Vinnie holding a plaque made for him on his 40th birthday. It has the number 40 and a pirate on it.

Someone made this wood carving for Vinnie when he turned 40. He says it gives new meaning to Buffett’s song that include “…the occupation’s just not around.”

I was just getting used to the loss of my songwriting hero, Harry Chapin, when I saw Jimmy Buffett for the first time in concert. It was 1979 and he was playing at the Six Flags Amusement Park in Jackson N.J. For the price of admission to the park, you could enjoy all of the rides and see two concerts, one at 6 p.m. and one at 9:30. If you showed up after 5, admission was only five dollars! What a deal. The silly thing was I couldn’t get anyone to go with me! I showed up with my binoculars in my knapsack, along with a bottle of rum and a couple of limes. I bought a large Coke and made for the concert venue, which was an outdoor stadium where they held rodeos during regular hours. It was small enough so I could get fairly close to the stage. Never having seen Jimmy before I was impressed by his charisma and the way you felt like he was singing the music just for you. He played his own music, and a lot of old favorites that fit in with the general laid-back atmosphere.

After the concert, I bought another Coke and took my “Cuba Libre” to the Ferris wheel, where I relaxed until the next performance, going up and down and around with a spectacular view of the entire park. The second performance was a lot more crowded, so I opted to sit up in the top of the bleachers where I could get a good view of the audience as well as the musicians. The weather was hot and muggy, but the music was just as great as his first show. He and the Coral Reefers played several different sets covering the favorites he missed the first time around. About halfway through the show a thunderstorm came through turning the whole place into a wet T shirt contest. He and the band were sort of protected by a cover that overhung the stage, but a lot of rain blew in and drenched them too. They just kept on playing and after the song was over, he asked “Are y’all cool enough now that we’ve turned on the air conditioning?” I just sat back with my binoculars and enjoyed the scenery.

After that, I was hooked. Many of his songs just happened to come along at the right time of my life that they could have been written with me in mind. Here are a few of my anthems:

  • Son of a Son of a Sailor
  • Captain and the Kid
  • He Went to Paris
  • Growing Older but Not Up
  • Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season
  • The Weather is Here (I wish you   were beautiful)
  • Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
  • If the Phone Doesn’t Ring It’s Me
  • Boats to Build
  • Last Mango in Paris
  • A Pirate Looks at 40

Many people don’t know that Jimmy Buffet was also an author, publishing a number of books from fiction to music lessons. My favorites are “Where is Joe Merchant” and “A Salty Piece of Land.” (The last chapter of which brought tears to my eyes.)

Many eulogies have been written listing all his accomplishments but thinking of the profound influence he’s had on my life, all I can think of to say is, “Sail on, Jimmy, Sail on.”

Photo: provided by Vinnie Mendes