The passing of the legendary Jimmy Buffett earlier this month at the age of 76 surprised many, as he was relatively young and had continued to perform as recently as this summer, though it was later reported that the cause of his death was reported to be Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer that he had lived with for four years.
Buffet’s death reminded longtime Bay Area bartender Jeff Burkhart, the author of “Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender, Vol. I and II,” the host of the Barfly Podcast on iTunes and an award-winning bartender, of the local connections to Buffett’s most famous song.
“It was during a Labor Day weekend in 1973 — 50 years ago to the day of his death — that Buffett wrote his first hit song, ‘Come Monday,’ at the Howard Johnson’s on Shoreline Highway (now the Holiday Inn Express) in Mill Valley,” Burkhart wrote in the IJ earlier this month. “Buffett was booked for a three-day Labor Day weekend series of shows at the Lion’s Share nightclub in San Anselmo. “Come Monday” is autobiographical and talks about Labor Day, hiking boots and missing his girlfriend. Buffett relayed the story of its creation on an episode of NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman” on March 23, 1983. I was deathly depressed. I was in a Howard Johnson’s under Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, living there and playing in San Anselmo. It was awful. I wrote this song and it hit, and the rest is history,” he said.
Buffet’s brief history in Mill Valley would include marrying that girlfriend, Jane Slagsvol, and writing the even bigger hit song “Margaritaville” in 1977,” Burkhart writes. “Searchin’ for that lost jigger of salt … belted out the man in front of me, on his second Margarita, the song playing again on the overhead speakers.”
Marin would remember Buffett’s slight by opening a Margaritaville of its own in 1989 (now the site of Salito’s). Technically, it was Casa Margaritaville (which also had locations in San Francisco, Capitola and Walnut Creek), and was not affiliated with Buffett’s own licensed Margaritaville-branded properties that grew to include restaurants, bars, casinos and a senior living facility, as well as merchandise. The Margaritaville brand made Buffett a billionaire.