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.”