Sweet Home Toledo: Local songwriters pen odes to their city

Rob Storm, a Toledo singer/songwriter who wrote a song about Toledo called
Rob Storm, a Toledo singer/songwriter who wrote a song about Toledo called "Take Me Back Toledo," at the Docks along the Maumee River in Toledo.

If you’re a songwriter, you never escape your hometown.

You can leave, of course, but that’s not the point. What we’re talking about is putting pen to paper, pick to guitar strings, or fingers to piano keys and writing about where you grew up, where you live now, or where you had to get away from.

The number of examples are mind boggling: Jay-Z has “New York State of Mind;” for Bruce Springsteen it’s “My City of Ruins” about Asbury Park, N.J.; Randy Newman has his adopted “I Love L.A.,” and Carrie Underwood has “I Ain’t In Checotah Anymore” to name barely a few.

Toledo is no different, including a recent batch.

Call City Hall and the hold music is Rob Storm’s new ode to his hometown, “Take Me Back Toledo.” One of local singer/songwriter Kyle White’s most requested original songs is the defiantly cheery “Glass Cities” from her 2011 release. Blues rockers Buck 69 have written a couple of songs about the city, featuring the blistering “T-Town” as the lead-off track on their disc “When She Whispers Your Name.” And of course, Crystal Bowersox penned the anthemic “Holy Toledo.”

It seems almost like a rite of passage for songwriters. Love song? Check. Broken-heart song? Check. Song about your hometown? Check.

“I think that writing a song about your hometown is just a natural occurrence for any artist,” Bowersox said, noting that hers “strangely enough” is about getting out of Toledo.

“It’s so ingrained in who you are and how you become the person you are. Some days you want to go back. It’s a place to go back and reminisce and know the streets you’re driving down.”

While the most famous one that is actually about Toledo is the Randy Sparks-penned (and frankly stale) smackdown “Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio” made popular by John Denver, both Storm and White have a much more open-hearted view of the city.

“My dad always dissed Toledo and called it the armpit of the world, but I never thought that,” Storm said.

He moved away at a young age and lived all over the country, but the 47-year-old made his way back after living in Dallas, getting divorced, and needing a soft place to land and recover his emotional bearings. An aunt and other family members lived here and he ended up relocating to Toledo 13 years ago.

“They just put me back on the right track and I actually had come to only stay for two weeks,” Storm said.

His song makes reference to his late mother Patte Boyd — who along with his late father Bob Bergendahl was a musicians in Toledo — and his aunt Bette Freshour, both of whom helped him regroup.

While the chorus refers to the city by name, the lyrics are far more universal in their themes of familial comfort and emotional rebirth.

“I thought it would be an interesting angle and this could apply to anybody. There are a lot of people who have been away from their hometowns for 30 years,” Storm said.

For White, a busy musician who plays in Toledo clubs regularly and also travels extensively, “Glass Cities” was born out of frustration from hearing the same old refrain from folks who haven’t ventured far beyond northwest Ohio.

“I’m so sick of people being down on [Toledo] and a lot of people ask, ‘Why doesn’t she move away and try to make it big somewhere?’ Because I love living in Toledo and it makes me mad because it’s usually people who never leave town who are down on it.

“I travel all over and I know what a secret little gem we have here.”

Her song was featured in the recent documentary on the Toledo music scene Playing Nightly and it includes the refrain, “I won’t throw stones at glass cities.”

“Right now I live within 10 miles of both my sisters and my parents and it’s great to be that close,” White said. “I love my friends and family and spending time with them.”

Storm’s song found him in Mayor Mike Bell’s office earlier this year doing a spontaneous performance when the mayor handed him an acoustic guitar and asked him to play the tune for him and a few staff members. The impromptu gig led to the song being played on the City of Toledo’s voice messaging system as the hold music when you call City Hall.

“It was his suggestion to put it on the phones and I thought that was great,” Storm said.

White said her tune is always well-received when she plays it live:

“It’s probably my most requested original and people really love that song,” she said. “People who are in Toledo [say] ‘Yes, that’s how I feel,’ and it was great to get that response.”

You can purchase Storm’s song at http://cdbaby.com/cd/robstorm and White’s is available at iTunes, cdbaby.com, amazon.com, and on the disc “On With the Show” at Ramalama Records or Culture Clash.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.