Ever hear the one about the girl who was dumped by her high school sweetheart and was rescued by the music of singer-songwriter Jewel?
Yeah, me neither.
But that’s where things began with Eliza Toth, the local powerful singer who is set to perform her record release show at the Embassy Theatre on Saturday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m.
“I was 18 years old, heartbroken, and knowing how much I was into Jewel at the time, my mother bought me my first guitar,” Toth said. “That became my release, my outlet.”
She was a Homestead High School athlete with no musical background, but she was arrayed with musical influences from Jewel to Dolly Parton and Alanis Morissette. Jagged Little Pill was the first album Toth purchased with her own money, and the future was limitless.
Nailing the Audition
It wasn’t until 2002 that her musical journey began to take off after she responded to an ad in Whatzup for a local band seeking a vocalist. That’s when she first met Jon Durnell and Missy Burgess who posted the ad with hopes of finding a talented voice to head their band Tenfold Back.
“When I first heard Eliza’s demo for the audition, I heard a very unique and endearing voice with an ability to sing original and interesting melodies,” Durnell said. “She auditioned with original material, which showed a drive to express herself and to be creative. That resonated with me right away.”
As you may have guessed, Toth got the gig and was extremely thankful for the opportunity.
“Jon and Missy are two of the most influential people to me,” Toth said. “They believed in me and kind of gave me my start.”
The band also featured drummer Larry Ford, and together they continued for a few years until bringing on guitarist Gary Toth and morphing into a new rock project called What She Said.
If it’s not obvious by the last name, Gary and Eliza would fall in love and get married three years later.
Eventually, the two welcomed a daughter. It was time to take a break from the band to focus on the family.
Back in the Ring
Not being able to practice your passion can be difficult, but Eliza knew it wouldn’t be long before her return behind the mic. When it became time for her to get back into the ring, she hooked up with the local cover act Black Door, which saw her belting tunes from Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, The Black Crowes, and Tom Petty.
This was also when she met the late Chilly Addams, known for his work as a professional musician and DJ. He gave her encouraging advice that she still holds dear: Let things go. Life is too short.
Since then, Toth had a stint in the local supergroup Whoa, Man!, and still maintains a hefty schedule with the wedding/special events band Night to Remember, which has her sharing the stage with Durnell once again.
“One thing I’ve taken from being a woman on stage is I feel that I have become a beacon of empowerment for women,” Toth said. “So many woman have come up to me after shows with compliments, telling me how empowering I was to women and making them feeling confident. It’s like I now have a purpose and this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I want to provide a blueprint for future female musicians to follow.”
15 Years in the Making
During this whole journey, Toth has been banking away her own batch of material which will soon see the light of day. Her debut album, Oak, has been 15 years in the making but well worth the wait.
“The thing is, I never gave up on it,” she said. “Whenever I had an idea or creative moment, I would write it down in a binder.”
The album was recorded in her husband’s home studio and consists of 10 tracks performed by the core of her band: Eliza, Gary, and John Foxworthy on drums.
“Gary and I work together as one,” Toth said. “I am a poet and he writes amazing hooks and it just comes together so well.”
Her friend Durnell backs that up, describing Eliza’s depth of lyrical content combined with Gary’s blazing guitar and slick production. A handful of local musicians make guest appearances, including Durnell, Spunde, Colin Boyd, and David Detweiler.
A quick glance at the track listing for Oak, and it’s easy to get an “earthy” vibe with titles like “On the Trail,” “Wildfire,” “Love Me Like Water,” and “Howl.” There’s also the title track “Oak,” which was written to inspire others to believe in their own strength and ability to overcome.
All together, the album covers a number of styles including country twang, soul, and rock, which puts on display Toth’s genre-bender qualities. You can get a sneak peek since the track “Wildfire” is on Spotify.
Returning to the Embassy
The first opportunity to get your hands on the new album will be at her official release party at the Embassy.
Toth is no stranger to that stage, having performed Down the Line 14 last year when she covered Dolly Parton.
She returned on a couple other occasions, and when the venue got word she was working on a new album, they offered up their stage.
“How do you say no to that?” Toth said. “Playing the Embassy is like riding a bull. It’s powerful and the energy is immense.”
That evening’s show will have a storyteller’s feel to it where she plans to share what may have inspired her to write a particular song. She will not be doing this alone, though. She will be joined by 11 other local musicians, including a horn section, backup singers, and a congo player.
Adam Baker & the Heartache will open the show.
“I love Adam,” Toth said. “His newest album Junk Drawer is great and is pretty much the same concept as mine with taking several years to make.”
Eliza has drawn comparisons to Grace Slick, Ann Wilson, and Alanis Morissette. As she sings on her opening track “Trailblaze,” she is blazing trails for others like her. Her hard work and dedication has allowed her to dance a path across Fort Wayne’s most iconic stages showing fans how to draw power from femininity.
From her debut album to one of her biggest shows to date, Toth will continue to live by Dolly Parton’s motto, “Go big, or go home.”