Buffett began his musical career in Nashville, Tennessee during the late 1960s as a country artist and recorded his first album, the folk rock Down to Earth, in 1970. During this time Buffett could be frequently found busking for tourists in New Orleans. Country music singer Jerry Jeff Walker took him to Key West on a busking expedition. Buffett then moved to Key West and began establishing the easy-going beach bum persona for which he is known. Following this move, Buffett combined country, folk, and pop music with coastal as well as tropical lyrical themes for a sound sometimes called “gulf and western.” Today, he is a regular visitor to the Caribbean island of Saint Barts and other islands where he gets inspiration for many of his songs and some of the characters in his books.
Buffett’s third album was the 1973 A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. A1A followed in 1974, Havana Daydreamin’ appeared in 1976, followed by 1977’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, which featured the breakthrough hit song “Margaritaville”.
During the 1980s, Buffett made far more money off his tours than albums and became known as a popular concert draw. He released a series of albums during the following twenty years, primarily to his devoted audience, and also branched into writing and merchandising. In 1985, Buffett opened the first of the “Margaritaville” restaurants in Key West, bringing new visibility and life to the Margaritaville name. During the 1980s Buffett played at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. He briefly changed the name of the band from “Coral Reefers” to the “Coral Reef Band” to suit the HLS&R’s request as they thought “Reefers” was a drug related reference. HLS&R is a charity event that provides student grants to children and young adults that compete in agriculture contests (FFA).
Two of the more out-of-character albums were Christmas Island, a collection of holiday songs, and Parakeets, a collection of Buffett songs sung by children and containing “cleaned-up” lyrics (like “a cold root beer” instead of “a cold draft beer”).
In 1997, Buffett collaborated with novelist Herman Wouk to create a short-lived musical based on Wouk’s novel, Don’t Stop the Carnival. Broadway showed little interest in the play, and it only ran for six weeks in Miami. He released the soundtrack for the musical in 1998.
In August 2000 Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band played on the White House lawn for then President Bill Clinton.
In 2003, he partnered in a partial duet with Alan Jackson for the song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” a number one hit on the country charts. This song won the 2003 Country Music Association Award for Vocal Event of the Year. This was Buffett’s first award of any kind for his music in his 30 year career.
Buffett’s album, License to Chill, released on July 13, 2004, sold 238,600 copies in its first week of release according to Nielsen SoundScan. With this, Buffett topped the U.S. pop albums chart for the first time in his three-decade career.
Buffett continues to tour throughout the year although he has shifted recently to a more relaxed schedule of around 20–30 dates, and rarely on back-to-back nights, preferring to play only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, thus the title of his 1999 live album Buffett Live — Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays. Purchasing tickets is difficult with most of his concerts selling out in minutes.
In the summer of 2005 Buffett teamed up with Sirius radio and introduced channel 31: Radio Margaritaville, and as of November 2008 is also on XM radio channel 55. Until this point Radio Margaritaville was solely an online channel. The channel broadcasts from the Margaritaville restaurant at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida. The channel is still available online at RadioMargaritaville.com.
In August 2006, he released the album Take The Weather With You. The song “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On” on this album refers to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Also on the album he pays tribute to Merle Haggard with his rendition of “Silver Wings” and covers, with Mark Knopfler playing on the track, “Whoop De Doo.”
Of the over 30 albums Jimmy Buffett has released, as of October 2007, he has 8 Gold Albums and 9 Platinum or Multi Platinum Albums. In 2003 Buffett won his first ever Country Music Award (CMA) for his song “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson, and was nominated again in 2007 for the CMA Event of the Year Award for his song “Hey Good Lookin” which featured Alan Jackson and George Strait.