Exactly one week after Jimmy Buffett’s Sept. 1 death from skin cancer at age 76, three tracks by the tropical/country-rock singer-songwriter have been released — including one featuring his dear friend Sir Paul McCartney, and another, “Bubbles Up,” that McCartney has described as the best vocal of Buffett’s career.
The ever-productive Buffett completed his final studio album, Equal Strain on All Parts, shortly before his death; as a departing gift of sorts to his faithful flock of Parrotheads still in mourning, the 14-song record is now set to come out on Buffett’s own Mailboat Records imprint, distributed by legendary Memphis label Sun Records, on Nov. 3. Three new tracks, “Bubbles Up,” “Like My Dog,” and “My Gummie Just Kicked In,” preview the record, and their release is bittersweet (particularly “Bubbles Up,” with a chorus — “Just know that you are loved, there is light up above, and joy, there’s always enough” — that seems like a goodbye). But the hilarious latter tune, a collaboration with McCartney, showcases the signature laid-back humor that Buffett had till the very end.
As the story goes, “My Gummie Just Kicked In” was inspired by a dinner party attended by McCartney, McCartney’s wife Nancy Shevell, Buffett, and Buffett’s wife, Jane Slagsvol. When Shevell stumbled while walking to the dining table, a concerned Buffett inquired if she was OK, to which she affably responded: “I’m fine. My gummy just kicked in!” Right then and there, an amused Buffett and McCartney declared that they would write a song with that very title, and it turns out they weren’t joking. McCartney recalled the subsequent studio experience in a recent social media tribute, saying he was “very happy” to play bass on the track during “a real fun session.”
In his heartfelt social media post, McCartney — who according to the New York Post visited Buffett during the singer-songwriter’s last days to sing to him — also shared a sweet story about Buffett, “one of the kindest and most generous people,” gifting him a left-handed guitar during a vacation together. He also revealed that Buffett had played him some other Equal Strain on All Parts songs, and the former Beatle specifically praised “Bubbles Up,” which Buffett co-wrote with “honorary Coral Reefer” Will Kimbrough. McCartney recalled, “I told him that not only was the song great but the vocal was probably the best I’ve heard him sing ever.”
Referring to that song’s title, which is a reference to capsized sailors following bubbles up to the water’s surface to keep from drowning, McCartney explained, “He turned a diving phrase that is used to train people underwater into a metaphor for life when you’re confused and don’t know where you are just follow the bubbles — they’ll take you up to the surface and straighten you out right away.”
The third Equal Strain on All Parts tune released this week is “Like My Dog,” known canine enthusiast Buffett’s ode to his “devoted pack of dogs” — Lola, Kingston, Pepper, Rosie, Ajax, and Kody — who were his companions during his final days. Other guests to feature on the album, which was produced by Coral Reefer Band members Michael Utley and Mac McAnally, include Emmylou Harris (a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique,” which Harris originally sang on in 1976), Angélique Kidjo, Lennie Gallant, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The record’s title is inspired by Buffett’s grandfather’s description of a good nap — which, again, takes on poignant new meaning following the artist’s death.
McCartney is just one of many rock legends to pay tribute to Buffett in the past week. After Buffett’s death, another friend, James Taylor, dedicated a cover of “Mexico” to Buffett onstage in Long Island, and on Thursday evening as the Eagles — whose bassist/singer Timothy B. Schmit was once a member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band — kicked off their The Long Goodbye farewell tour at New York’s Madison Square Garden, they played Buffett’s “Come Monday” and “Fins.” The Eagles’ Don Henley told the MSG crowd, “[Buffett] brought joy to everything he did — including the work. And one of his final wishes was that we keep the party going.”