One of Jimmy Buffett’s last messages to his family and friends before his Sept. 1 death from skin cancer was “keep the party going,” and his longtime backing musicians in the Coral Reefer Band now say they plan to do just that.
“The Coral Reefer Band is second family to all of us. We are a family. And Jimmy wants us to continue and we want to continue,” Mac McAnally, longtime Coral Reefer Band singer/guitarist tells Billboard. How that will look is still being determined, but McAnally says, “there’s ongoing discussions about the best way to do that, the most practical way to do that and how to do it in a way that is worthy of the legacy that we’re part of.”
The Coral Reefer Band, which has had a rotating cast of musicians — some of whom had played with Buffett for nearly 50 years — began backing the singer-songwriter in concert and in the studio in the ‘70s.
Deciding the best way forward is taking some time. “We’re going to figure it out and we’re going to do something,” McAnally says. “Whatever the best equation arrives from those discussions is what we’re going to do,” he says. “I can’t wait until we [figure it out] because we miss being out there, playing his songs to people and feeling that alternating current go back and forth from the stage to the crowd. I don’t know who’s got more energy, them or us.”
The current members, in addition to McAnally include keyboardist Michael Utley (who has played with Buffett since the ‘70s), steel drummer Robert Greenidge, guitarist/vocalist Peter Mayer, bassist Jim Mayer, drummer Roger Guth, steel pedal guitarist Doyle Grisham, trumpeter John Lovell, percussionist Eric Darken and vocalists Tina Gullickson and Nadirah Shakoor.
The Coral Reefer Band played its last full concert with Buffett on May 6 at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium. Buffett’s last time on stage was McAnally’s July 2 show in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, when Buffett joined him for eight songs, including signature tunes “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and “Margaritaville.”
Though Buffett was undergoing treatment, he still craved being on stage. “He had been calling through the summertime when the treatments were going,” McAnally says. “I didn’t know how far up or down he was. I hadn’t seen him [in person], though he never called without Facetiming me and I could tell he was losing weight. He couldn’t do a full show, but he kept calling saying, ‘Where are you playing? I’m gonna come sit in.’”
McAnally’s Rhode Island date was a quick flight from Buffett’s house in Sag Harbor, N.Y. and easy for him to fly in for. “We played ‘5 O’Clock Somewhere’ and when it got to [the line], ‘What would Jimmy Buffett do?,’ nobody knew that he was there. Nobody knew and he walked out from behind the stage. It was maybe 400 people there and they all came up out of their seat. It was like somebody hit them with 220 volts,” McAnally remembers.
But no one was more pleased than Buffett. “I looked back around at him because he was coming up behind me and he was 100% the happiest person on earth because I don’t think he knew if he was going to feel it again and I don’t think he knew that he was never gonna feel it again after that,” McAnally says. “Buffett called McAnally two days later asking if he had other shows that weren’t on his website yet so he could join him again. “He was ready to tour as a guest singer on these little singer-songwriter shows,” McAnally says, but unfortunately, his time ran out.