3 questions for the producer of Jimmy Buffett’s final album: ‘He was in more of a struggle than even we knew’

Jimmy Buffett fans, affectionally known as “Parrotheads,” lost their beloved leader on Sept. 1. But even in the wake of Buffett’s death at the age of 76, millions of fans across the world are honoring his legacy by keeping the party going.

During Buffett’s final days, the singer was working on what would be his last album, Equal Strain On All Parts. The title was chosen at random by Buffett, who pulled the song title out of a hat. It was inspired by Buffett’s grandfather, who used the term to describe an afternoon nap in his hammock.

“He kind of compressed the power of a giant sailing ship rig into the working of a good hammock, and from then on referred to his nap, on board the shop or in the backyard into ‘an equal strain on all parts,'” the singer had said of his grandfather, according to a press release.

Buffett’s longtime friend and producer, Mac McAnally, worked closely with the singer to produce his now-posthumous album. Released on Nov. 3, it features duets and collaborations with Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris, Angelique Kidjo and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

We sat down with McAnally to talk about the process of making the album and how Buffett was able to write musing songs like “Fish Porn,””Close Calls” and “Nobody Works On Friday” as he battled skin cancer.

Mac McAnally strums his guitar in the studio with Jimmy Buffett working on Equal Strain On All Parts. (Rob Meder)

1. What was the process of working with Jimmy and how did you aim to carry his vision forward after his death?

Working with Jimmy has always been a very joyful organic process and this time was no different. Even though he was in more of a struggle than even we knew, he kept the focus on the music and the fun that is available every day if we seek it out.

He was very adept at casting song ideas with co-writers. He was also very happy sitting in the engine room of the Coral Reefer Band, a group he assembled from people he loved and respected. We are each other’s second family and I don’t have the words to describe the magic of creating music together as a team.

Carrying that forward is happily our mission and it will take some planning to figure the best way to keep party going while taking care to honor the legacy he’s left for all of us. We’ll be putting in the work and play as individuals as well as the Coral Reefers. Stay tuned!

2. There is a roster of stars on this album, including Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris, Lennie Gallant and Angelique Kidjo. What was the mood and atmosphere like in the studio during the sessions?

Jimmy has a way bigger circle of friends than most folks, not just because he was successful, but because of who he was. Paul McCartney is a kindred spirit, a blue-collar kid who’s been making people happy for his whole life — while, like Jimmy, never losing that youthful outlook.

The song “My Gummie Just Kicked In” was born from a funny comment by Paul’s lovely wife Nancy [Shevell] at dinner with the Buffetts. He played bass on the track and played with all the fire of a 20-year-old Beatle and elevated the rest of us as only he can.

Emmylou [Harris] and Jimmy have been friends forever and she sang on the Bob Dylan’s original version of “Mozambique.” She happened to be in town when we recorded our version [of “Mozambique“]. Jimmy’s loved that song for years and we would have been fools not to have taken the opportunity to bookend their friendship and the two recordings and have that chemistry to gift to all their collective fans.

Lennie Gallant is an artist that Jimmy has respected and whose songs we’ve recorded over the years. He made great contributions to both “Portugal Or PEI” and “Johnny’s Rhum” as singer and writer. He came to Key West as we were finishing Jimmy’s vocals and put the finishing touches.

Anjelique Kidjo is a favorite singer of J.B. and he had her in mind from the writing of “Ti Punch Café.” We sent her the track with no real instructions and I’m so glad we did because what she did with the song is beyond anything we could have imagined. She made us look like better record producers that we are.

3. Are there classic Buffett tropes Parrotheads can expect in the album?

Jimmy always tucked clever references to earlier works in new songs to see who’s listening carefully. This record has plenty of those. He was a voracious reader and an even more voracious life liver and his “research” rewarded us all over and over and over. His body of work reflects a life as well lived as anyone I’ve ever known and it’s an inspiration going forward to anyone who it touches.

The title Equal Strain on all Parts was a saying of his Mississippi grandfather. It was his term for his afternoon nap in his hammock. I’d never heard the term but when you think about it makes sense. If you can equally distribute whatever strain you have in life, that’s about as comfortable as one can possibly be.



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