Original publish date: June 26, 2014
Well, Jimmy Buffett time has once again come and gone in Indiana. The Parrotheads have poured themselves safely back into their beds and the loud Hawaiian shirts have been put away in the closet til next year. Whether you love him or hate him, you cannot deny that Buffett has became a force with a fierce following and a liturgy of songs about women, drinking and all things nautical. Some people think he’s a genius, others think he’s a sellout and still more think he’s just a good jump start to a party. Regardless, there was a time 40 years ago when he was just a hard working long haired rock-n-roller trying to find his sea legs.
During those early years, Buffett himself tells a great story about an encounter with an American legend that, assuming you haven’t heard it already, is sure to make you smile. “It” happened after a show in 1974 at the Exit/In in Nashville, Tennessee. The Exit/In is a live music venue in Nashville, Tennessee, located on Elliston Place near Centennial Park and the Vanderbilt University campus. The list of musicians and entertainers that have performed there are a who’s who of entertainment history. That list includes include Hank Williams Jr., The Ramones, The Police, Talking Heads, The Black Crowes, R.E.M., The B-52’s, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Steve Martin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elvis Costello, Muddy Waters, Linda Ronstadt, The Allman Brothers Band, Kings of Leon, Billy Joel, Etta James, Robin Trower, Ryan Adams, The Amazing Kreskin, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Cheech and Chong and Waylon Jennings. The club was even featured in the 1975 Robert Altman classic film, Nashville.
Buffett himself tells the story on his fan website, in a 1975 interview for Rolling Stone and in his own biography. “We’re there dining and dancing. Sammy Creason (Drummer) was with me (other accounts say Kris Kristofferson’s bass player Terry Paul was there too), so we provided just a gala of entertainment. Me on acoustic guitar so drunk I couldn’t hit the chords and him just pounding the drums out in 3-quarter time. Ran everybody out. We got the screaming munchies and we were going to Charlie Nickens to eat. And I couldn’t find my rent-a-car, which was parked somewhere amidst thousands of cars in the parking lot of the fabulous, plush King of the Road hotel. It was a little bitty car. It was hiding among many big ones there. And there was a Tennessee Prosecutors convention going on there. If they had made it to room 819 they would’ve had a closed door case.
So I stood on the hood of this car in a pair of old Ra Ra’s (shoes) that I bought in Miami for 2 bucks. They were white and brown, but they were golf shoes so I had to take the cleats out, but they still had the posts in them so they clicked a lot. I was standing on the hood of this particular car (a Cadillac he believed would offer a better vantage point) and as fate would have it, it belonged to a rather large man who came up behind me and threatened my life real quickly. And I hadn’t been in a fight since junior high school on the city bus in Mobile. He came up and said “Son you stay right there, you’re under arrest”. So I politely turned around and said “You kiss my a*s”. He didn’t. Instead he followed me over to the car which Sammy had found. I got in the driver’s side and Sammy got in the passenger’s side. My window was up, his was down and this fellow poked his head in and said “Would you like for me to turn this car over?”.
I was not scared of this individual. I just thought he was some ex-football player turned counselor. And Sammy said “look whatever damage we did ABC will pay for everything” which was awfully generous of Sammy since he didn’t have the authority to say so. Being a good company man I took up for my company and said “No they won’t. I’m still gonna beat your a*s if you don’t leave us alone”. With that he pulled up then stuck his big head and his hand in and grabbed me by my hair until it separated from my head. I had a big bald spot on the back of it and I looked like a monk for about 3 months. Then he punched Sammy right in the nose. We knew he wasn’t kidding. So Sammy defended himself bravely with a bic pen. He starts stabbing at this man’s arm trying to get it out of the window because we couldn’t start the car because with the new modern features of ‘74 automobiles you can not start your car unless your seat belt’s buckled and we were too drunk to get ours hooked up.
