Take Ten with Tom Watt

June 27, 2017

1. When/how did you conceive the idea of doing a Jimmy Buffett show?

I was a folk singer in the ’70s, and I sang “Margaritaville” many times, many places. But I had no idea how important the song was until the winter of ’95, when I saw a duo performing the song in the first-ever Margaritaville restaurant in Norfolk, Va. I had never seen a venue come completely unglued before and a check formed in my brain. The following year, my wife and I went on a 25th anniversary Caribbean cruise. On a sunny afternoon at sea, the house band, whom I had met the night before, invited me up to the stage to sing. Thus came the second prompting. We did “Margaritaville” together, myself dressed in bathing suit, ballcap and aviator sunglasses, and then the folks stood up, applauded and lined up for autographs – the ship’s captain included. I could convince no one that I was not Mr. B. The captain sent champagne to our dining table every night after that afternoon. The next segment of my learning process came when I began going to karaoke clubs with a fellow worker. It wasn’t long before the DJs were handing me request sheets. Then came the autograph seekers. Somewhere during one of those nights, someone turned to me and laid it on the line: “Tom, you should really start doing something with these songs. Everybody thinks you really are Jimmy Buffett.”

2. How many years have you been doing this show, and how often do you perform?

We attended the grand opening of a waterfront restaurant in Pittsburgh, then called “Troll’s” on Memorial Day, 1998. A friend, John Macdonald, was playing there. He asked me to sing a few songs with himself and the band. The owner hired me on the spot as a regular act, and I had to get serious about learning, marketing, scheduling and all the rest. I have been doing the show full time since that day. The schedule just exploded over the next year. By 2000, we were doing a hundred shows a year. By 2004, almost 150 shows, and as many as three per day. Since the economy crisis in 2008, we’ve tapered off a bit, but we’re having a strong resurgence in 2017.

3. Have you ever performed a stadium show before?

We’ve done stadium shows in Fargo, N.D.; Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.; and Charleston, W. Va.

4. Other than “Margaritaville,” what seem to be the biggest crowd-pleasers in your show?

Beloved Buffett tunes are “A Pirate Looks At 40” and “Come Monday.” We do some covers, best of which are “Sweet Caroline,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Good Lovin’” (Grateful Dead version). I invite the audience to help with choosing.

5. Are you aware of any other Buffett tribute shows – and did you have to get permission from Buffett or his agency to do the shows?

There are Buffett tribute shows all over the country, including another Tom Watt (Mexican extraction) in Galveston. I was chosen by Jimmy to be his photo double in the movie “Hoot,” and we talked, but there’s never been a written agreement.

6. Have you always been a fan of Buffett? What other types of music and/or performers do you like?

I became a real fan of Jimmy in the mid-90s when I bought and listened to his greatest hits album, “Songs You Know By Heart.” I am a strong fan of The Eagles, Grateful Dead and the Moody Blues.

7. What have been your most memorable shows in the past?

The second major show that I ever did remains strong in memory and emotion, a show in June of 1999 at Generations Pub in Wheeling, W. Va. The size and enthusiasm of the crowd, the promotion and decoration of the lot where we played was crazy. There was a 15- foot-tall papier-mache volcano set to explode with my first guitar note. But the fans and friends all over have made each show unique and fun. Our pool parties at the Holiday Inn Express Airport (another one coming up Aug. 5) have always been more than a blast.

8. Buffett had only, in his words, one and a half hits in his career. Why do you think he’s remained so popular? What is his appeal?

Why the continuing appeal? He has been the consummate professional cheerleader of all time. If you attend a concert, you find a party like no other. His songs are heart-grabbing ballads, foot- stomping rock and roll and funny, catchy songs in between. Besides, he has the best party song of all time in “Margaritaville.” I have watched Jimmy in concert many times, including last year’s show at First Niagara. The first time I saw him, I had already been doing his songs for about a year. It was like taking an exam for me. I still watch and listen to gain a nuance or two.  

9. Buffett shows seem to be equal parts fun and performance. Do you input any of your own humor and/or songs into your concert?

I love to inject humor into the shows. I’ve been an impersonator since boyhood. I’ll throw in a Dean Martin, Rodney Dangerfield or Larry the Cable Guy quote, or I’ll throw in a surprise Sinatra or Louis Armstrong song. Jimmy is, by the way, a good Elvis impersonator and does a good Sinatra, too.

10. What should the Canonsburg audience expect at the Fourth of July show?

For the above reasons, the audience in Canonsburg should expect Buffett and surprises.

BONUS QUESTION

Has anyone ever mistaken you for the real Jimmy?

Yes, everywhere, as I’ve alluded to previously, people have mistaken me for Jimmy. I once found myself sitting beside Jimmy’s former personal pilot, in a bar. He knew I wasn’t Jimmy, but he was sure curious. I had to tell him my whole story, and man was it fun listening to his story.

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