Pop guitarist and vocalist Peter Mayer was in India longbefore the Beatles made their famous trip there in 1968.

Of course, his situation was different. Mayer was a child, living inTamilnadu because his parents were Lutheran missionaries.

Today, any self-respecting Parrothead, as devout Jimmy Buffett fans areknown, can tell you that Mayer is the lead guitarist of Buffett's CoralReefer Band. He's been playing and touring with Buffett for 17 years.

But memories of his childhood in India's far southern region, and hisparents' work there, are two things that infuse Mayer's second career as anartist in his own right. He puts out CDs with a spiritual bent, and hislatest is "Musicbox."

"Growing up in India stirred something in my soul that even now, in my40s, makes me never want to be too far away from passing on the gifts I wasgiven," Mayer says.

Mayer was born in India, one of eight children raised by Jim and Selma"Sammy" Mayer.

"By Indian standards, we were pretty wealthy," says Mayer, on a 14-citytour for the holiday season. "We were able to hire Indian helpers for aroundthe house, so our life was comfortable.

"But it was poignant, because around us was such poverty. It was such agorgeous country, with beautiful people, but we were face to face with thecold realities of people not having even the basic medical care theyneeded."

Mayer's parents found an old piano that Jim would play. There werealways classical records on the turntable, and lots of music at church, someof it infused with the Indian tradition of flutes and drums, shakers andbells.

When Mayer was 8 in 1965, his family moved back to its hometown of St.Louis. The 1960s music scene was in full bloom. "The Beatles, Woodstock,Jimi Hendrix -- it was just an incredible time to grow up," Mayer says.

He began buying albums and learned to play the clarinet; his parentsbought him a $50 Suzuki guitar, and he taught himself to play. The firstsong he learned was Paul McCartney's "Blackbird."

Mayer's younger brother Jim played bass. Soon, both were forming popgroups and playing throughout their years at Lutheran High School South inSt. Louis.

Eventually, Peter joined with Jim and a drummer named Roger Guth andheaded to Los Angeles. They signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1987. Thename of their group was PM, and their first album was produced by ElliotScheiner, who had worked with Aretha Franklin and Steely Dan. PM's firstsingle, "Piece of Paradise," got up to No. 8 on the Billboard charts.

They began opening for acts such as Chicago and the Moody Blues. "We hada great time for six months, a year, but when it came time for a secondsingle, we tanked," he says. "Then we heard from Elliott that Jimmy Buffettwas looking for a band."

Mayer, familiar with "Margaritaville" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise,"was not initially smitten. "But then we thought, what the heck, it's goingto be fun," he says. "We headed to Key West (Fla.) and then on to summertours."

Some misgivings remained. "I was looking at it as a temporary thing,"Mayer says. "I was trying to leave, yet every year, the tour would rollaround again."

In 1995, Mayer had a change of heart. "Something hit me," he says. "Irealized, we play in front of a million people each summer, we write andperform, and I decided to embrace it.

"I discovered that sometimes the things you think are stumbling blocksare steppingstones."

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  • In months off from touring, Mayer decided to make his own music,recorded under the Peter Mayer Group -- with his brother Jim and Guth, bothof whom also play for Buffett. Their first release was a pop album called"Green Eyed Radio."

    "We got in a van and toured in a small-potatoes way, and little bylittle our fan base grew," he says.
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