When you think of a tribute band, you might think of The Beatles, The Stones, The Doors or Kiss. But here's a first - how about a Jimmy Buffett Tribute Band? Dave Albrecht portrays Jimmy Buffett in Parrots Of The Caribbean Band, who enjoy the reputation as being the number one Jimmy Buffett tribute act in the U.S. or Jimmy Buffett Salute Act.
We spoke with Dave Albrecht about his group, the music and Jimmy Buffett.
Q - I admit, I don't know much about Jimmy Buffett, but it seems to me like he's taken this one song, "Margaritaville", and turned it into a financial empire.
A - Yes, he has.
Q - That's the truth of the story, isn't it?
A - Oh, absolutely. It's not only that, "Cheeseburger In Paradise", he has a restaurant chain with that on it too. He has a clothing line, Caribbean Soul. He wrote two number one, New York Times best sellers. He also has Margaritaville in Vegas. He owns part of a casino in Atlantic City now. So, he has had his hand in everything. The guy just doesn't sit still. He's a money-making machine.
Q - Since you portray him in Parrots Of The Caribbean, what is the appeal? Why have people latched on to his music?
A - I think it's because of the island thing, the ocean thing. When people go on vacation, they generally go to the beach and go to the ocean and he sings about all those things. It's just the flowered shirts. When you wear a flowered shirt, I guess it just kind of means your ready to party. I guess that must be the appeal of it and what he sings about. He's always singing up relaxation and kicking back, islands and drinking. That's why the Parrot heads like him so much. Those are all the things they like to do.
Q - Have you ever met Jimmy Buffett?
A - I shook his hand years ago, before I ever was doing this band. I shook his hand at a book signing thing. He put out a book called Where Is Joe Merchant? If you bought the book from him, he signed it and shook your hand. But that was before I was even doing this band. I've been an impersonator for 19 years. I still do every now and then Dan Aykroyd, Blues Brothers. Since 1990 I've been an impersonator. Ten years ago that gig started slowly petering out. The movie got older and older. We had nine guys in that band and you had to make a lot of money to make anything. Ten years ago I re-invented myself. I was always a Parrot Head, back before even people had the phrase Parrot Head. They weren't even called Parrot Heads when I used to follow him. The whole reason I started listening to him is I play harmonica. That's my claim to fame. I've been playing since 1976. Old Fingers Taylor plays on Buffett's albums and every album Buffett put out had harmonica on it. That's how I started listening to Jimmy Buffett. More because of Fingers Taylor than Jimmy Buffett. So, when I wasn't playing harmonica parts, I sang the parts. I'd sing 'til my part came up and then I'd play the harmonica. The beauty of Buffett's stuff is when he's singing, the harmonica player isn't playing. He's has a lot of solos and it works out great for me, 'cause I can still sing and play the harmonica just where it's supposed to be, so I don't miss many licks.
Q - Let's go back to The Blues Brothers. You performed at The Legends In Concert shows at The Imperial Palace?
A - I wasn't at that show but that's where their home base is. I played in Atlantic City for six weeks. I did cruise ships. I did Caesar's Palace. I did The Sands in Vegas. We did a lot of one-nighters with 'em. They had about three different groups of Blues Brothers, but they claimed that we were the best, but those shows were already occupied by other Blues Brothers groups. They'd fly me in and out of town, right to the gig, pick me up, have a limo take you to the shows, rehearse with this band. I'd do like five songs. There were six impersonators. Each one would do fifteen minutes. It was a ninety minute show and that would be all I'd do. They'd fly me clear to California, San Diego cruise ship and I would do fifteen minutes. (laughs)
Q - Sounds like a great gig!
