Smooth Sailing With Jimmy Buffett

Excerpted from the magazine for

It only took 30 years from when he first debuted on the Billboard albums chart, but Jimmy Buffett can finally say he has reached No. 1.

"License to Chill," a set that includes duets with top country artists Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Clint Black and Martina McBride, sold 238,500 in its first week of release, handily topping The Billboard 200 in the magazine's July 31 issue.

"I figured if I didn't make it there in the next year or two, I was just going to hang it up and try something else," Buffett says with an obviously delighted laugh. "I'm just tickled pink."

His ascent marks the longest period between an artist first charting on The Billboard 200 and reaching the peak. Buffett debuted on the album chart in 1974 with his third release, "Living and Dying in 3/4 Time."

Additionally, the first-week sales for "Chill" far exceed his biggest previous Nielsen SoundScan week of 123,000 units for 1996's "Banana Wind."

That is in part due to Buffett's popularity at country radio and the decision to license the album, which is on Buffett's own Mailboat label, to RCA Records for marketing, promotion and distribution (through BMG).

Among the other factors behind the album's successful debut were an Infinity radio special that was also streamed through the artist's Web site, Buffett's recent appearance on "Today" and his ongoing concert appearances on the License to Chill tour.

Although he has had more than a dozen songs on the country chart over the years, Buffett's country fortunes started to rise in earnest in 1999 when Jackson asked him to duet on a remake of Buffett's classic drinking song, "Margaritaville."

"I didn't know how big Alan was," Buffett admits, "and then I found out when that jet came in."

That song peaked at No. 63 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, and paved the way for the duo's 2003 smash, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," which spent eight weeks at No. 1.

Following Buffett and Jackson's win for vocal event of the year at last fall's Country Music Association Awards, Buffett says he started asking artists to participate on "Chill."

"I thought, 'Hell, when am I going to see everyone again?'" Buffett says. "I thought if I got 50% of them, it would be great, but everyone's schedule worked out."

He says he is tremendously gratified that so many artists on the album have cited him as an influence, but they shouldn't expect him to hand over the reins.

"It's like being the old fart in the surf line," he says. "I'm the bald guy surrounded by all these kids. But I'll take the wave, and I know how to ride it for a long time."

Buffett is now turning to putting the finishing touches on his next novel, "A Salty Piece of Land," which comes out later this year, as well as finalizing a film deal.

But he says that reaching the pinnacle of The Billboard 200 has given him an incentive to keep going musically.

"I'll quit when I can't remember the words or when I go flat," Buffett says. "But until then, I've definitely got a few more in me."

Excerpted from the July 31, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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