Call Me Lucky
McGuffey Lane Biography For a band given up for dead, both figuratively and literally several times over, McGuffey Lane and their music are still going strong, pleasing thousands of fans throughout Ohio, the Ohio River Valley and beyond, with their own unique blend of rock, country, and bluegrass. In the beginning there wasn't even a band, just a duo called Scotch and Soda. That's the moniker Steve Reis and Terry Efaw took in 1974 as they started to play around Columbus, doing popular country and folk rock tunes of the day. When joined by singer songwriter Bobby Gene McNelley, they became McGuffey Lane, named after a street in Athens that Reis lived on during his Ohio University days. Their popularity grew gradually, and they soon started playing bigger bars and clubs. While headlining at Ruby Tuesday's, the band expanded again with drummer Dick Smith and keyboard player Tebes Douglass. Slowly some original music started to find it's way into their sets. Zachariah's Red Eye Saloon was the center of the country rock music scene in Ohio during the late 70s and early 80s. Located in a former warehouse on High Street directly across from the Ohio State campus, the Lane first played there in 1977 and became the house band soon after. At that time they added their sixth member, guitarist/vocalist John Schwab. The line up that would be McGuffey Lane for their High Street glory days was now set. And what days they would be... During the early Zach days most of the songs were covers, with originals making up a small part of each night's set. There were country covers like Jerry Jeff Walkers "Up Against the Wall (Redneck Mother)" and George Jones' "She Still Thinks I Care"; rock covers like "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" and "Hey Jude"; and blue grass standards like "Rocky Top," "Cumberland Gap," and "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." As the band took hold, more and more of their performances became filled with originals. The band's confidence in their own material grew, supported by the reaction from their fans, and original music soon dominated their shows. Many of these songs would end up making up their first album in 1980, such as "Green Country Mountains," "Break Away," "Long Time Loving You," and "People Like You." Whether it was Zachariah's or on the road, more and more people came to hear McGuffey Lane do McGuffey Lane songs. In concert the band was developing it's own sound. At any one time almost anyone would sing lead vocals; a blue grass standard would be followed by a band original followed by a cover of a Stones song; steel guitars and mandolins would blend with Stratocasters. Some fans came to party and dance, some came to sit and listen, others came to enjoy the contagious atmosphere that was McGuffey Lane. The central Ohio college students loved them. The Midwest city kids raised on Bob Seger and Michael Stanley attending Ohio State hopped on the bandwagon, and the eastern preppy types at Ohio Wesleyan, Denison, and Kenyon packed their concerts when the Lane played their campuses, or would make the trek to Columbus to see the band at Zachariah's. McGuffey Lane's times at Zach's would go from 1977 until 1980. And when they weren't at Zach's they were on the road, spreading their music the old fashion way, playing Ohio and the Ohio River Valley's bars, ballrooms, and colleges. Enthusiastic crowds greeted the band at Peabody's and the Agora in Cleveland; Bogart's in Cincinnati; and the Decade in Pittsburgh. College shows like their annual outdoor concert at Ohio Wesleyan's Styvesant Glen became traditions. They also started opening for national acts who would travel through Ohio, starting with a 1977 Waylon Jennings show at Veteran's Memorial. By the end of the 70s, McGuffey Lane songs were being requested on local and regional country and rock stations. In 1980 local music entrepreneur Steve Liberatore put up the money to record those songs, and released the Lane's first self-titled album on Paradise Island Records in August of 1980. Region success was immediate, selling 10,000 copies in the first month, 40,000 in three. During the fall of 1980 Emotional Rescue by the Rolling Stones was the #1 album in every major market in America, except in Columbus where McGuffey Lane headed the charts. That got the band noticed by Atlantic Records who would soon release the album nationally on it's Atco label. It would go on to respectable sales of 175,000 copies. McGuffey Lane featured the line up that had been playing at Zachariah's, with John Campigotto subbing for Dick Smith on drums. The album featured ten songs, all of them popular originals from the band, with seven written by McNelley and three by Schwab. The album was recorded at Fifth Floor Studios in Cincinnati, and was engineered by Gary Platt. Amongst the guests on the album were John Stelzer with a terrific sax solo on "Breakaway;" and a piano solo on "Rodeo" by future Lane member Casey McKeown. "Long Time Loving You" b/w "People