BEFORE JIMMY BUFFETT was chief executive of a lifestyle, a brand, or a lifestyle brand, he was a road dog determined to be a rock star. He had a mop of blond hair, a droopy mustache, wild eyes, a shit-eating grin, and ambition.
That was the guy George Stevenson happened upon outside the Euphoria Tavern in 1975. Stevenson was a regular at the Euphoria, which lived in the industrial Southeast building Rotture now calls home. He was a broke law student who'd just wrapped a summer job with the Yamhill County District Attorney's Office.
When Stevenson got to the Euphoria, he found a silver tour bus parked alongside the club and a pack of stressed-out hippies. And there was Buffett, banging on the building's back door trying to get in.
"I walked up and suggested I could lead him to the front door," Stevenson says, "but just then the back door opened."
And that could have been that, a chance meeting before a nice night among many nice nights at the Euphoria, a joint marked in Stevenson's memory by its L-shaped stage, spacious dance floor, wood beams, and good sound. You know, another nice place long gone. Except it wasn't quite just another night, and it isn't entirely gone.
There's a quiet and serious library on the University of Florida's campus, and if you ask to see the Jimmy Buffett collection, which consists of 10 boxes of papers he donated in 2011, you'll find a contract from that night—August 23, 1975. Buffett made $1,250 for two shows.
David Leiken signed the deal locally for Double Tee Promotions. He's still got Double Tee Promotions. Leiken says he went into the office on the Monday after the on-sale and was shocked to discover Buffett had sold out. They added another show.
"That was a crossroads show," Leiken says. It gave Buffett a new market, in a new part of the country, where he mattered. It was a step closer to the rock stardom he was after. "People loved those shows," Leiken says.
Buffett must have, too. In 1976, he bought a sailboat. When the salesman handed Buffett the keys, he was wearing a T-shirt from the Euphoria. "There was a look of contentment on my face like no one had ever seen before," Buffett wrote in his 1989 best-selling short-story collection, Tales from Margaritaville, "and my boat was christened Euphoria. I paid cash for her, and she was my insurance policy."
One he didn't need. In 1977, "Margaritaville" broke big, and he bought a bigger sailboat, Euphoria II. He took each down into the Caribbean and got more songs, the songs that make the core of his legend. Now he's got boats, and planes, and casinos, and restaurants. A vacation club is opening next year in St. Thomas. A beach resort in Florida is scheduled to open, too. At Costco, you can buy a Margaritaville blender. And at many of Buffett's joints, you can order a Euphoria Daiquiri. It's a little piece of Old Portland that lives on thanks to Buffett, who piloted his hit to the forefront of the escapism industry. And he still plays shows. He'll brighten the Moda Center on Tuesday when he and the Coral Reefer Band play Portland for the first time since 2010.
Stevenson will be there. In 1995, he helped found the Key NorthWest Parrot Head Club. They'll get a head start on next year's 20th-anniversary celebration by hosting a pre-show party on the Memorial Coliseum concourse. The $10 cover will go to local charities.
It won't be as wild as the early days. Buffett's mustache hasn't been seen in decades. The hair is thin, too. But the grin's still guilty, like he pulled off a hell of a trick, which he has.
Ryan White's new book, Springsteen: Album by Album, is available at bookstores now.