Music

Story Behind the Song: The Texas Origins of Jimmy Buffett's 'Margaritaville'

Jimmy Buffett, center, and members of the cast are seen during the curtain call following the Broadway opening night of "Escape to Margaritaville" at the Marquis Theatre on Thursday, March 15, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)

Before it became synonymous with singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, his Parrothead fan base and his business ventures which include the Margaritaville resorts and restaurant chain and his Landshark Lager beer, Buffett's 1977 hit "Margaritaville" took shape in Austin, Texas.

Austin-based restaurant Lung's Cocina del Sur, located at 2700 W. Anderson Lane (now the home of bowling and gaming destination High 5!), served Buffett the frozen concoction that got him thinking about that lost shaker of salt. Not the Caribbean origin story some might expect, although Austin isn't a bad starting place if you want a tequila-heavy frozen drink.

That drink plus the first huge surge of tourists in Key West, Florida inspired Buffett to begin the song at a friend's house in Austin before he, too, descended on Key West's beaches.

"One day in the studio, (Buffet) comes in and starts telling me about a day he had in Key West," producer Norbert Putnam told Sound on Sound. "He was coming home from a bar and he lost one of his flip-flops and he stepped on a beer can top and he couldn't find the salt for his Margarita. He says he's writing lyrics to it and I say 'That's a terrible idea for a song.' He comes back in a few days later with 'Wasted Away Again In Margaritaville' and plays it and right then everyone knows it's a hit song."

Hit is an understatement for a song that topped Billboard's Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart. Few songs from 1977, a year associated with punk rock, The Eagles' Hotel California and Fleetwood Mac's Rumors, maintained the same cultural impact as "Margaritaville." The Recording Academy commemorated the song's staying power with its 2016 induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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Yes, it's not a country song, but it's hard to separate the chart success of "Margaritaville" and the album it's from, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, from Kenny Chesney's flip-flop-wearing beach bum persona or Alan Jackson ("It's Five o'Clock Somewhere") and the Zac Brown Band's ("Knee Deep") working relationships with Buffett.

At a time when Buffett's Coral Reefer Band features Nashville songwriter Mac McAnally and doesn't sound all too different from what's played on country radio, "Margaritaville" remains one of the "Big 8" played in most of Buffett's sets, with the others being "Come Monday," "Fins," "Volcano," "A Pirate Looks at Forty," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Why Don't We Get Drunk" and "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes."

"Margaritaville" Lyrics

Nibbling on sponge cake
Watching the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil
Strumming my six-string
On my front porch swing
Smell those shrimp, they're beginning to boil

Wastin' away again in Margaritaville
Searching for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
But I know it's nobody's fault

Don't know the reason
I stayed here all season
Nothing to show but this brand new tattoo
But it's a real beauty
A Mexican cutie
How it got here I haven't a clue

Wastin' away again in Margaritaville
Searching for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
Now I think, hell, it could be my fault

I blew out my flip-flop
Stepped on a pop top
Cut my heel had to cruise on back home
But there's booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on

Wastin' away again in Margaritaville
Searching for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
But I know it's my own damn fault

Yes, and some people claim that there's a woman to blame
And I know it's my own damn fault

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Story Behind the Song: The Texas Origins of Jimmy Buffett's 'Margaritaville'