Like You" had success as a single, appearing on the Top 100 country charts. With the success of their first album, and exposure farther and farther from their base in central Ohio, the early Eighties found McGuffey Lane as a national act, trying to find that one break out gold album or top ten hit. They played Charlie Daniels' Volunteer Jam from 1981 to 1984, toured and/or opened for everyone from the Allman Brothers to the Marshall Tucker Band, and released three more albums for Atlantic. In 1981 the band released their second album Aqua Dreams. The personal was the same as the first record, with the permanent addition of Dave Rangelar on drums. The album featured several long time originals that did not make the first album ("Tennessee," "Don't You Think About Me"); several Steve Reis penned songs ("It Comes from the Heart" and "Outlaw Rider"); some new Bob Gene McNelley tunes, including "New Beginning" and "Falling Timber"; and an instrumental bluegrass medley called "Bags of Rags," which featured Terry Efaw's guitar picking talents and a guest fiddle solo by Charlie Daniels. The single "Starting All Over" made the pop charts Top 100. The band's third effort on Atco was "Let the Hard Times Roll." Released in 1982, it is the band's most country of their four Atlantic releases. Recorded at the Bennett house in Franklin, Tennessee, the album was produced and engineered by Marshall Morgan and Paul Worley. Morgan would go on to engineer Dolly Parton's bluegrass albums, as well as work extensively with Ricky Van Shelton and Ricky Skaggs. Worley would later go on to produce number one albums by Colin Raye, Martina McBride, and the Dixie Chicks. The single "Making a Living (Has Been Killing Me)" made the Top 50 on the country charts. In early 1984 tragedy would strike the band. Keyboard and harmonica player Tebes Douglass was killed in an automobile accident while returning from a sold out show in Dayton. The band's final effort for Atlantic was Day by Day in 1984. The album was engineered and produced once again by Morgan and Worley. The record was dedicated to Douglass, and his keyboards and harmonica can be still heard on most of the album's tracks. Amongst the highlights of the album were the McNelley/Schwab titled composition; "Jamaica on my Mind" which McNelley wrote with Bobby Keel; and "The Legend," Schwab's tribute to the roots of rock and roll, which he wrote with Dan Tyler. The album would have two songs make it to the country Top 100, the title tune and "The First Time." During McGuffey Lane's five years with them, Atlantic Records had trouble marketing the band. They really didn't know how to promote a country rock band, at the time it's roster was filled with acts like Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. There really wasn't even another act that the Lane could have partnered up with on the road. Their last three albums would all sell well in Ohio, but nationally sales were a disappointment. By the late 1980s country rock was over. Most of the Marshall Tucker Band either died young or retired, Charlie Daniels was turning to Gospel Music, the survivors of Lynyrd Skynyrd had yet to reform as a cult band, the Allman Brothers would revive as a total blues outfit. Country radio was about to go corporate and begin it's Garth/Shania period, leaving Merle and Willie, as well as bands like The Outlaws and McGuffey Lane, behind. The band's personal would change. After Day by Day McNelley left the band, pursuing a solo song writing career, and trying to deal with a person demon or two. His life would tragically end in a double homicide with girlfriend Linda Sue Green in January of 1987. Casey McGowan was recruited to replace Douglass on keyboards. Through this time of disappointing record sales, internal tragedies, and a changing music scene, the band kept doing what they did best, make music. After being dropped by Atlantic, The band went back to it's Ohio roots, playing the clubs and concert halls, fairs and festivals they visited before their brief romance with national fame. In 1986 the band did recorded A McGuffey Lane Christmas, a fundraiser for the Central Ohio Lung Association that sold over 10,000 copies. There would not be another McGuffey Lane release until 1988's Live on High Street, which was recorded at the Newport Music Hall the previous fall. The double live album, and the band's first on CD, is a good picture of where the band was at the time. The live album was a mix of McGuffey Lane standards ("People Like You," "Long Time Loving You"); rock and roll dance covers ("But It's Alright", "1-2-3"); and some of the long time covers the band had made their own, especially John Schwab's touching version of John Prine's "Hello in There," and Steve Reis's vocals on the Jimmie Rodgers standard "Muleskinner's Blues." Also showing up for the first time on a record was "Bert," Schwab's crowd pleasing tribute to gas station attendants, and his ballad "Be a Friend of Mine." The band disbanded for good in 1990, after a farewell tour