No better oral history of the Austin music scene exists than what’s contained in the audio-visual vaults of Austin City Limits, turning 40 this year. Two of my wish list entries came true recently when I was gifted DVD dubs of Michael Nesmith and Jimmy Buffett. “The king of Key West and his salty original style,” announces Executive Producer Terry Lickona about the latter Southwestern troubadour.
“Nice to see our friends in Austin again,” winks Buffett toward the end of episode No. 906 (that’s ninth season, episode six) from 1984. The asides he’s been cracking for most of the hourlong taping makes it clear where the party occurred the night before. Onstage, the sovereign Parrothead puts on a demonstration for the ages.
For starters, the Pascagoula–born Mississippian, now 67, still had hair back then, so of course he doesn’t insert the line “somebody stole my hair” in New Orleans rub “Pencil Thin Mustache.” And by God, he’s wearing shoes – formal footwear – not to mention a pink, button-down shirt tucked into floor-length white khakis. His band boasts Little Feat’s Sam Clayton on percussion, former and future Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit, and a steel drum player from Trinidad. The set list maybe explains why Buffett’s never taped ACL again.
After opening with “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” he plugs then-new album One Particular Harbour with a shout-out to his wife and daughter on “Distantly in Love.” Yet it’s “Migration” in the third slot that roadmaps Buffett’s path through ATX and greater Texas on his way to Austinite Jerry Jeff Walker’s place in Key West, where the former Nashville songwriter and music journalist married campfire sing-alongs to beach culture:
“I got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and a little Texas hidden here in my heart.”
“Margaritaville,” “Come Monday,” Rodney Crowell’s “Stars on the Water,” “Fins” and more follow. All the hits, no bullshit. Topping it might just be impossible.– Raoul Hernandez