Jimmy Buffett was born on Christmas day, 65 years ago. Or, as he once put it in the liner notes for a holiday album he released back in 1996, he is “the Christmas war baby turned island boy born on the day W.C. Fields died.”
But when it comes to receiving, every day must feel like Christmas for the entrepreneurial singer, one of the world’s wealthiest musicians. The website Celebrity Net Worth has guesstimated his fortune at $400 million, which by their calculations puts him behind only Paul McCartney and Bono and ahead of Elton John and Mick Jagger.
Never mind that he hasn’t had a song in the Billboard pop Top 40 that was not a featured cameo on someone else’s single since 1979. His guest appearance on Alan Jackson’s country smash “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” nine years ago gave him a rare taste of post-1970s airplay. Otherwise, he hasn’t been able to get arrested at radio in decades. And he’s boo-hooing all the way to Margaritaville—which is, from all appearances, a multibillion dollar business.
Behind that booze-promulgated exterior is a sobering business acumen that’s made Buffett the King of Ancillary Income. Imagine the kind of Christmas-slash-birthday you’d be enjoying if you were the beneficiary of these assets:
MARGARITAVILLE PROPERTIES. If you think “Margaritaville” is just the name of Buffett’s sole No. 1 hit from 1974, you apparently don’t spend a lot of leisure time in resort towns. Margaritaville is a chain of restaurants, retail stores, hotels, nightclubs, and casinos, all of which live to serve the notion that “wastin’ away again” is not such a bad thing, at least for the well-off weekend warrior.
The AP described the Margaritaville branch on the Las Vegas Strip inside the Flamingo Hilton as “the top-grossing restaurant in the nation,” nabbing around $43 million a year. Whether or not its No. 1 spot in the country is true, it’s generally regarded as Vegas’ top dining attraction. Last year, the Flamingo unveiled a $10 million expansion of Margaritaville into the casino space. And the franchising is on a roll around the world.
The Resorts Casino in Atlantic City, NJ is placing its bets on rebranding itself a la Buffett with a $35 million makeover dedicated to a reinvention as a Margaritaville branch. Governor Chris Christie was on hand to announce the Margarita-ization of the boardwalk as a critical signpost of post-Sandy recovery.
Just five days before Christmas, the ribbon was cut on a store and “welcome center” on the Louisiana boardwalk, which is but a precursor to the Margaritaville Resort and Casino, an 18-story, 396-room complex that will open in Bossier City in 2013. It’ll be the second freestanding casino under the magic “M” name. The first opened last summer in Biloxi, Mississippi, which Buffett said was special because that was the first town where he ever had a paying gig. Little did he imagine the payout ultimately in store.
MARGARITAVILLE FOODS. Buffett keeps it fairly tropical with products like Calypso Coconut Shrimp, Captain’s Calamari Rings, tortilla chips, salsa, dips, rimmers, and (surprise) margarita mix. Plus, there’s Margaritaville-branded coffee… because even a Parrothead has to sober up sometime. Remember, it’s 5 o’clock a.m. somewhere!
MARGARITAVILLE OUTDOOR FURNITURE. You’re not going to sip that overly sweet cocktail in a low-backed lawn chair, are you? Maybe you are if you’ve got lawn seats for one of Buffett’s amphitheater gigs. But if you really want to live the lifestyle 24/7, you’ll need one of his $350 Adriondacks, preferably under one of his shade tents, perhaps next to a $300 Margaritaville tiki bar.
MARGARITAVILLE APPAREL. No heels or loafers in the Margaritaville shoe collection; it’s flip-flops and boat shoes all the way.
THE MARGARITAVILLE SATELLITE RADIO CHANNEL. What, did we say Buffett lacks for radio play? Not on Sirius/XM, where a repeat play of “Volcano” can’t be more than a couple of commercial-free hours away.
THE NOVELS. Buffett followed up his bestselling memoir A Pirate Looks at Fifty with four novels, two of which made it to No. 1 on the New York Times’ list, and two children’s books besides that. None became a favorite among book critics, but these lengthy tomes—which tend to feature itinerate seamen with severe cases of wanderlust as heroes—have almost certainly been more profitable for Buffett than most of his recent albums.
Where does music figure into it? Buffett still tours, of course, and for decades has epitomized the kind of classic rocker who can draw forever, based on one or two songs and a lifestyle, even if contemporary record sales are an afterthought. He did over 40 dates in 2012, which doesn’t make him the hardest-working man in show business, but which surely did provide an ancillary to all that ancillary revenue.
He hasn’t had a studio album since 2009, but Buffett told Billboard last summer that he was working on a new collection of songs with titles like “"Useless and Important Information," "Einstein Was a Surfer," and "I Want to Go Back to Cartagena." It remains to be seen whether he’s drifting back out of the country market that he comfortably drifted into with his one successful album of the past decade, 2004’s License to Chill, which featured duets with Martina McBride and Toby Keith and was clearly meant to capitalize on the success he’d had with his Alan Jackson collaboration. Last year, he joined another good-timey country act, the Zac Brown Band, on another No. 1 country single, “Knee Deep,” so he may recognize that drawing upon that crossover demographic is the surest way to keep his touring audience from completely graying.
He's hardly a Scrooge, since he also does charity work. So let's wish Buffett a merry Christmas and birthday... or, as he would perhaps prefer to call it, Happy W.C. Fields Death Day.