Jimmy Buffett is bringing back the beach vibes with Life on the Flip Side, a sun-soaked album that debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s country album chart in June. A few days before a long-awaited fishing trip in Nantucket, Buffett called in to CMT.com to talk about his charming new video for “Down at the Lah De Dah,” premiering below.
In this first half of our two-part interview, the man behind “Margaritaville” reveals the inspiration for the video, how he “Buffettized” the song, and why he still sings in bars. Take a look at “Down at the Lah De Dah,” then enjoy our visit with Jimmy Buffett below the player.
CMT: The video for “Down at the Lah De Dah” captures that Coral Reefer Band vibe, even though you’re all miles apart right now. What was your reaction when you saw this video in its final form?
JB: We’ve been basically trying to keep in touch with our fan base while we’re not out playing. Fortunately we have Margaritaville Radio and Margaritaville TV, which are vehicles we have always used to stay in touch with fans. They certainly came in handy when everybody was quarantined. In the process of that, you watched a lot of people figure out the technology of how to do music with what was available. That’s what we started out doing.
What gave me the idea was when Lin-Manuel Miranda, who did Hamilton, made a YouTube video of a birthday greeting to a little girl. He got the idea to get the original cast members and put together a video with them filming themselves, wherever they were. When I saw that, I said, “That’s how we do this!” Fortunately I’ve worked with Lin before and he’s a friend, and I called him and said, “How’d you do that?!” (laughs)
So we took Paul Brady from Dublin, the girls in California, the band in Nashville, me in Malibu, and it looks really great! We used our video director, Stan Kallem, who does all of our roadwork – he’s a pretty talented guy but also knows us, and has been around us enough to know how to “do us” in particular. We took basically what we do at shows, which is try to treat people to a little more than just the songs. We take them on a bit of a vacation. I think he did a brilliant job. I tested it on people from 15 to 75 and it worked!
I liked that island imagery that is mixed in with the band performances, too.
You know, we always knew that people liked that at the shows because if I’m standing on stage at the show — in the age of very few people asking for autographs and everyone wanting a picture — I’ll see the cameras come out, with people taking pictures of us against the backdrops of our set. It’s pretty interesting.
Was there a certain spot you had in mind when you wrote the song?
Actually it was written originally by Paul Brady. When I met Paul Brady last year, when he opened our shows in London and Dublin, he had come highly recommended by my friend Mark Knopfler. And he was spot on. …So, getting to know him was a pleasure. He’s one of those guys you meet and you feel like you’ve known him for 40 years.
Then he sent me the first draft of the song and I just loved it! It had a little bit of everything, and I said, “Well, I’d like to write a different verse that I’d like to finish this with.” I’ve done co-writing with a lot of people like that and they call it “Buffettizing.” Somebody will send me a song and I’ll say, “I like that, but…” So that was the process by which “Lah De Dah” came out, and we wrote it together.
When you think about the bar in “Down at the Lah De Dah,” does that take you back to your early career of singing in bars and trying to get started?
Oh yeah! I still get up and sing in bars! Before there was a pandemic, I thought to myself, I had to be a good solo performer for my entire life that I do this, because that’s how you learn an audience. You’ve got to deal with a lot of stuff, and the thing of it is, I always think that I have to be able to go back and do that.
An example that comes to mind is that two years ago, we were at the Naval Academy playing a show and we hadn’t been there in, like, 20 years. So it was a highly anticipated event. We walked out and people were going crazy, and halfway through the first song, the power went out in the building. And all I did was pick up my acoustic guitar and walk to the foot of the stage, sat down and played “Brown Eyed Girl.” And I knew they would all sing along. I knew what to do in a moment like that because I’d done it many times before. You still have to have that trick in your trick bag. (laughs)
Did you always have to win over the bartenders in those early days, too? Especially when there are only 10 people in the room?
Oh yeah. One time I went to work on New Year’s Day in Atlanta and nobody showed up. I thought, “Wow, I’ll get a night off here,” because I had a little bit of a hangover from New Year’s Eve in Key West. And then the owner said, “No, you’re going to play for the waitresses, bartenders, and cooks.” So I did!
I’ve always said, I’ve played to two people. I’ve played to no people. I’ve table-sang at Mexican restaurants in Alabama! So, anybody that’s willing to listen is going to get a good show! (laughs)