The Triumph, Tragedy and Longevity of McGuffey Lane
Updated: Jan 26
I was picking up carry out on a recent random weekday evening. The juke box at Villa Nova was blaring McGuffey Lane’s “Long Time Lovin’ You” while a handful of folks at the bar sang along loudly. It’s a rare and great accomplishment to write a song that hits enough of a nerve to make it onto the charts, but writing a song that people still sing along to 40 years later? That is something very special indeed.
ATCO - SD 38-133
McGuffey Lane’s roots go back to 1972, the year I was born. Remarkably, they’ve continued off and mostly on ever since, particularly with the amount of tragedy they’ve endured. Theirs is a classic rock n’ roll tale of highs and lows tailor-made for the documentary that bewilderingly hasn’t yet been made. They’re still some of the finest musicians central Ohio has to offer, yet remain underrated even in their hometown.
McGuffey Lane released their self-titled debut on their own Paradise Island Records in 1980. They sold 40,000 records, which is astonishing for an independent release. Not surprisingly, this caught the attention of Atco Records, who signed them and re-issued the album as-is, same artwork and all. It sold 175,000 more copies. The single “Long Time Lovin’ You,” a classic road song written by guitarist John Schwab, peaked at number 85 on Billboard, but got heavy airplay in central Ohio, as did its B-side, Bobby Gene McNelley’s “People Like You” - back when that sort of thing could happen. Both songs feature excellent harmonies, tasteful musicianship, and enough hooks to stick in your head for days.
They’d release two more records on Atco and one on Atlantic before being dropped, but it was a familiar tale of a major label not knowing how to market an act they signed based on independent sales rather than any sort of in-house A&R instinct about them or knowing what their music and fanbase were really about. In retrospect, it was a pretty damn good run. Bands don’t get two (let alone four) albums to prove themselves these days. Atlantic never released the album on CD and it was unavailable until 2006 when Collector’s Choice coupled it with their second album, Aqua Dream.
In 1980, the number of professional studios in Columbus was limited, and it would be some years before Schwab would open arguably the most productive central Ohio studio to this day, John Schwab Recording Studios. So the band went down to Fifth Floor Studios in Cincinnati, where the Ohio Players had recently been recording, with primary songwriters Bobby Gene McNelley and John Schwab producing. They’d already been together the better part of eight years, and you can tell. Their sound had been defined and what they captured went on to become one of the most commercially successful albums to come out of Columbus.
By the end of the decade, songwriter and guitarist Bobby Gene McNelley and keyboardist Stephen “Tebes” Douglass would both pass away and the band would split up. But since reuniting in 1995, they’ve continued to play to the present day. They played at my employer’s Christmas party some years back. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away by the professionalism, musicianship, and especially the SONGS! McGuffey Lane is truly a Columbus treasure.
Incidentally, McNelley’s son, Rob McNelley, has made a career for himself in Nashville as an acclaimed guitarist, session musician and songwriter working with Delbert McClinton, Buddy Guy, Bob Segar and others.
A3 Ain't No One (To Love You Like I Do) Steel Guitar – Chuck Rich
A4 Let Me Take You To The Rodeo Piano – Casey McKeown
A5 Green Country Mountains Steel Guitar – Chuck Rich
B2 Music Man
Saxophone – John Stelzer
B4 Lady Autumn
Steel Guitar, Acoustic Guitar – Terry Efaw
Bass Guitar, Vocals – Stephen Reis
Acoustic Guitar, Vocals – Bob McNelley
Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals – John Schwab
Harmonica, Keyboards, Vocals – Stephen Douglass
Percussion – John Campigotto
Producer – Bob McNelley, John Schwab
Engineer – Gary Platt
"Columbus has got a lot going for it, believe it or not. If you have taken the time to get out, which some of you have, because you wouldn't be sitting here in the audience waiting for a band such as this caliber to come out. Go out to the bars. Go out to the clubs. Support the local music in this city, because there is a lot there. A lot more than you believe that is there." - Bill Pugh, Columbus' first stereo simulcast WTVN-TV & Q-FM-96, May 1979
Right on, Bill! And truer than ever today.