When Jimmy Buffett released his latest album, “Buffett Hotel,” in December, some of his Parrothead faithfuls were already familiar with the new songs.
That’s because Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band previewed much of the material during their 2009 shows — seven of the 12 tracks by band member and co-producer Mac McAnally’s estimate.
“I’d never done that before,” says the Mississippi-born Buffett, 63, who used the fan feedback to finish the songs and complete the album, which debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 chart. “Usually it’s the other way around; you put the album out and you go out with it and you’re lucky to get one or two songs in the show. This was a complete reversal, and the test was that whatever the new material was, it better damn well hold up to the regular playlist.
“So it was like writing on assignment, and I think it worked pretty successful.”
Though Buffett and his music are usually associated with the Caribbean or the Florida Keys, Africa was the point of inspiration for “Buffett Hotel.” A trip to Mali for the annual Festival au Desert (Festival in the Desert) in early 2009 got Buffett’s creative juices rolling for the new album — particularly its title track, which was recorded with local musicians in Bomako after spotting the Hotel De La Gare Buffet — better, and fortuitously, known as the Buffet Hotel — in the train station. “I looked at that sign and thought, ‘How many times did they misspell my name on album covers and contracts and everything else?’” Buffett recalls with a laugh.
“I actually didn’t go into the desert with the idea of making an album. But when we got to the train station and saw that scene and started hearing all the music that was around us, I thought to myself, ‘We’re gonna start here ... ’ And away we went.”
Buffett — who’s played to more than 4 million people during the past 10 years — released another album, an acoustic live set called “Encores,” in April, but there are other creative endeavors on his plate beyond the music. Though Buffett says that he’s “out of the movie business” at the moment following the troubled adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s 2002 children’s book “Hoot,” he’s working on a documentary about his trip to Mali with director Margaret Brown. He also has two books in progress, a collection of short stories set in the Pacific and “a rock ‘n’ roll novel” called “Mudbath” that is “based on a real-life adventure, but hopefully you won’t recognize any of the characters.”
“Getting on the radio, that’s way in the past for me,” he explains. “Making something that people who like what I do can add to their collection is all I’m doing these days, whether it’s albums, DVDs, books ... It’s great to work for people who really want and like what you’ve got to offer, y’know?”
JIMMY BUFFETT & THE CORAL REEFER BAND perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 22, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Clarkston. Tickets are sold out. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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