Parrotheads represent one of the most zealous subcultures in modern music. These Trop Rock enthusiasts have dedicated their lives to reaching the worry-free beachside fantasy found in the verses of Jimmy Buffett’s extensive catalog.
Buffett will give Parrotheads a musical prequel to the creation of Trop Rock and the Margaritaville phenomenon with the Nov. 17 release of “Buried Treasure, Volume 1.” The father of Trop Rock uses this unique release to give his avid followers a guided tour of his first year as a professional musician, taking listeners to 1969, before Buffett discovered Margaritaville.
“Buried Treasure, Volume 1” is a flashback to Buffett’s first sessions at Product Sound Studio in Mobile and his first venture into legendary Nashville producer/songwriter Buzz Cason’s Creative Workshop Studio. Buffett himself provides insight into the tracks throughout the album.
These newly discovered tracks were unearthed when John and Martina McBride bought one of Cason’s old studios. Assisted by the studio’s longtime in-house engineer/producer Travis Turk, who first met Buffett in Mobile, the McBrides found these ¼-inch tapes during the move into the studio.
In a recent press release, Buffett said discovery of these tracks inspired him to not only give his followers a collection of tracks from his early years — including covers by the Mamas and Papas and Gordon Lightfoot — but also introduce them to the people and places that helped start his journey to Margaritaville.
In addition to early Nashville recordings, this collection takes listeners around his hometown sessions at Product Sound Studios, his daily gig at The Admiral’s Corner and his performance at a breakfast event for “America’s Junior Miss.”
“There is a reason we are calling this collection of songs and stories ‘Buried Treasure,’ because they were literally buried in a closet in a recording studio in Nashville for decades,” Buffett explained. “They were discovered by an old friend, Travis Turk, who actually recorded these tracks in Mobile, Alabama, in 1969, and more in Nashville in the years following, when we both wound up moving there. Travis eventually produced the first two albums I recorded in Nashville as well. When we first found the tapes of ‘Buried Treasure,’ I didn’t know that it would turn out to be such a unique situation where I’d actually get to honor and introduce the people who started me out.”
Buffett tapped Mobilian Will Kimbrough to act as producer of this album. For over a decade, Kimbrough has worked with Buffett in a variety of capacities since his first professional encounter on the 2003 release “License to Chill.” Kimbrough lent his guitar to the album as well as the album’s fifth track, “Piece of Work.” Buffett went on to produce the album “Nobody from Nowhere” for Kimbrough and Tommy Womack’s Daddy project. Kimbrough said Buffett brought him into the project to edit voiceovers and “go through” a collection of tracks handpicked by Buffett.
Kimbrough says he was fascinated by the tracks, some of which include some of Rick Hirsch’s first studio session work. While the tracks reflect a young singer-songwriter’s early love for The Beatles and Summer of Love-era folk, Kimbrough says “the sound of his voice and accent that we all know by heart” is present throughout these deep tracks.
That stories that accompany these tracks are a beautiful complement to the album, Kimbrough adds. “I love hearing the stories and the songs, and I like to hear artists that I like when they first started,” he said. “This is stuff that has literally been hidden away for almost 50 years. That’s my favorite thing about it. It’s just never seen the light of day before. You get to hear this superstar guy/business mogul as a pretty innocent young man. It sounds like he got his heart broken a few time. He sounds young and vulnerable.”
Local producer/singer-songwriter Milton L. Brown remembers meeting that young and vulnerable man on his first visit to Product Sound Studio very well. The studio, formerly located at 1916 Airport Blvd., was run by Brown along with former WALA Chief Meteorologist John Edd Thompson, Nick Panayiotou and Travis Turk.
At that time, Buffett was engaged to Margie Washichek, known during that time for her reign as Miss USS Alabama. Washichek introduced Buffett to Brown and the Product Sound Studio team. Brown says those first tracks Buffett laid down were not the “toes-in-the-sand/Caribbean cowboy stuff” that has made him a music icon.
“It was protest songs,” Brown said. “It was that era. We brought him in with a little rhythm section and recorded a couple of the songs that he had done. What I recognized was not so much the material, but he was one of those kind of guys that when he walked in the room and smiled that Buffett smile, he lit the room. With that persona, you knew that if he could carry a tune, then you’ve got an artist.”
Brown and Buffett began working together and recording a few tracks for Product Sound’s label. After laying down more tracks for a showcase demo, Brown took Buffett to Nashville to establish a foundation in Music City. Brown says his Nashville connections noted his talent but had no musical “niche” for him, especially since Buffett was adamant about not being a country artist.
However, Brown persisted in finding Buffet his place in the music world. Brown and Turk rented inexpensive, late-night sessions in Nashville and placed Buffett in the studio alongside well-known Nashville session musicians. Eventually, he had the opportunity to record three of his own tracks for Brown to shop to music industry figures.
“I took him to Jack Grady at CBS Music,” Brown said. “He liked him and said, ‘We’ll give him $50 a week and we’ll promise him an album in his first year.’ I called up Margie and Jimmy and told him that he was going to be a CBS artist. They were thrilled, and I could hear the champagne corks popping.”
But within 24 hours CBS decided to change the deal. Instead of $50 a week, CBS was only willing to offer Buffett half of the initial money promised. Knowing Buffett could not live in Nashville on that kind of money, a crestfallen Brown returned to his motel near Music Row. When he arrived, he found Buzz Cason had left a note for him. Unbeknownst to Brown, Turk had told Cason about CBS’s deal with Buffett. Cason and his partner, Bobby Russell, had sold their catalog to Lawrence Welk for $1 million, and had an interest in Buffett.
“[Cason] said, ‘Milton, I’ll give Jimmy the deal that CBS welshed on,’” Brown said. “So we met in little Lum’s cafeteria and wrote out the deal on the back of a napkin. He moved up there, and the rest of it other people can tell you.”
While this collection is considered “Volume 1,” future releases in the “Buried Treasure” series are unknown at this point. Until then, Parrotheads should thoroughly enjoy these unique deep tracks and Buffett’s personal insight into the inspirations and situations that surround them.
Fans will have to choose between standard and deluxe editions of the new release. The standard includes a “28-page book detailing the album’s remarkable story of music history.” The deluxe edition features “an exclusive 40-page collector’s edition with never-before-seen photos and a bonus documentary DVD, “Buried Treasure: Mobile to Nashville.” With the holiday season approaching, this album should be added to the Christmas wish lists of Parrotheads worldwide.