‘I used to sing with Jimmy Buffett’: Mississippi man recalls late star’s college days at USM

Published 5:48 am Monday, September 4, 2023

By Angela Cutrer

When Melton King woke up Saturday morning, he – like many of us – heard that Jimmy Buffett, that son of a son of a sailor, had died.

“I was shocked,” said King, a retired Natchez insurance agent. “I knew he’d been ill, but it was shocking to hear he had died.”

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Buffett died Sept. 1 in Sag Harbor, Long Island, after a four-year battle with Merkel Cell skin cancer. His last concert was a surprise appearance in July in Rhode Island.

King and Buffett were fraternity brothers at the University of Southern Mississippi in the late 1960s. During that time Buffett was a Kappa Sigma initiate and King was putting on the Christmas Song Fest, where they were to sing “Little Drummer Boy.” “Jimmy was here, there and everywhere, playing his music,” King said. “And we said if he didn’t make this fest, which was really important to us, he was out of the fraternity.

“Well, we didn’t think he’d make it, but sure enough, he did. And I’ve always used a photo to prove that I used to sing with Jimmy Buffett. No one believed me until I showed that photo!”

Buffett left school and the fraternity around 1969. The other fraternity members always hoped Buffett would make it to a reunion, but he never did, which saddened King. “He had to be here and there – his life wasn’t really his own, so he couldn’t just stop and go to a reunion,” King said.

“But I saw him twice in concert and they were so great.”

King said one story he loved about Buffett was the one about a mini mart in Hattiesburg. “He wrote what he knew,” King said. “His song ‘Peanut Butter Conspiracy’ was about the tough days he lived in an old run-down Hattiesburg apartment behind the mini mart. His roommate would be lookout while Jimmy stuffed food in his trench coat so they would have something to eat. Years later, when he was coming from Memphis to New Orleans, he stopped at the same mini mart and taped a bag to the door. The bag had like $300 in it and he wanted them to have back what they took.”

Another song, “Come Monday,” was about getting off the road and going back to his sweetheart after a tour, King said. [Since I heard he had died], I’ve been listening to his songs on [XM Sirius’s] Margaritaville,” he said. “And when I heard ‘Come Monday,’ I thought about how he was sick in hospice and maybe he thought to himself that come Labor Day, he wouldn’t be here anymore. You know, come Monday…” King paused as his voice broke. “It’s ironic, isn’t it?”