In just a few years, Sean McGee’s life has gone from the gutter to the penthouse.
The Sandusky native has become an Internet R&B singing sensation not far removed from the days when he was so down-and-out he found himself spending nights in a friend’s car.
The 20-year-old McGee’s song, “My Story,” has been downloaded more than 12 million times on MySpace. A video of the song on YouTube has collected more than 500,000 hits.
These days, he finds himself jetting off to Florida to do performances and working with some of the bigger names in the industry on his yet-to-be-released first album.
McGee,who dropped out of Sandusky High School after his junior year, said it took him just 20 minutes to write “My Story.”
“Because it was my true feelings,” McGee said last week by phone from a luxury condominium in downtown Cleveland that overlooks Lake Erie, where he’s now living with his manager.
The song is autobiographical and touches on the time in McGee’s life when he found himself out on the streets after he decided to leave his father’s home because the two didn’t see eye-to-eye on the house rules.
“The life that I was going through at that time is what the lyrics represent,” said McGee, who won’t say how much money the song has put in his pocket.
How it became a hit
After writing “My Story” sometime in 2007 McGee phoned his friend and local rapper/producer Mike Morris, AKA Mike O. Mike O put together the beat to back the lyrics in 30 minutes and the two recorded the song in less then 30 minutes in Morris’s home studio.
Darian Shepherd, a friend of McGee’s, told him to post the song on MySpace.
That’s when things got dicey. McGee soon found himself in jail on drug charges after being busted by with crack cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy in his possession.
“When I was in jail it was growing and when I logged on there were 10,000 plays. I was like ‘Wow, who is jamming to my music like this?’” McGee said.
The song also caught the ear of a local Cleveland radio deejay, the Latin Assassin, who mentioned McGee on a public access TV show as an up-and-coming star.
It just so happened that a Cleveland producer/manager named Joseph Small, also known as Sosa, caught the show. He quickly contacted the Latin Assassin, who told him McGee was an R & B singer whom “the ladies loved.”
“Sean’s voice distinguishes him from other artists,” said Small. “When you hear him you expect to find this 50-year-old man and then you see this skinny 20-yearold kid.”
McGee also writes his own songs and doesn’t come off looking packaged like so many current R&B stars, which appeals to fans, Small said.
“I think he’s going to be bigger than Chris Brown,” Small said in comparing McGee to the controversial R&B star whose career has crashed-and-burned in recent months after he was arrested for allegedly beating his girlfriend Rihanna.
“My Life” connects with listeners who find themselves going through tough times, McGee said.
“People leave messages like ‘my friend just died’ or ‘my mother just died and this song helps me get through the day.’ To hear stuff like that is overwhelming. It’s crazy how it has grown.”
Local activist Richard Koonce, a friend of McGee, said: “Really good music can mean different things to different people depending on where they are in life. It’s touching people for various reasons.”
A rocky start
McGee, whose voice has drawn comparisons to Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey of Jodeci, said he’s been singing since he was eight and remembers his grandparents Georgia May and Ernest Robinson playing records by the likes of Al Green, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross The Temptations and the Four Tops.
“They really gave me the inspiration,” said McGee. “I grew to love music, just the pure soul of it.”
At age 14, McGee recorded his first song.
But there would be some bumps in the road. When he was17,McGee said, things got “rocky” at home.
“My mother (Monique Robinson) and father (Rick McGee) decided they could no longer be together,” McGee said. “I decided because I was the last one at home it was because of me.”
McGee’s mother left the home and Sean McGee soon followed when he and his father had a falling out over house rules.
Rick McGee said it was his son’s decision to leave. When asked if it was hard to watch his son walk out, Rick McGee said he had mixed emotions.
“I didn’t really want to see him in the situation,” Rick McGee said, “but as a parent, if you keep going out to rescue him, he’s not going to learn too much.”
McGee tried to find work, but with no car, it was difficult.
He went to live with his mother, who quickly gave him the boot.
With nowhere to stay, he made friends with local barber Reico Clark, who owns Heads Up Barbershop.
“It got to the point where all my clothes were in the back of his car and we were hanging out all the time,” McGee said. “He really took care of me. Sometimes he’d let me
stay at his home. Or if he went to his girl’s, he’d let me take his car and I’d go somewhere and sleep.”
With no job, McGee decided to go the drug route.
“I started peddling on street cars, anywhere I could find someone who wanted some drugs,” McGee said.
On a September night in 2007, police arrested McGee at a party.
He remained in jail for three months before Clark bailed him out.
McGee was indicted in November 2008 for preparation and possession of crack cocaine. Last month, the case was held in abeyance when Erie County Common Pleas Judge Roger Binette placed McGee into the Benchmark program. McGee has to fulfill the requirements of the program, which include counseling and random drug testing.
McGee now looks at his arrest as a blessing.
“I don’t smoke marijuana anymore, which I didn’t need to be doing,” he said. “ I’m a singer and that stuff messes with your vocal chords.”
Now McGee’s life appears to be back on track. He’s worked things out with his parents, he said.
“They are pretty proud of me,” he said.
Rick McGee, a Sandusky firefighter, said he wasn’t caught off guard by his son’s recent success.
“I don’t want to say surprised ... I’m happy,” Rick said. “That’s something he had a passion for that’s panned out.”
Bringing it back
On Friday under a clear blue sky, Sean McGee looks like a man headed for big things. He wears a black nylon running jacket, light blue Levis and a pair of Air Jordans. While walking down Jackson Street in downtown Sandusky, he looks over at the now-dilapidated Rieger building.
“I want to buy that and bring it back,” he says.
One can’t help but wonder if he might. McGee’s already overcome tremendous odds. Not that he ever doubted he would.
Even in those days in a jail cell or when he was scrounging for a place
to live, Sean McGee said he knew he’d make something of himself.
“I always had a feeling I was going to be successful,” he says. “When I was younger I didn’t know it was going to be in singing, I just knew that I was going to be successful and people were going to know my story. Isn’t that crazy, my story,” he says with a laugh.