A - Oh, it was a great gig. They paid all your expenses. They fed you. You'd stay at the Hiltons. All you had to do is hop on the plane in Dayton, where I'm from. Hop on the plane in Dayton and everything else was taken care of. I was a dream gig. They paid me a thousand bucks a night for that. I would land probably about fifteen of those a year. When I spent six weeks in Atlantic City, my job was very slow at the time, but they let me take off six weeks. I had a place right on the Boardwalk. It wasn't something that I felt I wanted to do full-time. It was one of those things where you played the same songs, two shows a day, three on Saturday. It was just too monotonous for me. My partner liked to drink a lot and I was afraid he wasn't going to show up or end up dead, one or the other. I didn't go with them full-time, although I had several opportunities just to quit my job and take off. I was in a relationship, had a house and all that. It would've been real bad if I had just up and walked away. So, I kept doing it with my nine piece band and switched partners. Ten years ago I started this Buffett thing 'cause I was a Parrot Head. I told these guys, hey, it's time to re-invent myself. I can sing like Buffett. I sing for the one guy one night and he couldn't believe it. To go from Dan Aykroyd, Blues Brothers to Jimmy Buffett, that's quite a transition. But back then I had dark hair. Now, I'm grey. I look like Buffett now. I looked like Dan Aykroyd back then because I had dark hair. You put the hat and sunglasses on and put on the suit and I played the harmonica. I could play all those songs on harmonica. That's how I got started in that band. I told 'em I can sing like Buffett and Buffett has a lot of harmonica in it. But I have a lot of costumes too that I put on. I have some very bizarre costumes. I look a lot like Jimmy Buffett, but I wear costumes that he would never have worn because I'm not Jimmy. He can wear shorts or flip-flops and a flowered shirt. I take it to the next level. My wife custom made these outfits that ain't nobody got, even the people in the crowd. I put a lot of time and thought into these costumes. But I sound just like him. In fact, when we first got started, we put a little CD together and recorded some stuff in a guy's basement. I was sending 'em out to all my agents in the Blues Brothers. They said "Dave, I gotta tell you. You're gonna have to get a DVD because I have clients telling me that that's not you. It's Jimmy Buffett." I started laughing. I said "You know what? You tell 'em if I don't sound just like that CD or just like Jimmy Buffett, I'll play for free." They started laughing. Eventually they would hire me and I'd come in and they would just be blown away. I'm an impersonator. That's what I do. I take a lot of time to listen to every little inflection in the songs and how he sings them. Jimmy Buffett is my natural voice. I'm a baritone. With Dan Aykroyd I only sang "Rubber Biscuit" and "Rawhide". Mostly I just jumped around and acted silly and played the harmonica. That's how I got away with that one. Once I became Jimmy Buffett, I had to sing the Come Mondays and A Pirate Looks At 40. I actually took on a whole more serious side. They laughed at Dan Aykroyd because of his jumping around and movements. They clapped because your character was supposed to be laughed at. Jimmy Buffett, I started singing these love songs and seeing women looking at you a whole different way. (laughs)
Q - How did you ever find the musicians for this Jimmy Buffett act?
A - I had 'em all in my Blues Brothers band. Unfortunately I couldn't take the horn players and the Jake with me. It's a five piece band. All of Buffett's hits were written as a five piece band, when he did "Come Monday" and "Margaritaville". Now he has twenty people on stage. He has three horns, two keyboard players, four guitar players, three background singers. He has so many musicians up there, to me I think it's taken away from the way he wrote the songs. So, when we play it, we play it just like the record sounded. I have brought my horn section in before if they pay us more money. If they want to know if I can bring horns in, sure I can bring horns it, but it's gonna cost you more money. There was a lot of bad feelings towards me because I started this other band. I couldn't take nine guys with me. There's not nine guys in Buffett. I don't want to go with nine guys again. I make just as much money, sometimes more than I did in The Blues Brothers and only have to split it five ways now.
Q - I notice you use the word Impersonator. Many of the acts I've interviewed refer to themselves as Tribute Acts.
A - We're a Salute To Jimmy Buffett. I hate the word Tribute. In my Blues Brothers band it was called Jake and Elwood Blues Revue. We were a Revue band. We looked like 'em, we played the songs, but I always hated the word Tribute. In fact, the first six years we were called Parrot Head Band. But guess what? After we started traveling around the country, all of a sudden I get a call from Atlanta saying "We represent Jimmy Buffett. We're his lawyers. We're telling you to cease and desist using that name Parrot Head Band." I thought it was a joke. I thought it was someone calling me trying to steal my band's name. I ignored the first phone call and then they called me again about three weeks later. They said we really are. This is the name of our company. You can look it up on line. You can't use that name. I said "There are other bands using Parrot Head." They said "We'll get to them too." I think they picked on me because they saw where I was going, traveling around. But I'm carrying the tradition on for him. I don't know why they stopped me from using that name. We had to make the transition. I kind of ignored that one, but told the guys in the band, "I think these guys are legit." The next time they called me, it was the third time, they said "we're coming after you. Stop using that name." So we had to switch our name, get on the website and every show we did, we had to say "Formerly Parrot Head Band." So, we started calling ourselves Parrots Of The Caribbean and I haven't heard from them since. (laughs)
Q - I wonder if any if any of them ever attended one of your shows.
