Eli Young Band Revives ‘Saltwater Gospel’

Jimmy Buffet joins the band for a little bit of gospel on the beach.

Written by Vernell Hackett
Eli Young Band Revives ‘Saltwater Gospel’
Eli Young Band; Photo credit: Cal Quinn

The Eli Young Band and Jimmy Buffett have joined together to resurrect “Saltwater Gospel (Fins Up Version),” a song EYB first released in 2016. The song conveys the feeling many people have of being in church when they are outdoors among God’s creations. In this instance their church is the sand and sun and the vastness of the sea. Sitting and watching the waves come in and the sea kiss the horizon makes one realize the beauty that can be shared with each other.

“I think we all need some sun and I think with everything going on with Covid and the times we are going through, we all know how much we appreciate the outdoors and life in general,” says Mike Eli. “This song gives us so much appreciation of that.”

Eli went on to say, “We felt there was a broader theme in the song when we first cut it, and for us it was an overall appreciation about the outdoors that brings you to that moment. For us it is one of those songs that speaks to you spiritually as much as physically.”

Jon Jones agreed, adding, “Sometimes a song finds you where you are at. It can mean different things at different times.”

Jimmy Buffett, who has spent as much time on and around the ocean as anyone, says the song has a bigger meaning for him. “We have all partied by the ocean. Let’s just start there. But I think in these times it is becoming more and more apparent that the ocean is in trouble and we are responsible for it. And I think that was what I loved about this song too, that it held the ocean as a deity almost that needed to be respected and needed to be, in a sense, protected and thought of as more than a place to party. This song puts it up there as something you should cherish and watch out for. So I felt that in this song.”

When the band first heard the song, songwriter Ross Copperman, who wrote the song with Ashley Gorley and Nicolle Galyon, played it for them and they fell in love with it. “We heard that Kenny Chesney wanted to record it and we immediately convinced the label to go after the song,” Eli says. “We told them we loved it and really want to record it, and in the end it all worked out for us. I think we knew right away that it was one of those amazing songs that was just us.”

Even though the song didn’t have a huge presence on radio, audiences loved it and it was quickly a favorite song for the band to play live. The audience continued to request the song over the years and the song kept getting more and more attention from their fans.

“Crowds would sing along as if it had been a huge hit,” Eli recounted. “Then recently our team noticed there was a huge swell of streaming of ‘Saltwater Gospel’ and some radio stations had started playing it again. When we realized there was more life to the song, we thought it would be a good idea to re-release it with a fresh version. It was exciting for us to think about doing that, and then we thought how cool it would be if Jimmy Buffett would be on the new recording with us. When we found out he was interested, we were pumped!”

“Before we even recorded the original version of ‘Saltwater Flats,’ we thought of Jimmy and how it sounded and felt like the lifestyle he embodies, calming yet rejuvenated. Now to come full circle on a collaboration with him, it’s really cool and beyond what we ever could have expected.”

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Jimmy had heard the song before he was invited to be on the new version, and even had a vision of his own for it. “When I heard it the first time, we had been working on the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and I have this vision that when Jazz Fest is back up and running, we’ll get in there with a 100-piece gospel choir and this song will really stick out.

“I love the Eli Young Band. So when Mac McAnally (producer and member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band who turned him on to the band) called to say the band wanted to know if I would record the new version with them, I said ‘When do we start?’ I love the Texas side to them, because I spent a lot of time early in my career playing colleges, bars and honky tonks in Texas.”

To add to the church feeling of the song, the new version was recorded “congregational style,” according to Chris Thompson, in Ocean Way Studio in Nashville. Not only is the name of the studio a perfect place to record a song about the ocean, but it really was a church at one time.

“The song was already a spiritual song for us, and it was even more so when we were at Ocean Way,” says Eli. “When we did the chorus and amens at the end everyone got involved. There were a lot of moments like that, that made this song mean so much to us.”

The guys in the band each have their favorite beach and beach memories. For Eli, he thinks of family when he thinks of the beach. Some of his memories when growing up were going to his grandparents’ condo on Galveston beach. Then one of his first family vacations was on a beach near Destin, Florida, when his daughter was a baby. “Those beaches bring back so many memories. I love Galveston and Port Aransas and Destin — all beaches are different but they all hold special memories.”

Jamaica is incredibly special to Jon Jones, because he and his wife, Sarah, were married there in 2011.

The band travels to many places and sees a lot of beaches, like their visit a couple years ago to Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort in Nassau, Bahamas, and they never tire of seeing all the beautiful areas where they get to visit. Thompson emphasizes that when he says, “South Padre Island holds a special place in my heart, but I love that we get to travel and see so many beautiful places.”

Buffet says he could give a list of 20 beaches that are favorites for him, but the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, Alabama, “is always exciting for me to go back there. When I’m at the beach I realize I am a part of something bigger than me and amazingly beautiful.”

The chart-topping multi-platinum band’s latest release is 2019’s This Is Eli Young Band (Greatest Hits), which includes the hits “Drunk Last Night,” “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and “Crazy Girl.” It also has the original version of “Saltwater Gospel.”