Before it became synonymous with the late singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, his Parrothead fan base and his business ventures which include the Margaritaville resorts and restaurant chain, the musical Escape to Margaritaville 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 cold, adult beverage plus the first huge surge of tourists in Key West, Fla. inspired Buffett to begin the song at a friend's house in Austin before the singer-songwriter also 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.
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.
After a late-career stint during which Buffett's Coral Reefer Band featured Nashville songwriter Mac McAnally and didn't sound all too different from what's played on country radio, "Margaritaville" remained 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."
After Buffett's Sept. 1 death, multiple country acts paid tribute to him in their live sets. Old Dominion's among those to cover "Margaritaville," with lead singer Matthew Ramsey delivering a stirring version during a set in Aspen, Colo.
This story originally ran on June 19, 2020.
READ MORE: Zac Brown Band Honors Jimmy Buffett With 'Margaritaville' Performance: 'An Incredible American Poet and Soul'
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