Wastin' away again in Margaritaville, searching for my lost shaker of salt . . . • Love it or hate it, Jimmy Buffett's famous ode to laid-back living, the beach and booze has become the unofficial anthem of the Sunshine State. Reportedly written in Fort Myers, Margaritaville reached No. 8 on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1977. It's Buffett's only Top 10'er. • In the three-plus decades since Margaritaville first inundated the airwaves, it has been performed easily a million (a billion?!) times at the numerous beach bars that dot Florida's extensive coast. We searched Tampa Bay to find some of our favorite performers of the great Sunshine State sing-along. Here are three we found that put us in the mood for that frozen concoction that helps us hang on . . .
TOM DAVIS | SHAKER OF SALT RATING: 4 OUT OF 5
Davis has been a fixture at the St. Pete Beach fixture Woody's Waterfront for three years. He had been performing as a one-man band around his native Pennsylvania for years when a buddy in Bradenton told him about the pleasure of making a living playing to beach bums and tourists. Davis bit and flew down for a weeklong tryout at Woody's. It resulted in his lucrative, five-day-a-week gig there. What does Davis do when he's not performing at Woody's? Basically nothing but chill at the house he rents a short drive away at the beach.
Davis doesn't count himself as a Parrothead but appreciates Buffett and has much admiration for the song He Went to Paris. "I think that was Buffett's way of saying don't judge that man you see drinking by himself in the corner," Davis said.
Margaritaville style: Davis works the crowd with aplomb, effortlessly engaging each patron and coercing sing-alongs of tunes like Margaritaville. Backed by prerecorded drum and bass, Davis accompanies himself on guitar and with a harmonica he wears around his neck. It's the harp and sharp guitar fills that really make his version of Margaritaville memorable. Davis shuffles his feet, smiles, makes eye contact with the crowd and lends his wonderfully reedy voice to each timeworn lyric. (Watch a fun YouTube performance of Tom Davis.)
When and where: 7 to 11 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sundays, 7 to 11 p.m. Mondays at Woody's Waterfront, 7308 Sunset Way, St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-9165 or woodyswaterfront.com.
DAVIS SAYS . . .
Which Buffett song most depicts your life? Maybe changes in attitudes/latitudes fits a general feeling I have.
How many times would you estimate you've played the song? I don't know how many times I've played Margaritaville, but Jimmy Buffett will have to work really hard to catch up.
Favorite place to get a margarita? Don't think I've ever had one. If I do ever booze it up, microbrews and imports that I've never had before are my choice. Hope that doesn't destroy all the integrity I've accumulated through singing Margaritaville.
Beach song you'd rather be playing? Beach Baby by First Class — if I had a nice '70s band.
Have you ever blown out your flip-flop? No, but I have stepped on many pop tops before their obsolescence. (And I recently have had to cut my sandal at the big toe area since a surgery for turf toe from too much distance running.)
Better of the two iconic Key West bars: Margaritaville or Sloppy Joe's? As a gig for me, Margaritaville, a more intimate spot where you are close to those you are entertaining. As a party spot, Sloppy Joe's, when my friend's band is playing.
PAT BEST | SHAKER OF SALT RATING: 4 OUT OF 5
Born in Rhode Island, Best relocated to Fort Lauderdale in 1983. Two years later he came to St. Petersburg to play a gig at the TradeWinds Resort. He has resided and performed around here ever since. He plays solo and with his trio, Soul Patch. This reporter caught the 59-year-old Best making his debut performance on a sticky, super hot Saturday afternoon at the Hut.
It's a giant tiki bar under the boardwalk at John's Pass in Madeira Beach. It features one of the coolest stages around: an awesomely large and ornate loft overlooking the 70-foot bar and dining area. Best hopes to add the venue to list of regular gigs.
Best admits to not being a Parrothead — or a huge fan of Buffett's songs. That's probably why his version of Margaritaville sticks to the ribs while most tiki renditions float past like a light ocean breeze.
Margaritaville style: The vast majority of singers celebrate the beachy-cheer of Margaritaville. Not Best. He has a raspy, warm voice that serves as an apt instrument for emphasizing the melancholy lurking just beneath the tune's sunny surface. Capably accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Best slows the tempo and strips the good times anthem to its gritty essence. Margaritaville is a song about a broken-hearted man on a bender. The frozen concoction doesn't make him happy. It helps him "hang on."
When and where: 3 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday at Swigwam, 6300 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-0889 or swigwam.com.
BEST SAYS . . .
Which Buffett song most depicts your life? A Pirate Looks at Forty.
How many times would you estimate you've played Margaritaville? Ask me how many times I have played A Pirate Looks at Forty. I've averaged 265 gigs a year since 1992. That's 4,770 times!
Favorite place to get a margarita? Out on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico.
Beach song you'd rather be playing? Back to the Island by Leon Russell.
Have you ever blown out your flip-flop? All the time. That's what I wear 90 percent of the time.
Better of the two iconic Key West bars: Margaritaville or Sloppy Joe's? Margaritaville has world-class entertainment, Sloppy Joe's is more ruckus/rock 'n' roll.
DARRELL CLANTON | SHAKER OF SALT RATING: 4 ½ OUT OF 5
Twenty-five years ago, Darrell Clanton (born Darrell Puckett) had a Top 20 country hit with his version of the heartbreaking classic Lonesome 7-7203. During his Nashville heyday, the Treasure Island native opened for Hank Williams Jr. and wrote songs for B.J. Thomas, Bobby Vinton and Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin. But Clanton would never score another hit single.
In 2003, he and his wife, Debbie, returned to Florida. For the past four years he has performed at Ikki Woo Woo's Tiki Hut at the Thunderbird Beach Resort in Treasure Island.
A self-proclaimed Parrothead since his teens, Clanton has "Jimmy Buffett for President" printed on his tip jar. Fronting a Buffett tribute band, he opened for his musical hero at Tampa's Ford Amphitheatre in 2006. The 52-year-old Clanton continues to write songs. They can be heard on his self-produced CD, The Dune Doctor, which he sells at performances and online. One of the highlights is Track 18, I Never Met a Parrothead I Didn't Like. (Listen to it here.)
Margaritaville style: Clanton has a rich, sonorous voice that reminds you why he briefly became a star a quarter century ago. He delivers a spot-on re-creation of the original — the prominent backing track helps — that sounds as good or better than recent Buffett performances. Joined by his buddy Huey Carter on congas, Clanton strums along on guitar and elates those tourists covered in oil with a feel-good rendition of the Parrothead hymn.
When and where: 4 p.m. to sunset every Saturday at Ikki Woo Woo's Tiki Hut at Thunderbird Beach Resort, 10700 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island; (727) 367-1961 or thunderbirdflorida.com.
CLANTON SAYS . . .
Which Buffett song most depicts your life? Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.
How many times would you estimate you've played Margaritaville? So, so many. But who's counting?
Favorite place to get a margarita? Roatan Island, Honduras.
Beach song you'd rather be playing? Anything by Bob Marley.
Have you ever blown out your flip-flop? No, but my sister Becky did in Key West once.
Better of the two iconic Key West bars: Margaritaville or Sloppy Joe's? Margaritaville — all the way.