Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jimmy and I - the New Nucky, In a Suit and Tie

Jimmy Buffet - the New Nucky - By Bill Kelly 

                                      Jimmy Buffett, the New Nucky Thompson, in a suit and tie.

They might as well officially call August Jimmy Buffet month, as he is always on tour in August, will be playing Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall and Camden waterfront, while his old mate Scott Kirby peforms a free concert on the Somers Point Beach Friday and the Parrotheads tribute band play every Friday at the Back Bay Cafe at the Tuckahoe Inn.

When I tell people I have a photo of Jimmy in a suit and tie it's usually good for a bar room bet, so here's the photo and the story behind it.

                                               Jimmy & I - the story behind the picture 

The first time I met Buffett was at the Caribbean Club - the old Key Largo Hotel bar, before he made it big time. The hotel, where the classic Bogart film Key Largo was filmed, had burned down long ago, and in its place was this little one story bungalow, shot and beer bar on the bay, with a pool table. We were shooting pool there one afternoon with Lynn Delcorio and the guys from the Quiescence dive shop, when Jimmy, apparently having been asleep in the corner booth, woke up and introduced himself.  

Since he didn’t have a hit yet, nobody knew who he was, but he fit in well with our crowd, bought a round of drinks and fell into the nine-ball rotation with the guys while the girls sat in lounge chairs out back under the palm trees by the bay.

Later he played solo guitar and sang during the open mic night and won the $50 prize, which was a lot of money in the days when a bottle of beer cost fifty cents.

A few years later we were all glad to hear his songs on the radio and were proud to know him, especially when he made it, made it big-time from such humble beginnings. And from all accounts, the money and celebrity didn’t seem to change his personality or style.

When we finally got to Key West, after parking the van at the trailer park next to the shrimp boat docks, we went to the bar we had heard Jimmy opened – Margaritaville. Jimmy wasn’t there, but the bartender said to stick around, as he was due in to pick up the receipts, and sure enough, he came in and went right to the cash register, counted the money and put it in his pockets, and as he was walking out I stopped him and asked if he remembered us from the Key Largo days.

He stood back and scanned us, clicked his fingers and then said “nine ball, the afternoon of open mic night, right?” 

I really was surprised that he recalled us saying, “You mean that was such a special day you really remember it?”

And he said with a laugh, “You must think that I always slept in the back booth there. Sure I remember it. I just got my first record contract and I was on a load, but yea, I remember it.”

A crowd had developed around us, and somebody tugged at Jimmy’s shirt and asked him to autograph a record album. He smiled, shrugged and signed, but then somebody wanted a photo of them together, and people started pestering him, and buzzing around like flies, so he just waved to us as he walked backwards out the kitchen door.

That was the last time I saw Jimmy until Freemantle, Australia, 1987, or was it 1988? There for the America’s Cup sailing regatta, we were cheering on Dennis Conner to win back the Cup he had lost to the Aussie in Newport, R.I. four years earlier. The Cup is the oldest sports trophy in competition and it was the first time since 1858 that a foreign country had taken the America’s Cup away. Dennis Conner was embarrassed he had lost it and was determined to win it back. Jimmy wrote a song about it, and Americans who had never sailed in their lives were suddenly interested in the America’s Cup sailboat race on the other side of the world.

I heard Jimmy was there from Joe Scafario, my Ocean City, NJ neighbor who said he was walking around town when he came across Jimmy playing guitar and singing on a street corner like a vagabond, and he had a video to prove it.

A few days later I caught up with Jimmy at the bar at the Sail & Anchor pub. He was by himself, having a cold Swan, the local beer.

Even though I had grown a beard since I saw him last he recognized me. “Key Largo, right? Nine-ball. You Jersey guys are the only ones I know who play nine-ball.”

After shooting the breeze and trading a few shouts – Australian for rounds of beer, Jimmy said he really enjoyed being Down Under.

“They don’t recognize me here,” he said, incredulously. “So I can go out and about like this without people bothering me. I can’t do this at home. I can’t even hang out at my own joint because of the freaking idiots who just want a piece of me – my signature, my picture, do this, do that, I can’t even go out in public anymore. But here they don’t know me. It’s great.”

Just then a new Australian friend came up to me, “Hey Ned, What about you now?” he says.

I explain to Jimmy that the Aussies nicknamed me Ned, after their famous outlaw, and I introduce him, “Ian, this here’s my American friend Jimmy Buffett.” They shake hands and Ian orders a shout for the three of us, and asks Jimmy what he does in America. Jimmy looks at me, laughs and slaps his thigh. “See!”

