Some journeys take longer than expected. In May 2007, I wrote about Greg Laswell’s CD “Through Toledo,” and how he used our city as a melancholy metaphor for a slightly depressing stop on the way to something bigger.
This inspired some reflection on such musical bummers as the infamous Randy Sparks song “Saturday Night In Toledo Ohio” and British rocker Elvis Costello’s song named after the city: “Do people living in Toledo/Know that their name hasn’t traveled very well?”
I asked readers to help fill a jukebox of more positive Toledo tunes, and they responded in full force.
After several discussions and discoveries, it occurred to me that there was no collection of the songs that celebrated our area’s music legacy, for present and future generations to hear and enjoy.
From such a simple thought began an 18-month journey that will culminate Dec. 30 with the presentation of “Legacy: Songs in the Key of Toledo,” a two-CD collection of amazing historical recordings from or about Toledo.
At 3 p.m. at the Toledo-Lucas County Library’s audio-visual center, Toledo Free Press, with a major assist from scores of people to be named shortly, will donate enough two-CD sets for every library in the system. The discs will not be commercially available, but can be checked out through the libraries.
The litany of people who made this vision a reality is humbling. No one was paid a dime; all the efforts were volunteered.
A complete track listing and all the details are in this issue, but there are some specific people who deserve major thanks and kudos.
Virginia Black contacted me about “Strong for Toledo,” the anthem that plays a key role in the collection, with a medley of Toledo mayors singing the tune, relay-fashion.
“I’ve known this song all my life,” she wrote. “Certainly, there are many others around town who know it. I taught it to my grandchildren. They like to ‘put on shows’ and sing it.”
The lyrics to the song Virginia remembers:
“We’re strong for Toledo, T-O-L-E-D-O
The girls are the fairest,
The boys are the squarest,
Of any old town I know.
We’re strong for Toledo,
The place where the breezes blow
In any old weather, we’ll all stick together
Steve France of FOX Toledo tried to help us record Mayor Carty Finkbeiner singing “Strong for Toledo” for the medley, but a lengthy wait in the mayor’s lobby did not pay off. Not to be deterred, I tracked down a tape of Finkbeiner singing the song at a campaign rally in the Hart Associates archive, which they generously provided.
I received a visit from Jerry Jakes, director of Lake Erie West, an organization with the mission to “develop a shared vision and sense of community throughout our region that will serve as a catalyst to create opportunities through a positive global identity.”
Jakes told me, “Our musical heritage is better than most people think.”
Jakes told me that he once tried to get Sparks, writer of that nasty “Saturday Night In Toledo Ohio” song, to rewrite the lyrics about 10 years ago. Sparks knew Toledo was wooing Jeep, and told Jakes he would rewrite the lyrics if the city was successful.
Sparks kept his word when Jakes informed him Jeep was committing to Toledo and submitted this rewritten version of “Saturday Night In Toledo Ohio.”
“Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio
Is better than most people think
We have the excitement of a city alive,
Things really start jumping
on Friday at five.
And after the sunset, the dusk
and the twilight,
A glittering skyline appears,
They roll out the barrels of all kinds of brew,
Ohio’s best city says ‘Welcome’ to you.
Two upbeat truckers from cool California,
And a tourist from over the sea,
All partied together in Downtown Toledo,
With a bunch of my buddies and me.
You ask how I know of Toledo, Ohio,
The jewel of Lake Erie West,
Well thousands of people come here to play,
Cedar Point and Ann Arbor
are a stone’s throw away.
And let’s not forget
that the folks up at Chrysler,
Unselfishly gave us the Jeep,
It’s yours to keep is the promise they made,
Due to community efforts
including The Blade.
‘Love where you live,’ let that be our motto,
Just come and be one of the crowd,
So here’s to the folks of Toledo, Ohio,
John Denver, you’d really be proud!”
Marilyn McNamee called to say her grandfather, Joe Murphy, wrote “Strong for Toledo” when he led the Icehouse Quartet. She said he sang the song for royalty in England, and Danny Thomas once sang it for FDR. McNamee owns the original 78 rpm recording of the Icehouse Quartet performing the song and recently had it transferred to disc.
Robert Russ, the “Fun Bob” mad genius behind the Downtown riverfront peddle boats, took my idea and gave it heart and soul, tracking down leads and researching local music history.
His efforts, with assistance from Alaina Rogacki, led to contributions from local historians Ron Mauter, Tom Smith, Bill Shurk and Tim Healy, who provided contextual notes and recorded draft narrations for the discs.
Compiling songs from 78-, 45- and 33- rpm discs, cassettes and CD required expert production and equalization. Hours of such effort were donated by Kerry Clark and Matt Feher, our friend Mighty Wyte.
Staff Writer Katherine Timpf turned in some of her best writing on the profiles contained in this issue, each of which is graced with a portrait by Toledo Free Press Photo Editor Lad Strayer.
The project was rescued and carried to the finish line by Toledo Free Press Special Sections Editor Brandi Barhite, who corralled the master recordings and secured new recorded intros from Toledo’s morning radio legend, Harvey Steele of K-100. Having his voice grace the project gives it an extra layer of class.
The only expenses incurred by the project, for CDs, cases and labels, were shouldered by Columbia Gas of Ohio and its manager of communications and community relations, Chris Kozak, who understands the value of positive community news and impact.
Lisa Renee Ward, proprietor of Glass City Jungle and a Toledo Free Press contributor, burned the 100 discs, meticulously protecting the sonic integrity of each one.
Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop has supported the “Legacy: Songs in the Key of Toledo” project and will offer a county proclamation at the Dec. 30 ceremony.
I have undoubtedly forgotten a name or two, but all involved should know that these CDs are a true legacy project, one future generations will study and learn from, take pride from, share history from.
“Legacy: Songs in the Key of Toledo” is not a comprehensive collection of Toledo music; it would require 10 times the people and scores of CDs to scratch the surface from Joe Murphy to We Are the Fury. But there are enough highlights here to hopefully inspire further searches further cataloging and further enjoyment.
Check them out at the library branch near you and let them know what you think.
In Laswell’s song, Toledo becomes a lyrical device to describe pensive transition, a place that’s sort of, kind of good enough for now, but is a means to an end. It’s brain drain set to music. Laswell discussed the metaphor during a May 24, 2007 phone interview.
“As I was working on the album, close friends of mine were moving to Toledo for a job; that was their path to New York,” he said. “As I sat across from them at the table and they told me they were leaving, I asked, ‘Why?’ They had a great life, great friends. They looked at me and said, ‘To be where we want to be, we need to go through Toledo.’
“In that moment, those words struck me, and I wondered, ‘what is my Toledo? What do I have to go through to get where I want to be?’ I loved the sounds of the words together, they were symbolic, and that was the only song I could name the album after. I named the album before I wrote the song.”
So how are his relocated friends doing? Are they still looking to move from Toledo?
“Actually, they fell in love with the place and have adopted a son,” Laswell said. “They go to Ann Arbor sometimes, where I’ve played. I think they’ll be in Toledo for a while.”
As will these songs and the people who inspired them, created them and love them.
Michael S. Miller is Toledo Free Press editor in chief. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.