New Orleans veterinarian Ned Henry was still a Virginia high school student when he got a tip on May 12, 1986, that Jimmy Buffett might be eating at the Virginia Beach restaurant Il Giardino that night.

Henry talked his family into going, and sure enough, there was Buffett. Henry sketched a caricature of his hero on the Margaritaville stationery he'd brought along. A waitress saw it and offered to show it to Buffett, who promptly waved Henry over to his table.

Buffett told him all about his forthcoming album "Floridays" and suggested he stick around — he was about to play an impromptu acoustic set.

From that moment, Henry recalled this week, "he had me hooked."

He remains a devoted Parrothead, one who dabbles in music when he’s not nursing animals back to health.


The digital cover for New Orleans veterinarian and songwriter Ned Henry's Jimmy Buffett tribute, "Hippie From Mississippi."

On Christmas Day — what would have been Buffett’s 77th birthday — Henry will release “Hippie From Mississippi” via Spotify and Apple Music. The five-minute, easy-listening ode to Pascagoula’s Parrothead-in-chief is chuck full of musical and lyrical references to Buffett’s life and career.

“It’s my birthday present for Jimmy,” Henry said. “It’s a thank you to Jimmy for all the positive energy and good vibes he gave us for so many years.”

Going all in on Buffett

Now 54, Henry went all-in on Buffett in high school and never looked back. He may or may not have flashed a fake ID that identified him as “James Parrot Buffett” and his mother as “Maggie Rita Ville.” That alias earned him more than one free cheeseburger and beer.

For his senior yearbook quote, he chose a Buffett lyric from “Cowboy in the Jungle,” a line about rolling with the punches.

In spring 1987, he and several junior classmates at Norfolk Academy booked college visits up and down the East Coast that just happened to coincide with Buffett concerts in the same cities. They traveled in a Chevy van topped with a 2-foot shark fin, in honor of the Buffett singalong "Fins."

Over the decades, Henry enjoyed 80 or so Buffett “experiences”: regularly scheduled concerts, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival shows, impromptu performances and face-to-face encounters.

He watched Buffett sing at the long-gone Margaritaville Café on Decatur Street and toss merchandise off the roof. During the 2015 Jazz Fest, he attended Buffett’s surprise Preservation Hall appearance during the “Midnight Preserves” concert series.


Jimmy Buffett, center, performs a surprise show for Preservation Hall's 'Midnight Preserves' series during the 2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. New Orleans veterinarian, amateur musician and devoted Parrothead Ned Henry stands at lower right.

A picture from that night, depicting Henry standing near the piano just a few feet from Buffett, was shown on the Caesars Superdome jumbotron during the Saints’ salute to Buffett in September.

The morning after a Buffett concert at Houston's Minute Maid Park in 2007, Henry's wife spotted the man himself eating breakfast alone in their hotel's restaurant. Henry introduced himself to Buffett. Upon learning he was from New Orleans, Buffett exclaimed that he was heading there after breakfast to see guitarist Sonny Landreth at Rock ‘N’ Bowl.

Henry mentioned his “James Parrott Buffett” ID and the college tour in the fin-tastic Chevy van. Buffett laughed out loud.

“To be able to tell Jimmy those stories,” Henry said, “made the circle complete.

“He’s exactly the guy you thought he was, just a terrific guy. Don’t meet your heroes? I’m glad I met him.”

Detractors may dismiss Buffett’s lyrics as “nursery rhymes for adults,” but Henry strongly disagrees with such assessments: “I thought he was so smart. He has so many deep cuts that are so meaningful to me.”

Like Buffett, who launched his career in the French Quarter in the late 1960s, Henry fell hard for New Orleans. While attending the University of Virginia, he met a New Orleanian named Miriam Wogan. She invited him to the 1992 Jazz Fest.

jimmy buffett

A caricature of Jimmy Buffett sketched by future New Orleans veterinarian Ned Henry on May 12, 1986, when he was a high school student in Virginia and spotted Buffett at a Virginia Beach restaurant. Buffett autographed the back of Henry's drawing. 

He enjoyed it so much that he moved to the city, and he and Wogan got married. “She’s the ‘woman to blame,’” he cracked.

In New Orleans, he worked at Tower Records and other “fun” jobs before graduating from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine in 1998. Twenty years ago, he founded Crescent City Vet on Jefferson Avenue.

A lifelong 'guiding force'

Music may not be his primary occupation, but it's his passion. He and fellow guitarist Joe Gorman had a duo called Ned & Joe’s Happy Hour that performed at F&M Patio Bar, Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar, the Tchoup Yard and elsewhere. He’s released a couple of CDs, has his own YouTube channel and makes his songs available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Since he and Wogan became empty-nesters, he's had more time to focus on songwriting and recording, and has steadily released singles on digital music platforms.

He started writing “Hippie From Mississippi” — the title came to him in a dream — before Buffett’s death on Sept. 1 from skin cancer. Following that shocking news, Henry “felt a compulsion to finish the song, and do a good job."

“For a lot of people, Jimmy was the soundtrack for a lot of good times," he said. "That may be one of the reasons his passing affected me so much.”

jimmy buffett

New Orleans veterinarian Ned Henry, center, with Bill Hanckel, left, and Les Coole at a 2017 Jimmy Buffett concert in Virginia Beach.  

Henry was especially keen for his tribute to drop on Christmas Day, Buffett’s birthday. So he and lifelong friend/songwriting buddy/partner in minor mischief Les Coole got together in New Orleans to drink tequila in Buffett’s honor and finish writing “Hippie From Mississippi.”

It’s crammed with Buffett biographical details and lyrical references, from “One Particular Harbour” to “Margaritaville.”

Some are more obvious than others. The lyric “then he knew he had found him a home,” for instance, borrows the title of Buffett’s “I Have Found Me a Home.”

The concluding riff of "Hippie From Mississippi" is nicked from Buffett’s “Dreamsicle,” off the 1979 album “Volcano.”

“It turns out that’s a very hard riff to play,” Henry said. “It took me days to master it.”

For his Buffett-influenced, sand-and-surf-themed 2018 EP “Dings” — named for the marks and divots on a surfboard — Henry booked time in a commercial recording studio. The likes of vocalist Susan Cowsill and Iguanas drummer Doug Garrison sang and played on it.

But for “Hippie From Mississippi,” he holed up in his home studio and handled all the instruments himself.

He makes no apologies for the arrangement’s five-minute running time: “I couldn’t take anything out. Everything has a specific role.”

He hopes Buffett’s family, members of his Coral Reefer Band, and the Parrothead nation all hear his tribute and understand the sincere sentiments behind it.

“I’ve been inspired by Buffett so much. He’s been a guiding force my whole life.”

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