Before getting burned by the coronavirus pandemic, Toast and Jam was sort of sweet.
Jeff Prince, who helped create more than 100 episodes of the local music show before getting laid off at the Fort Worth Weekly, describes his nearly 20 years at the alternative weekly newspaper as his greatest writing experience.
“We were more interested in just looking for the bad stuff,” he says of the publication. “If it’s the police, you only write about them when they’ve screwed up and they’ve shot somebody or something.”
The city’s mayor, council members, county commissioners and school board could all expect the same, according to Prince. He’d call them if something bad was happening and people were complaining.
“After a while, when you call somebody, you feel a dread on the other end,” he says.
But that changed in 2017 when the lifelong journalist was told to get busy creating more online content. Prince pitched the idea of a weekly interview and jam session with non-musicians. He’d simply rove around town with his guitar and have a nice conversation with people minus any "gotcha" journalism, controversy or snark.
“That way, I could call somebody like the mayor and then instead of them immediately wanting to pee their pants ... we can do something different for a change,” he says. “And the publisher was like ‘Sure, whatever.’”
It didn’t take long for Prince to learn that persuading people who aren’t musicians or singers to get on camera and potentially make a fool out of themselves wasn’t easy,especially since all they knew from him was “raising hell about something, story-wise.”
After about three episodes, Betsy Price, Fort Worth’s mayor, agreed to be on the show, then, “They just started lining up,” Prince says. The lineup eventually included most of the City Council: Sheriff Bill Waybourn and even Tarrant County regional water district director Jim Lane.
“We’d hardly ever written a positive thing about that guy,” Prince says of the latter. “But he came on and sang a Christmas carol with me.”
All but the first few episodes of the show were directed by Wyatt Newquist, who would record the video and audio on his iPhone, upload it to YouTube and then blast it out over social media.
“I learned how to edit a lot better,” says Newquist. “Beforehand, it was, like, one take.”
Newquist, 28, says he and Prince learned from each other, and he was honored that Prince had asked him to help out. Newquist noted that Prince had a lot of passion and became more comfortable on camera during the show’s run, over two and a half years.
An audio version was even picked up by a local radio station.
“In a way,
even better, you know, the theater of the mind,” Prince says. “You get to hear it, but your mind comes up with all these images.”
Prince says he could’ve done without the images of himself on video.
“It was a weekly reminder of what a piece of shit I looked like, felt like,” he says, recalling a conversation with a doctor who guaranteed that he’d have a heart attack or stroke within a year if he didn’t change his ways. After 40 years of heavy cigarette smoking, drinking, bad food and a bad lifestyle, he weighed 256 pounds, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. “All that kind of stuff you can get from just abusing your body for, you know, a lifetime,” he says.
Prince recalls telling the doctor that a stroke or heart attack would be fine with him because he’d lived a good life and enjoyed himself, plus changing his ways in his late 50s seemed too unlikely of a leap. When the doctor replied that he may not drop dead but become disabled, Prince reconsidered.
“I thought, oh boy, can’t even depend on a fatal heart attack,” he says. He went cold turkey on everything right away and started eating right and exercising. Now at 60, he weighs 160 lbs.
It was a whole new world, Prince says, “For somebody that couldn’t even bend over and tie their shoe without breaking into a sweat and getting out of breath."
A musician long before becoming a journalist, Prince says the show forced him to think positive and was part of a lifelong quest to find happiness. Prince also says that a good song isn’t based on how well a person sings.
“The mayor was one of the worst singers we had,” he says. “But it was one of our best shows because, you know, she wasn’t worried about looking stupid. She sang with enthusiasm, and I always let the guest pick the song."
For that performance, the mayor had picked “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang.
“I owe a lot to her,” he says of Price. “She really helped to open the gates.”
Born and raised in Fort Worth, Prince drove a truck for a few years before his father persuaded him to try college. He loved the outdoors and attended Stephen F. Austin State University with hopes of becoming a forest ranger.
“I learned in the first semester that forestry is really hard,” he says. “It’s all science.”
Prince recalls a test that had a picture of a leaf surrounded by Latin names with arrows pointing to various parts of the leaf.
“I thought, damn, they’re going to ruin the outdoors for me,” he says. “I’m going to hate leaves.”
After talking with a counselor who discovered that Prince liked to play his guitar and write songs, he was steered toward the journalism department. Now sports editor at the Weatherford Democrat, Prince says Toast and Jam was sort of a culmination of it all and the most fun he’s ever had in a job.
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“When I’m talking about Toast and Jam being the most fun I’ve ever had, I’m talking about one of the greatest jobs you could ever have in all the areas, too,” he says.
From Leon Rausch to Price to a transgender barber, the show covered 119 episodes before ending last month.
“The show introduced me to many people that I didn’t know but have remained friends with,” Prince wrote in an email. “For instance, Elaine Turnbow is a transgender woman who cuts hair in Fort Worth. She cut my hair on the show for an episode, and then we sang 'Take a Walk on the Wild Side' by Lou Reed. Elaine did such a good job cutting my hair and is such a fun person, she is now my regular barber.”
Whenever someone watched the show, Prince says they’d typically describe Toast and Jam as “a little slice of Zen,” and he's still finding it, just like the doctor ordered.