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Alan Jackson, ‘It’s Five O’clock Somewhere’ — Story Behind the Lyrics

In 2003, ‘It’s Five O’clock Somewhere‘ became a career song for not only Alan Jackson, but also for his collaborator Jimmy Buffett. The song was named the Vocal Event of the Year by the CMA and the ACM in 2003. A working man’s anthem, it also topped the country singles charts, marking Buffett’s first-ever No. 1 hit. The Boot sat down with songwriter Don Rollins to hear the story behind this now classic tune.

I wrote that with Jim “Moose” Brown, who’s a session player in town. There was a famous Jim Brown, who was a football player back in the ’60s, and I think Jim got the name “Moose,” because he had the same name as the football player. I was writing with Moose and he was actually playing piano on a record by a guy named Colt Prather, who was a new artist who had signed to Sony at the time. They wanted a Jimmy Buffett-vibe song for that album.

I had the idea of, ‘It’s Five O’clock Somewhere,’ and it just clicked that the idea would do really well with that setting. I floated it out and he said, “Yeah, I’ve always heard that saying but I’ve never heard a song about that.” So we wrote it. It was definitely that ‘Margaritaville‘ feel. Jim and I agreed what the story was, that this was a guy who decided to have a few at lunch, and then decided to stay there. Once that framework was there, then the lyrics were very easy for me. The musical setting of it was more Jim’s end of it. That chorus, ‘Pour me something tall and strong …’ musically, was definitely Jim’s thing.

The ‘What would Jimmy Buffett do?’ line in the bridge was there from the beginning. It was me being sarcastic, poking a little fun at the ‘What would Jesus do?’ bumper stickers. It happened to be exactly the right thing for that situation. That was the way they brought Buffett into the song, it turned out to be the thing to make the song work for that situation.

We did very few edits on it. Usually, Moose and I will beat a song to death after we write it, but this one we didn’t. As I remember, we switched the first verse with the second after we were finished. We both looked at it and went, “Oh, the first verse is the second and the second verse is the first.” Click. That was it.

We wrote it in February of 2003 and demoed it in March 2003. My publisher took it to the guy who was producing Colt Prather, and he passed on it immediately. A couple of other people passed on it, then I got the call that it was on hold for Alan, which I thought was strange, because if you hear the demo it’s very island-ly. There are acoutisc guitars and steel drum samples, very much Buffett. The idea that someone as country as Alan Jackson might be interested in that song never even occurred to me. Then I got wind that he was wanting to do a duet with Buffett, and it made a little bit more sense at that point.

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