through the state and one last night on High Street at the Newport Music Hall. Even with all of the ups and downs it was a good run, and for sixteen years they made an honest living out of making music. Like many of their fans, family members, and friends, the members of McGuffey Lane thought that was it and went their separate ways. But on the way to the old folks home for rock-n-rollers, something happened. McGuffey Lane's strong and loyal fans, older but wiser, would not let them and their music go away in peace. Reunion shows became major events. In 1993 they did what was suppose to be a one time thing at the Newport that led to occasional shows around Central Ohio. The band's revival brought about a disk of new music in 1998 Call Me Lucky. The album featured John Schwab, Terry Efaw, and Casey McGowan from the band's late 80s line up, surrounded by a group of veteran Columbus area musicians true to the McGuffey Lane sound. Amongst the highlights were two Schwab ballads, the title track and "There's Only One of Us Now"; a cover of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic"; and a great closer, a party tune called "The Good Times Tonight." In 2001 the band was instrumental in organizing the First Annual Zachariah's Red Eye Saloon reunion, featuring the Lane and other former popular Zach's acts. The first two reunions sold out a Columbus party center, and the event outgrew it's venue. The reunion has been in it's current home, the PromoWest Pavilion in the Brewery District in downtown Columbus since 2003, and the fifth annual reunion in January of 2005 was recorded for a concert DVD. The seventh annual reunion is slated for Saturday, January 20, 2007. Members of the band fought for years with Atlantic Records over the rights for the four albums the band recorded in the early to mid Eighties. The label wouldn't release the albums, or revert the rights back to the band. While literally cleaning out the basement, lead singer John Schwab found the tapes the band used to shop around for their original record deal. In 2002 the band released All The Songs From The First Album, alternate and live versions of the ten songs that made up the first self titled album. The songs are arranged in the order they first appeared on vinyl. The sound is surprisingly very good, and the occasional uneven moments are overshadowed by the talent of the band and the quality of the songs. This is a wonderful disk filled with great songs and McGuffey Lane's unique sound of country, rock, and a touch of bluegrass. The disk opens with two of the band's signature songs 'People Like You' and 'Long Time Loving You,' and also includes such old juke box standards as 'Green Country Mountains' and 'Stay and Love With You.'. Wood, their 2003 release, is an all-acoustical disc, featuring fourteen selections; nine of them unplugged versions of songs dating back to their early days as a popular in the late 70's. Amongst the highlights are several songs never released on neither vinyl nor disc, "Old Taylor" and "Railroad Song," both of which were concert staples in the bands early days. A pleasant surprise is the guest appearance of original drummer Dick Smith, who guest stars singing lead on "On the Line" and "Til the End," two songs slated for the band's 1980 debut album that were deleted when Smith left the band. Another guest on the album is Robby McNelley, son of Bob McNelley, who plays inspired guitar on the remakes of his late father's songs. Of the new songs, John Schwab's "Runnin' Wild & Free" and "Nobody But a Fool" show these seasoned Ohio veterans can still come up with quality performances. As one reviewer stated, "Wood is an honest album filled with good songs performed by time-tested talented musicians who can still turn a lick or two." In 2006 the four albums McGuffey Lane did for Atlantic Records in the 80's finally became available on CD, thanks to the good people at Collector's Choice Music, one of Rhino Records' labels. They are packaged two albums on one CD, with their self-titled 1980 effort and 1981's Aqua Dream on one disc, and Let the Hard Time's Roll (1982) and Day by Day (1984) on another. The packaging includes the original artwork from the original albums, and enjoyable liner notes written by long time lead guitarist/vocalist John Schwab. With the success of Call Me Lucky, Wood, and All the Songs from the First Album; special events like the Annual Zachariah's Red Eye Saloon Reunion; and finally the national release on CD of their four Atlantic albums, the future never looked better for these Central Ohio musical legends. The band now features original members Terry Efaw, Steve Reis, and John Schwab, surrounded by a who's who of Columbus area musicians, playing music still special for a generation of fans who grew up in or went to college in central Ohio during the glory days of country rock, Zachariah's Red Eye Saloon, and, of course, McGuffey Lane. Greg Cielec Cleveland, Ohio November 2006.
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