Jimmy Buffett’s License to Chill (Second of Two Parts)

Recording a Country Album Is "Not Like Pavarotti Coming in Here"

License to Chill wasn’t the original title considered by Jimmy Buffett for his new album released Tuesday (July 13). In the last of this two-part interview with CMT News, Buffett explains the importance of a simple title, the joy of fishing with friends and what led him to record a country album.

Besides the music, what do you have in common with George Strait and Alan Jackson?

We all like to fish. It’s ironic that we wind up on a boat on a pretty remote island. … I love this job, but it’s demanding, and it gets busy out here. As a performer — I can only speak for myself — you need time away from places and from the activity like that. And I find it out there on my boat in those beautiful little remote islands in the Bahamas. I think that they probably do the same thing. I pulled into this one place, and I looked over and there was his [Alan Jackson’s] boat. Then he said, “George is here, too.” And … we went, “Well, isn’t this weird?” I love to fish, and I know they do, too. We talk more about fishing than actually we do about music when we’re off. They’re just very genuine straight-shooting people, and I like that. In this business, as long as I’ve been doing it, you tend to gravitate there. There’s a lot of hocus pocus and a lot of smoke and mirrors out here, and honest, genuine people kind of attract. I just kind of like ’em.

Last year, you had said you were planning to name the next CD Conchy Tonk. What changed?

I loved Conchy Tonk, but you know what it was? … I couldn’t figure out how to spell it, cause most people would have been saying “conchy-talk” or they’d have been going “conky-tonky. Then you’d have to explain it. If you go back to Marketing 101, don’t try to explain a song title or a tour title. It needs to be right there. … I knew that you’d hear (announcer voice) “OK, from the new Jimmy Buffet album, here’s, ’Conchy-tonky,’ and I’d had to go “Aagh!” So I changed it. (laughs) Major career decision. [Buffett’s new album includes a song titled “Conky Tonkin’,” performed with Clint Black.]

In addition to Strait and Jackson, you have several country duet partners for the album, including Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.

I’ve got this little studio, and it’s a really good-sounding studio. Toby was the first country act to go in there. We had Smashing Pumpkins … [and] a couple of other bands had come in there and cut some things. But Toby just fell in love with the place. And I happened to be in town when he was down there. We went out and had dinner and had a great time together. You start telling war stories from the road, and he was telling me some stories of hearing me for the first time in Oklahoma, and we just had a very good time. That particular song [that Toby recorded] is called “Piece of Work.” It’s written by a great young songwriter from Mobile, my hometown, named Will Kimbrough. I just love that song, and I just heard it and I thought, “I’d really love to do that with Toby,” listening to the way Toby sang. And I loved what that song said.

I’d run into Kenny in the islands down there, and it had not gone unnoticed by me that there were people in country music who were putting my name in songs and kind of borrowing a few style points there. (laughs) I was … flattered … that there were a lot of references to me in a lot of country music, and it’s kind of what I said, “Well, hell, I’ll go back and do a country album. I mean, I can do a genuine country record. Yeah, this is not a stretch for me.” (laughs) It’s not like Pavarotti coming in here, you know?

When I was doing this, it’s like you’ve got a style that doesn’t change very much because you’ve got stylistic people within there, and country’s the same way, to me. So I had all these great voices and unique people to actually come. All of a sudden, like I said, be careful what you wish for. They all said they were coming, and I went, “Oh, my God, well, who’s gonna sing on what?” So then I had to sit down with Mac [producer Mac McAnally]. I didn’t want to do a kind of straight-ahead duet thing. I wanted it to be fun, and people would be in and out. … It’s like a fresh coat of paint on an old good car. You kind of know what you want to do and what you want to tweak. That’s kind of what we did. In putting those songs together, it was amazing how it worked out. Again, you gotta throw some of it to chance and … just hope that it happens and believe in the magic of it. And I do.

You’ve done a music video for “Hey, Good Lookin’.” Do you like shooting videos?

No, I don’t. (laughs) How can I put this? I am a “capture the magic” kind of guy in records or in life. I consider myself a live performer before anything else. And then when you’re working a live audience, you’ve gotta be there at that exact moment. You’ve gotta feel it, and it’s a great feeling to do that. That is my big problem with video as a whole. It has nothing to do with anybody else. It is my problem. And then the second part of it is, I was steered into video as a default way of promoting things years ago, and I made some really bad videos. Some of them were cheap, and some of them cost more money than I could ever possibly imagine, and it all was billed back to me. The good old record company — duh. Let’s just say, up until recently, it didn’t have a lot to do with what I did. (laughs) But I had a good experience with [director] Trey Fanjoy with Alan and doing “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and they came out, and it looked good. Everybody thought that this is something we should do to capture the magic of this. I said, “Let’s just shoot it.” I call it the “fly on the wall” camera. (laughs) We’re kind of rolling the dice here.