So we sit there while this man pounded the hell out of both of us. I looked over at Creason and I said “Sammy I don’t wanna die in a Gremlin.” Eaten by a shark, killed in a plane crash, but what’s my mother gonna say? Smashed to death in a Gremlin in the parking lot of the plush King of the Road hotel. Nope. So I mustered all the courage and energy I had and all the coordination I had left in my poor body and got the seat belt buckled and went to Charlie Nickens. (Buffett later said their attacker jumped on the hood, fell off and picked a trash can up and threw it at them as they sped off.) We ordered our barbecue and on the way back we hit the Jefferson St. Bridge. Luckily there was no one around so we just backed up and headed for the hotel.
Got back, and we decided that this man may be lurking in the bushes or else may haven been snorkeling around in the pool trying to scoop up coins that people threw in. So we decided to defend ourselves with a classic southern weapon: a tire tool. So we destroyed the back end of the Gremlin looking for the tire tool, found it. Walked through the lobby of these prosecutors, and we had caused a turmoil by this time. And got up to the 8th floor where we were staying and figured we were all safe. But I had forgotten my key.
So I had to go back downstairs and Sammy said well you take this I’m not going back down there. And he gave me the weapon, which I stuck in my back pocket. Walked down into the plush lobby of the plush King of the Road hotel, walked up to the desk and asked for the key to my room. This man snuck up behind me and took the tire tool out of my back pocket. I whipped around and I said “look you, that was for my protection and you started this whole thing. I didn’t mean to get on your car and I’m still gonna beat your a*s if you don’t quit bothering me.” At this point, two detectives seized me, drug me into the elevator and said “son, we would call the police and have you arrested. You’ve caused quite a disturbance here tonight. But we figure your just lucky to be alive because that was Buford Pusser.” And I went “Oh. 8th floor please.”
If you don’t recognize the name Buford Pusser, the epic films made about his life might ring a bell. Buford Hayse Pusser was the Sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee from 1964 to 1970 and the subject of the film “Walking Tall”. Pusser, a 6 feet 6 inch tall 250 pound former professional wrestler, became known for his virtual one-man war on moonshining, prostitution, gambling, and other vices on the Mississippi-Tennessee state-line against the Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob. By the time he encountered Buffett, Pusser had already killed two men.
Pusser survived several assassination attempts, suffering eight gunshot wounds and seven stabbings in these attacks. Buford’s wife Pauline was killed on August 12, 1967, during an assassination ambush intended for him. On August 21, 1974 Pusser was returning home alone from the McNairy County Fair in his souped up Corvette when he struck an embankment at high speed and was ejected from the vehicle, killing him instantly. The car caught fire and burned. Earlier that day, Pusser had contracted with Bing Crosby Productions in Memphis to portray himself in the sequel to Walking Tall.
Rumors of sabotage to the steering mechanism and the tie-rods were widely circulated but were largely ignored. Although no autopsy was performed on the body, Pusser allegedly had 0.18% blood alcohol content at the time of the accident and witnesses claimed that they had seen him drinking heavily at the fair. Both Pusser’s mother, Helen and his daughter, Dwana believed he was murdered. Sadly, Dwana, who was a passenger in another car, came upon the scene of the accident moments later. There is a museum dedicated to his life housed in the home he was living in at the time of his murder, ironically Pusser’s death came the same year as his encounter with Jimmy Buffett. His memory is so revered that a Buford Pusser Festival is held each May in his hometown of Adamsville, Tennessee.
Later that year, before Pusser’s untimely death in August of 1974, Buffett received an 8×10 photo of the legendary sheriff signed “To my favorite sparring partner. Next time, I’ll kill you. Buford Pusser”. Turns out the photo was not sent by Pusser but rather by Jimmy’s Nasville talent agent Don Light. In his December 1974 album “A1A”, Buffett refers to the Pusser incident in the song “Presents to send you” when he sings “I had my hair pulled out by a man who really wasn’t my friend.” Love him or hate him, you gotta hand it to Jimmy Buffett. He had an angry encounter with Buford Pusser…and survived!