting concerts and festivals won’t return until next year – the music mogul says he has no problem playing to much smaller crowds in order to keep fans safe. He points to a 2014 show he performed at a drive-in theater in Fort Worth, Texas, long before that became a socially distant trend.
At the start of the pandemic, “people asked me, ‘Would you really go out and play to 10 or 20 people?’ And I said, ‘I’ve played bars where nobody showed up but the bartenders and waitresses,’ ” Buffett says. “If you’re not a performer who really loves what you do, then you don’t understand that it doesn’t matter if two people or 2,000 people are listening. They’re going to get the same show.”