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Q&A with the St. Petersburg city song winner

California couldn’t hold a candle to St. Petersburg for Charlie Souza. The Tampa Bay native returned and immortalized the city in song.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

California couldn’t hold a candle to St. Petersburg for Charlie Souza. The Tampa Bay native returned and immortalized the city in song.

Last week, nearly 13,000 people voted online to pick a city song for St. Petersburg. With 5,553 votes (about 43 percent), Charlie Souza of North Redington Beach was the winner. His tune, Carry Me Back to St. Petersburg, beat out two other finalists. Souza actually wrote the song, which he performs with his band the New Tropics, years ago. It's about his own experience as a local boy who ran off to Hollywood in his 20s and returned home years later after a frightening experience with an earthquake. Souza is no stranger to music. He has worked with Tom Petty and others. In the 1960s, he and his band became one of the first Tampa Bay area groups to make it big, winning the International Battle of the Bands. He's currently touring with the New Rascals. Souza, who was to perform the song Saturday at Ribfest in Vinoy Park, chatted with the St. Petersburg Times about his life and anthem for the Tampa Bay area.

What's the story of you and St. Petersburg?

I was born on MacDill Air Force base. I came to St. Pete a lot. I was a senior when I joined a band, the Tropics. I moved to St. Pete as soon as I got out of high school. The Tropics were pretty popular. We played at a place called the Surfer's Club on Madeira Beach. I lived several places in St. Petersburg. It's just home to me. Even being in Los Angeles for 20-plus years, I felt like an alien. Not enough pelicans for me.

Why did you decide to enter the contest?

I didn't know about it till my wife showed me the paper. She said, "read this." Mind you, this was three days before the deadline to enter the contest. I quickly filled out the application. And I made the top three and I was floored. I was hoping to win, and, by golly, I did.

How did you get the idea for the song?

About 15 years ago was the Northridge earthquake. It scared me so much that all I wanted to do was come back to St. Petersburg. The white sandy beaches, the pelicans … I really missed that. That emotion went into the song.

How does it feel for it to be the city's song?

It's like the reward for everything. I move home, I love the place, I write a song about it and now they want to use it for the city. Now I really know I'm home. I feel like I've won a million dollars.

What's the best part of St. Petersburg? The worst part?

I think the best part is all the water that surrounds it. There's always something going on, always an event. There's just a happy vibe about the town. It's the Sunshine City. This is just a beautiful, beautiful city. I still play with my band down at the Pier sometimes because I just love the view. I don't see any negatives. You really don't realize how nice it is until you're here. I took it with me to Hollywood and held it with me.

What do you hope happens next with the song? Have you heard anyone humming the tune?

Not yet. It's too new. I'm looking forward to playing it around home. I sure hope there will be some events where the city will use it, though. … Maybe some advertisement for tourism and hearing my little song in the background. That's going to be cool.

City song

To hear Carry Me Back to St. Petersburg, visit charliesouza.com. The song is also available for purchase at iTunes and Amazon.com.

Q&A with the St. Petersburg city song winner 11/14/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 16, 2009 4:56pm]

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