They knew his songs if you named them, and hummed a few bars, but his name and reputation hadn’t quite got as far as Freemantle yet, partially because the people there pretty much live a laid back Jimmy Buffet lifestyle anyway, so it isn’t that special.

The America’s Cup races went on for weeks, through November and December, our winters being their summer, and the competition was fierce, but once there was a break in the action, before the main showdown between Dennis and the Australians, they had the America’s Cup Ball.

A black tie affair in which Prince Albert of Monaco was the guest of honor, the America’s Cup Ball is the principal social affair of the entire event, and everyone has a smashing good time. I knew Albert from Ocean City, where his family has a beach house, and once saw his mother give the trophy to Graham Hill at the Monaco Grand Prix, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to Albert because of all the festivities.

All of the best Australian bands took turns performing, and about three o’clock in the morning we were still on the dance floor when the emcee said, “We understand that Jimmy Buffet the American pop star is in the house and we’d like him to come up here and sing us a song.”

I hadn’t seen Jimmy all evening, but he came through the crowd towards me laughing and saying, “Now I’m a Pop Star, how about that?”

Then he grabs me by the arm and leans over and says in my ear, “Kelly, do you believe this? I didn’t even wear a suit and tie to my high school prom, and here I am UNDERdressed.” Just then a flash went off and somebody took a picture of us.

While all the other men wore black tie tuxedos, Jimmy had on a white suit and white tie, thus expressing his casual individuality without insulting our Aussie guests.

A few days later, at the Sail & Anchor, Jimmy was saying that he was disappointed that he didn’t do anything for Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes crew, who were always sailing, either practicing or competing. So one night they threw a party for the crew at the Beach Bar, where Jimmy could give them a good show.

I had met local Australian singer-songwriter Kelly Newton at a concert at the Eagle’s (Australian rules) football stadium a few weeks earlier, and she had tickets to see Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton at the arena, but I convinced her Jimmy would be better.

“Whose Jimmy Buffett?” she wanted to know.

I don’t know how the Rogers and Parton show went, but Jimmy was tremendous, playing acoustical guitar with another local guitarist who backed him on rhythm, with a few dozen people at the Beach Bar in Freemantle, Australia.

Jimmy playing solo acoustic at the Beach Bar in Freemantle, Australia, (circa 1988).

A few nights later Kelly Newton and I were sitting in this Italian restaurant when the waiter brought us over a bottle of champagne, saying that it was compliments of the gentleman at a nearby table. I look over and it’s Jimmy sitting with an older man.

“Jimmy Buffett,” I say.

“Jimmy Buffett?!” the waiter said.

“Yea, that’s Jimmy.”

I thought it was a big mistake because even though the waiter didn’t recognize him at first, he said he played guitar and knew Buffet’s songs and started asking Jimmy questions about music. Then he asked if he would sing a few songs if he got him a guitar, and a few minutes later the waiter was back, guitar in hand, and Jimmy was serenading a dozen people and the staff of the restaurant.

Two free and intimate Jimmy Buffett shows in as many nights.

Later on I apologized to him for breaking his cover as I knew he didn’t like the attention, but he shrugged it off and said he really likes the Australians. He then introduced me to the older man he had dinner with, - his dad, saying that he was glad he got the opportunity to sing a few songs as it made the night a little more special, especially for his pop, who seldom got a chance to see him perform.

The next day, I was walking across the Stars & Stripes compound when I came across Jimmy and his dad going the other way, thanked them for the bottle of champagne and impromptu performance, and stood back and took a picture of them.

[To see photo of Jimmy and his dad in Freemantle, Australia go to: Whitedeercafe: Jimmy and his Dad ]

A few months later, back in the States a group of us went to a Buffett concert in a limo, and I took along a copy of Jimmy’s children’s book “Jolly Mon,” about a magic guitar. I went back stage gave him some of the photos from Australia and got Jimmy to personalize it to my friend’s son, Chris McCall. But things were too chaotic and we didn’t get a chance to talk.

Then I got four Jimmy Buffett concert tickets in the mail. I don’t know if they came from him in exchange for the photos or what, but as the date got closer, I decided I really didn’t want to go. I lived in Cape May at the time and just didn’t feel like driving to Camden (my hometown) and march through the cattle pens to see him play from 300 yards away. I knew a lot of Parrottheads, and gave them to one of the biggest, one of the owners of the Fudge Kitchen, who was taking his whole family to the show.

