Life on a grand scale: Islanders remember Jimmy Buffett

Musicians and friends remember early morning toasts, late night music, and living large with the singer, writer, and founder of Margaritaville.

On right is West Tisbury resident Jim Greene, pictured with Jimmy Buffett to his left at a bar they frequented in St. Barts. —Courtesy Jim Greene

In early September, singer and songwriter, author, sailor, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett died in Sag Harbor, Long Island, at the age of 76. Known for his trademark brand of island escapism, he naturally had a big following on Martha’s Vineyard, so I set out to ask various Vineyard residents if they had any thoughts or recollections about Buffett.

One of the first people I reached out to was local musician Mike Benjamin, and Mike wrote back that he had just read a Facebook post by Tom Major, the founder of Entrain, a local band with a national following started in the Nineties. 

Major said that Buffett sat in with Entrain at the Chicken Box on Nantucket. “We all huddled together onstage to decide what to play. Jimmy said, ‘Let’s play “Brown Eyed Girl.”’ Of course it’s a great song, and I love Van,” Major wrote. “But we wanted to play something not so overplayed, so we said, ‘Nah, let’s play something else.’ And Jimmy said ‘No, no, this will be great. Trust me. The girls are gonna love it.’”

“And of course they did,” Major wrote, and he was right. “I realized then that one secret to Buffett’s success was that he always thought of his fans first, and what would make them happy. Lesson learned. Thanks Jimmy. RIP, brother.”

John Abrams, president emeritus of South Mountain Co. and co-organizer of the No Nukes Concert, held on the Island in 1978, wrote, “I never saw him or knew him, but that doesn’t mean I can get his songs out of my head.”

Longtime Islander Tim Goodman, a nationally acclaimed recording artist, producer, and charter boat captain, told me, “I was greatly affected by his loss; he was such an important part of our oceangoing community, from Maine to Nantucket and the Vineyard, from Sag Harbor to Key West, and every harbor in between. Every harbor had lost its most beloved singer, and there was an emotional hole left behind. Of course I hope that Jimmy B’s songs will live and feed us forever — we are better for having them on our soundtrack.”

Few Islanders had closer ties with Buffett than Jim Greene of West Tisbury, who in his lifetime circumnavigated the world three times on Greene’s sloop Tango II, and logged in many an hour with Buffett on St. Barts. Jim recalls one time in the Eighties, he was attending a Buffett concert on Boston Common when Buffett interrupted his performance to introduce Greene to the audience, saying, “I’d like to introduce you to the man who inspired my song, “A Pirate Looks at 40.”

“He’ll be missed,” Greene said. “He left very big shoes to fill.” 

Greene told me Buffet once ordered 40 bottles of Cristal champagne to share with patrons of a bar in St. Barts: “They toasted well into the morning.”

“Jimmy lived life on a grand scale,” Greene said. “Whatever he did, he did big.”


  1. Tom’s last name is Major, no S.
    You failed to contact and interview a long time island resident who was Buffett’s boat captain.
    I could add more, but out of respect for the dead I won’t.

    • Buffet had a lot of boat captains.
      He was a smuggler, he smuggled French wine from St. Barts to St. Thomas.
      If you respected Buffet you would not have pointed out a niggling detail, and not pointed out that you are one of the cool kids.

      • Since you brought it up, I do not respect him at all. I speak from first hand encounters. I also think that his music was terrible, but that is only a small part of my negative opinion of him.
        I have no interest in being one of the “cool kids”. If you think you are cool, the odds are that you’re not.

        • Cool kids know that one of the many of Jimmy’s captains lives on the Island.
          Most of the island likes Jimmy’s music.
          Beyond his music what encounters did you have with Jimmy that caused you to have no respect for him?
          You seem to have little respect for things Island, why are you still here?
          You must know of a better place.

          • Having an opinion about a specific person does not equate with negative views about other “things island”. Nice logical fallacy.
            If others like his music, so be it. Popularity is not a measure of quality. Hell, Milli Vanilli won a Grammy.
            As the well known quote goes: “No one ever went broke underestimating the bad taste of the American public”.

  2. That boat captain was a friend of mine and close to Jimmy. Close enough that he asked Jimmy to join him and our guests at my daughters wedding in Chilmark 33 years ago. Needless, to say when Jimmy joined Hugh and Kate and Marilee on the bandstand to sing a few of his hits, he brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, young and old.

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