Fort Myers native strikes gold with music legends
The songwriting business is one filled with many trials and tribulations, as writers from all genres of music await their big break, which usually means hearing their songs being played on a continuous cycle on mainstream radio.
For Fort Myers’ native Jeff Prince, his long journey through the business of songwriting finally broke through this past year and he broke through big time.
Prince’s and fellow co-writer Jimmy Melton’s song “Django and Jimmie” was recorded by no other than country music legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, which is the first track on the duo’s chart-topping album which incidentally, goes by the same name “Django and Jimmie”.
To add sugar to accomplishment, Nelson and Haggard are two of Prince’s idols growing up as a boy in Fort Myers.
“I bought my first Willie Nelson album when I was 12 years old,” said Prince, who graduated from North Fort Myers in 1983. “I was playing guitar by the time I was 14 years old and I immediately started writing songs. I’ve been writing songs ever since.”
After attending college through the early 1990’s, Prince’s passion for songwriting guided him to the country music capital of the world Nashville, Tenn., where he took a job in sales and wrote full-time.
“It took about five or six years to get up to the pro level, but I signed a publisher deal in 1997 with ‘On the Mantel Music’ and wrote for them for about four years,” Prince said.
He now writes for his own company and has co-wrote with over 25 No. 1 songwriters, CMA and Grammy Award winners and artists. But Prince still does his solo writing, as well.
Prince’s writing style mirrors his love for the classic country western music, which is based on story telling type of songs. That’s the type of music and lyrics Prince was drawn to and remains loyal to it today.
“I fell in love with story songs, they are like a three-minute movie,” Prince said. “The songs are visual, the lyrics are visual. I just fell in love with Willie Nelson’s ‘Red Headed Stranger’ vinyl album when I was a kid. I was drawn to the lyrics.”
Prince and Melton wrote ‘Django and Jimmie’ specifically with Nelson and Haggard in mind. The song is a tribute to Nelson’s and Haggard’s inspirations, jazz guitarist Django Reinhard and one of country’s first stars, Jimmie Rodgers.
Nelson and Haggard put the track as the first one on the album, which the duet’s 14-song effort debuted at number one on the Billboard Country Albums chart. It rested at No. 7 overall on the all-genre Billboard 200.
“Willie and Merle have always wrote from heart,” Prince said. “Some songs are from their personal lives, or from their ups and downs and tragedies. But those guys have been my heros since I’ve been 12 years old.
“And heros never change.”
When Haggard invited Prince on their buses to talk about the song, the country star said it was all about timing.
“I didn’t know Willie and Merle were going to be cutting a record at the time we were writing the song, and lo and behold, they were recording a duet album together,” Prince said. “I told them I have been dreaming of getting a song recorded by them, and it finally happened.
“It was the right song and the right moment.”
In Prince’s songwriter bio, each of Nelson and Haggard were obviously drawn to the song.
“It was a natural for me and Merle,” Nelson was quoted as saying.
“When I first heard the song, it ripped my heart out,” Haggard said. “I think it is a classic.”
Nelson and Haggard will be going on tour promoting their new album in September and October, with Prince and Melton each having a little hand in producing the No. 1 country hit.
“It’s surreal to be playing just a small part of that,” Prince said. “It’s a big thrill Jimmy Melton’s and my name will be on that. It’s been a nice moment.”
Prince will be playing in his second straight Island Hopper Songwriter Fest, with last year’s performances going as well as they could have in front of the hometown fans.
He will be playing at Fort Myers Beach Smokin’ Oyster Brewery, located at 340 Old San Carlos Boulevard, Friday, Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. His other shows will be at the Pierside Grill and Famous Blowfish Bar at 1000 Estero Boulevard, Saturday, Sept. 26, at 4:45 p.m. and the Smokin’ Oyster Brewery again Saturday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m.
His grand finale will be at Nervous Nellie’s on Fort Myers Beach, located at 1131 1st Street, Sunday, Sept. 27, at 2:15 p.m.
“I’ll have a ton of friends there,” Prince said. “It happens to be the 1985 class reunion, as well, that weekend and I know a lot of people from that class. It’s going to be a big party, with a lot of friends.”