I was really surprised to hear in the news that Buffett was going to turn the Trump Marina into a Margaritaville Hotel and Casino, and once that deal went sour thought that was the end of it, and was really, really surprised to learn that he was opening a Margaritaville on the Boardwalk at Resorts. Resorts had already adopted a 1920s motif to go with the age of the hotel and capitalize on the popularity of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, so I was wondering how the Buffett style would fit in with the 20s motif? 

I almost didn’t believe it but when it was announced I showed up for the press conference on the boardwalk.

For a guy who now owns hotels, bars and restaurant chains and puts on multi-million dollar concert tours I was surprised that he bothered to show up himself. Knowing Jimmy however, I knew he wouldn’t stick around too long with the stiffs and suits, so instead of standing with the other reporters in front of a makeshift stage on the boardwalk, I waited outback, leaned against his limo and had a smoke with his driver, Al, a young Italian kid from Chicago.

Al was telling me that Jimmy doesn’t just plan on opening up a Margaritaville Bar and Restaurant on the Boardwalk, he has bigger ambitions – he wants to hold a week long jazz festival like New Orleans and a bar bands bonanza like they have in Austin. He wants to bring back Miss America and fix the Boardwalk Hall organ, and he even wants to bring the America’s Cup boats to Atlantic City and hold the races right off Resorts so you can watch them from the hotel roofs.

It wasn’t long before Jimmy came out of the stage door of Resorts and Al opened the back seat door for him. He’s wearing shorts, a green shirt, brown baseball cap and sunglasses.

“Hi Jimmy,” I said, “remember me from Freemantle?”

“Sure Ned,” Jimmy said, “I remember you from Key Largo.” 

“You’ve come a long way since then,” I said. “Welcome to Atlantic City. Al’s been telling me about some of your plans.”

“Well thanks, yea, I’m the New Nucky Thompson,” he says with a laugh, “maybe you can show me around someday, but I gotta run right now. I’m on a tight schedule.”

“Jimmy,” I said, “will you do me a favor?”

“Sure, anything you want.”

“Sometime down the line, when you have the time, will you do a benefit show for the Marine Mammal Stranding Center?”

“Sure thing,” he says. “Anything else?”

“Well, for me, this is Atlantic City, my backyard, and if you’re the New Nucky, I’d like to have the Island Shirt concession.”

Then snapping his fingers and pointing at me, he cracks a smile and says, “You got it!”

Then the limo door slammed shut and Al jumped in the front seat and they drove off.

Just then the stage door opened and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sticks his head out of the door saying, “Is Jimmy here?”

I point to the limo driving off down South Carolina Avenue.

Dressed in black suit and pink tie, the governor has a piece of paper and pen in one hand and a camera in the other, and wipes the sweat off his brow with his arm while saying, “Shoot, I wanted to get his autograph and a picture of us together.”

“You’ll get another opportunity for that. He’ll be back,” I said. “You know governor, you’d feel a lot better and look a lot more comfortable in an island shirt.”

 Australian Outlaw Ned Kelly 
Jimmy Buffett - the New Nucky Thompson, complete with  carnation in his lapel 

                                                                                                                The Real Nucky Johnson 


The Somers Point’s Beach Concerts 20th Anniversary Party joins the “Parrothead” Celebration this Friday night with an appearance by one of the acclaimed “princes” of the Key West Caribbean musical kingdom, Scott Kirby, performing a free 2 hour concert on the Beach Friday, August 3rd before the King himself, Jimmy Buffett, appears in Atlantic City on Saturday, August 4th.  One of the most requested recording artists on radio Margaritaville, Scott Kirby will perform his enchanting “Floribean” folk rock melodies that echo the sounds of James Taylor and Jimmy Buffett from 7 to 9:30PM.  Scott will also do a meet and great with his fans and sign autographs. 

Making the show even sweeter for South Jersey fans, the Scott Kirby Band will be joined by another well known and beloved music star, Lew London, playing electric violin and guitar.  Everyone is invited to this free “Parrothead Weekend Kick Off Party” on the Somers Point Beach where the feathers will fly to the some of the finest sounds this side of Key West.  For further information go to www.SomersPointBeachConcerts.com.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

What a lovely story...you get around Bill! Glad Jimmy wants to help Atlantic City grow after being hit with all the competition in other states. "Gidget" Kathy Zuckerman will be in Ocean City next weekend but she will be at the Art of Surfing Sat night and wont get to see Jimmy. She is a friend of his and went to Hawaii w him when he opened his store/restaurant(?)...Have a wonderful August! Jennifer aka Gigi