October 1, 2023 - On losing Jimmy Buffett

I have been trying to process the passing of Jimmy Buffett for a few weeks now, attempting to organize my thoughts and write something that might provide a little solace for myself and maybe a few others along the way. I don’t think I made much progress but here goes anyway.

I was more than pleased and surprised when Jimmy called me a year ago and asked if I’d be interested in writing a song with him for his new album. I mean, he could have worked with just about anyone he wanted in the music realm, so it really meant something on many levels to get that call. He had recorded one of my songs on his Far Side of The World album quite some time ago (Mademoiselle) and when we met in Toronto, I got to perform it with him and the Coral Reefers in concert there, which was a real honour. (He, Mac and I sitting on a surf board playing it) He later came to visit and surf in Nova Scotia where I cooked up a mess of lobster and we had us a lil jam session which was a ton of fun. Then I didn’t hear from him for quite some time, so it was very cool when he reached out again last fall to co-write.

He had this idea for a song called Portugal or PEI, which I must admit sounded a bit out there to me as a title at the time, but man, did he call it right! That ended up being a super fun song that has Will Kimbrough and Mac McAnally on board as co-writers as well. Being from PEI myself, I’m very glad this is on the upcoming album and that I was asked to also sing on it. This is a song that is really going to touch people in my part of the world and get them movin! Jimmy’s singing about PEI! Wow! He has a lot of fans here and is about to have a lot more.

The other song he asked me to help him with is much more touching and personal. Jimmy was good friends with Johnny Hallyday, the French rock star who he became friends with on the island of St Barts where they both had residences. Jimmy said it was almost like they had opposing experiences career wise as Johnny was famously popular in the francophone world and not really known in the English one, and his own experience was almost the opposite. Johnny Hallyday passed away a few years ago and is laid to rest on that island in the cemetery in Lorient. I’m not sure why he asked me to help out with that song, but it might have had something to do with my Acadian heritage, that I sometimes perform and record in French, and that I am also familiar with St Barts. I had made a couple of ocean passages as crew on my good friend Tom Gallant’s schooner from Nova Scotia to Bermuda, then on to St Barts, back in the 90’s, before it became such a hot spot, and so I knew a bit about the place and some local hangs like Le Select bar… Anyway, he sent me videos of the island and some local spots and Johnny’s grave site which is covered in flowers and very touching mementos left there by many fans, as well as some stories about their time together. We were back and forth quite a bit before we found our footing with the song and then Mac came aboard and really brought it all home. It strikes me as odd now, how we co-wrote a song about his friend who recently died, and now he himself has just passed. Perhaps it was his own mortality, knocking at the door, that made him want to create an hommage to his late friend. He also encouraged me to record a french version of it with my partner Patricia Richard, which we did for our French language duo album, Sirène et Matelot. Jimmy was very much into improving his French, living on French St Barts, and with his ancestry in Newfoundland and all. In almost every text to me he would write about half of it ‘en français!’ His french was très bon I must say! I love the way the song, Johnny’s Rhum, turned out for his album! Only trouble is, when I hear it now, it will probably be Jimmy I’m thinking about, more than Johnny Hallyday.
Last April he invited Patricia and I down to Key West to record my vocals on both these songs and that was more than fun working with him and Mac ! I am apparently the last human to perform in his iconic Shrimp Boat Studios there before they started tearing it apart to remodel. I say last ‘human’, because Jimmy’s daughter Savannah’s dog got to bark on mic after I was done, for the song ‘Why Don’t You Love Me Like My Dog?’ We had a great day in Key West then flew back to Palm Springs on his plane. He then kindly loaned Patricia and I his beach house, his studio, a beautiful old Martin 000 18 guitar and services of his engineer Rodney, to write and work on songs for our own project for a week. We are so thankful for having that time, in that place, to finish up the work on our album!

All the time we were with him he never once let on he was having health problems. He seemed in great spirits and was even working out in the morning. You would never think he was dealing with such trouble. He was also very much into following the exploits of our good friend Kirsten Neuschäfer who was the only woman, of 16 competitors, entered in a dangerous solo round the world sailing race at that particular time. I had written a song and made a video about her called On The Minnehaha. He loved her spirit and no fear attitude. She actually won this amazing race btw! I think he could identify with what she was all about, doing something that had never been done before, despite incredible odds, and he sent her a message of congratulations.

Spending some time with Jimmy has really affected me deeply. He was such a genuine, down to earth artist that was constantly in love with life and possibility. I find I am paying a lot more attention to my state of mind lately, and looking at the up side of things so much more. He was a force for positivity in the world… a force that is astounding in its breadth and power. I was a fan before, but I think I now consider myself to be an acolyte of sorts, and I’ll take on the Parrot Head moniker anytime.

Jimmy so wanted to visit Prince Edward Island. He had planned to come here in June, then July, then August etc as, I assume, his health was dictating. His texts and phone calls were always detailing new plans and we would discuss where he would stay or what radio station he might drop in on or places we could visit. Eight days before he passed he texted me to say he was undergoing treatment but he was hoping for the best and wondering if I was free in October if things worked out and he could make it up here to finally visit PEI …then came the news.

Well… I’ll still be making that trip, this month, around this Island… and I’m hoping his spirit will be there with me. Maybe some of you will come along too, virtually, as I show him around some of the places he sings about in the song we worked on. I still don’t quite know why he was so determined to write about this place, my home, but it brings a tear to my eye when I think about that phone call a year ago, asking me to get on board with a song he wanted to make called Portugal or PEI. I will never forget his grin, and his generosity. What an amazing human and how lucky was this guy from PEI to get to work with and befriend him.

RIP Jimmy. Merci mille fois! See you on the Island.🙏

Lennie Gallant