A - They would never let you know that. But they probably thought this guy is good. The thing is, Buffett sometimes has some of his tribute bands sit in with him or he'll show up at some of the shows sometimes and play with them. He's on a couple of their albums. I don't know how they get him to do that. He hasn't done anything for me but negative things. I love the guy and he's made me a lot of money 'cause I impersonate him, but I haven't had any help from him what-so-ever. None. He hasn't done anything for me.
Q - Well, maybe he'll read this interview and change his mind.
A - That would be nice. I have total respect for the man. I wouldn't be where I am. I travel all over the country. I love my life. I have a day job and they let me come and go. Everything I own, I owe to The Blues Brothers and Jimmy Buffett. I own a few houses, a couple really nice cars that I have in storage. Every nice thing I owe to them. If I didn't become an impersonator, I would never have the things I have.
Q - You're the number one Jimmy Buffett Salute Act in the country. How'd you get that title? Do you have a lot of competition?
A - Oh, yeah, and every year there seems like there's more. The Parrot Head Club, wherever we play, they come and tell me "you're the best Buffett act." I never said I was, but I'll put it up against any of 'em and I've seen 'em. I've gone to a lot of their websites. I've got musicians who've been playing for thirty-five years. These guys get every little inflection right on the music. I surrounded myself with the best talent I could find and that's the secret. I could be the best Jimmy Buffet impersonator in town, but if I don't have a band that's any good, it would have gone nowhere. So, I owe too to where we are to the musicians. I stocked the band with a bunch of talent.
Q - Where have you perfumed with this band?
A - We've played some great gigs. We played the Calgary Stampede last year. We played the Superbowl when it was in Jacksonville four years ago. We played for the actual owners and coaches. Their private party. We actually were picked from six hundred bands to play their personal function. Every year there's a show in Caseville. It's about sixty miles East of Bay City. It's about a five hour drive from my house in Dayton. Every year they have a thing called Cheeseburger In Caseville. It goes for ten days and they have a lot of Jimmy Buffett Tribute Bands. I came there the first time, I played Tuesday. These people were so blown away by the band, they said "OK, we want you to close out the thing every year." So they put me above every Buffett band and it had been going for five or six years. Every year I get my pick of what day I want. So, if I'm busy on Saturday then I say OK, I'll take Friday night. I asked them what is the busiest day? They say whatever day you guys are there. And there's ten thousand people in this thing. This is only a town of six hundred and fifty (people). Two lanes in. Two lanes out and it's a big, huge area.
Q - How many gigs a year do you perform?
A - I say in a good year we'll do about sixty. If I was in Florida or Georgia or someplace warmer, I could probably do about a hundred a year. But once it gets to October, my gigs just fall off the face of the earth. I have a few gigs in Ohio, but I play a lot in Michigan, Indiana. I have four shows in New York this year. I'm in Corning, New York, Buffalo, Chester and Baldwinsville. I'm in South Carolina a couple times this year. I go wherever the money is. Sometimes they'll fly me in and provide the backline. If they pay me enough, I'll go to China. It doesn't matter to me. I'll go wherever the money is. We travel around in a box truck. The cab has been cut out so we have a bed back there, a couple of Captain's chairs. We're self-contained in this truck and we can drive anywhere in the thing.
Q - How far can you take Parrots Of The Caribbean? What's your goal?
A - What would really be my thing is to open up for Jimmy or to get up there and play with Jimmy one night or have him show up at one of my shows out of the blue and play with him some night. Him do a verse. I do a verse. Something like that, or have us open up for him and do the songs he wouldn't be doing that night. Let us do all those songs and you do all the songs you want to do. That's my ultimate goal. Each year he slows down. He does less and less shows. I'm hoping just like Phish became Grateful Dead. They kind of passed the baton on to Phish. It would be great if he would acknowledge me and pass the baton on to me and say this is the band I want to carry on my tradition and then support and back me and then we can make some real money!