Craig "Treetop Flyer" Broadhearst remembers exactly where he was when he first heard Jimmy Buffett. "I heard Jimmy’s music for the first time at a bar called Down the Hatch in Ponce Inlet," Fla., remembers Broadhearst, a 45-year-old ("wanna-stay-25") aircraft technician who lives in Ahwatukee Foothills.
"Of course, it was ‘Margaritaville.’ I then purchased the record ‘Son of a Son of a Sailor,’ and I was hooked. The rest is Parrot Head history!" Broadhearst has been a member of the Arizona Parrot Head Club for a little more than a year. According to president Pete Ferralli of Chandler, the 11-year-old club has about 300 members.
The only qualifications for membership are that one "enjoys the lifestyle, the music and wants to help their fellow man," Ferralli says.
The Arizona Parrot Head Club boasts members of all ages who subscribe to Buffett’s philosophy that "Margaritaville" is not an actual place, but a state of mind — a sunny, 82-degree mind-set with a beach, a clear blue ocean and a never-ending supply of frozen concoctions and ice-cold Coronas.
"Buffett and the club help to keep me young," says "Mom" O’Malley of Scottsdale, a retired 75-year-old who, along with her two daughters, has been a member of the club for five years.
"I like the idea of the laidback life Jimmy sings about,’’ she says. ‘‘Even when we are living our busy lives, at least we can imagine a more relaxing life when we listen to and sing along with Jimmy’s songs."
THE MAN AND THE MYTH
The year is 1977, and disco is booming. Donna Summer’s "I Feel Love" and "Dancing Queen" by Abba are dominating the pop charts. Tight slacks, chest hair and gold chains are in for guys; lip gloss, blue eye shadow and feathered hair are in for gals. And New York’s Studio 54 is the place to see and be seen.
Somehow, in the middle of all the disco-ball glitz and haute couture, a shrimp boat worker from Key West, Fla., with a bleached, bushy mustache and an acoustic guitar scores his one and only Top 10 pop hit with the breezy "Margaritaville," a laid-back paean to tanning oil and lost shakers of salt.
Buffett easily could have become a one-hit wonder, fading into music history with hundreds of others. Instead, Buffett has built his 30-year-old "Margaritaville" concept into an expanding restaurant chain, best-selling fiction and nonfiction books, a new platinum album nearly every year, a clothing line of sloganed Tshirts and sold-out concerts across the country.
While making records for his tried-and-true audience — the faithful Parrot Heads — kept Buffett as a cult figure on the periphery of mainstream music in the ’80s and ’90s, a funny thing has happened: Country stars such as Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson, both longtime Buffett fans, have introduced his laid-back vibe to a whole new audience — country music fans.
Buffett’s 2003 duet with Jackson, "It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere," gave him his first No. 1 country single, and his reworking of Hank Williams’ "Hey Good Lookin’," which included several top country singers, hit the Top 10 last summer.
Buffett’s 2004 country album "License to Chill" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. His new book, an escapist fiction tale called "A Salty Piece of Land," is a New York Times best seller.
NOT A TYPICAL FAN CLUB
Unlike most fan clubs, whose main function seemingly is to besiege their idol with fan mail and autograph requests, the Arizona Parrot Head Club ( www. parrot heads.org) is active in the community and makes charitable contributions through its functions.
"We assist in many events during the year, such as Special Olympics, Feeding of the Needy, Tostitos Southwestern Salsa Fest, Alzheimer’s Memory Walk and the P.F. Changs Rock & Roll Marathon," explains president Ferralli, a business development manager for General Dynamics in Scottsdale.
"We have won numerous awards over the years in support of these activities. Our club last year donated over $20,000 to our selected charities and provided more than 3,500 hours of labor in support of our charities and community activities."
Besides monthly happy hours and a major charity event about once a quarter, the club hosts smaller events, house parties (gatherings called ‘‘Phlockings’’) and other community service activities.
"I think most Parrot Heads subscribe to the ‘Leave the Earth better than you found it’ philosophy," says Kathy Pfister of Chandler, a club member for five years. "They are a generous, caring group of individuals who sometimes have nothing in common except for an affinity for Jimmy and the lifestyle he espouses. The phrase ‘Angels in Tropical Shirts’ has been used to describe Parrot Heads — it’s a well-deserved description."
LIVING THE LIFESTYLE
Despite working harder than most beach bums, Buffett manages to portray himself as a man who takes naps in hammocks, strums his guitar on pristine beaches and hangs out drinking in seaside dive bars.
This is the life that Buffett’s fans emulate when they are not stuck in cubicles doing their day jobs.
"What I like about the philosophy is the laid-back, easygoing lifestyle," Ferralli says. "Too many times we lose sight of what is really important in life. We get consumed with the daily rigors of the job, career and the charge to always get ahead.
‘‘When people attend a Buffett concert, they forget those pressures and, for one night, enjoy life and those friends around us that make living fun.
‘‘The question is: ‘Why shouldn’t every day of our life be like that?’ ’’
A rite of passage for Parrot Heads is a pilgrimage to Key West, where it all began for Buffett, or the Caribbean, where the singer sets many of his songs and books. To Parrot Heads, though, almost any beach will do as long as there is sun and fun.
"We have been to the Caribbean many times," says "Mom" O’Malley of herself and her daughters, Mary and Kathy. "Barbados, St. Martin, Antigua, Jost Van Dyke, St. Thomas, Tortola, Cozumel, Roatan, Jamaica — all points in between."
A kind of badge of honor among Parrot Heads is how many Buffett shows they have attended. Ferralli has seen more than 30 shows. Club member Lou Eagley of Mesa has been to 35 Buffett concerts, the first in 1975 at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix.
According to Ferralli, the club has big plans for Tuesday’s concert, which for Parrot Heads is kind of like a birthday and Christmas rolled into one.
"We are planning on supporting the Margaritaville Tequila folks at a pre-preconcert party on Monday at Prime Time Sports in Scottsdale," Ferralli says. "Then a club event on Tuesday at the Macayo’s near Cricket Pavilion.’’