O is for Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Rolling Stone Magazine described The Ozark Mountain Daredevil’s music as “a mixture of Country, Appalachian, Southern, and Rock & Roll”, but they have also been aptly described as “a ragtag collection of hippies, bohemians, and musicians of no fixed ambition”, but they became known as one of the most iconic bands of the 1970s musical era.  They have always been indefinable in terms of music genres, producing sounds of country-rock and electric bluegrass all on the same record; writing lyrics both whimsical and poetic, singing harmonies that would send shivers up your spine.

Guitarist John Dillon, drummer Steve Cash, and bassist Michael Supe Granda, were all from Springfield, Missouri.  The group first got together in the early 70s when Larry Lee and Steve Cash met John Dillon at a local pizza parlor.  Dillon told both Cash and Lee, “Look, I’m playing in a pizza parlor, they’re not paying me anything but I get to eat and drink all I want,” Lee replied, “Well I will play with you!”, so the group was brought together out of a mutual love for pizza.

In 1971, Randle Chowning formed a band which included himself, Steve Cash, John Dillon, Elizabeth Anderson, Larry Lee, and Michael Granda that began playing together with Bill Jones and Rick Campanelli at Springfield, Missouri’s New Bijou Theater for small crowds of friends on Wednesday night under the name Family Tree, but they also became Burlap Socks, the Emergency Band and Buffalo Chips.  Larry Lee was working at the New Bijou as a bartender.

The band recorded a demo at Springfield’s Top Talent Studios (soon to be renamed as American Artists) and that demo, containing some songs that made their way to New York music executive John Hammond via the hands of band friend Steve Canaday, co-owner of the New Bijou Theater.  In July 1972, Hammond sent a producer, Michael Sunday, to the band’s Ruedi-Valley Ranch in Aldrich, Missouri, the house rented from Randle Chowning’s Southwest Missouri State University teacher Mrs. Ruedi, where the band rehearsed and where Chowning lived.  The band then sent a tape to the team who managed fellow Missourians Brewer & Shipley, Kansas City’s Paul Peterson, and Stan Plesser who gave the band a chance and became their managers as well in October 1972.  Eventually Buddy Brayfield came into the fold.

The Daredevils’ formal beginning as a band was in Springfield, Missouri in 1971, and the sextet of musicians included Larry Lee, Steve Cash, Michael Supe Granda, John Dillon, Buddy Brayfield, and Randle Chowning.  They started out playing gigs in bars and on porches and then, as a nod to Commander Cody who was one of their musical heroes, they settled on the catchy moniker of Cosmic Corncob & His Amazing Ozark Mountain Daredevils, becoming The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, for short.

Music producers Glyn Johns and David Anderle heard the band play at the infamous Cowtown Ballroom in Kansas City when they were on a scouting mission, looking to discover a band with a uniquely American sound.  With their diverse influences and wealth of original material, the Daredevils fit the bill.  Glyn Johns was particularly intrigued by their harmonies, having recently produced the Eagles’ album, Desperado.  And, just like that, based on the recommendations of Johns and Anderle, a recording deal was struck with A&M Records.  Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss founded A&M Records in 1962, and they became the world’s largest independent recording label with a bevy of disparate acts that in the 1970s included Joe Cocker, Quincy Jones, Joan Baez, Carpenters, Cat Stevens, and Carole King and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

Johns and Anderle soon made a visit to the Ozarks to help the band choose songs to include on their first album.  Then, accompanied by roadies, girlfriends, wives and families, the band members were flown to London, England where they recorded their self-titled debut album, often referred to as the Quilt Album.  This critically acclaimed 1973 album spawned their first hit song ‘If You Wanna Get to Heaven’, which went to #25 and it was written by John Dillon and Steve Cash.  Their first album was ranked in the 100 Top Pop Album Artists that year.  The sextet of Steve Cash, John Dillon, Larry Lee, Randle Chowning, Michael Granda and Buddy Brayfield were all multi instrumentalists.  The got help with backing vocals from Jack Black, Elizabeth Anderson, Sidney Cash, Janet Lee, and Donald Bromage.

After the success of their first album for A&M, record producers Johns and Anderle were determined to guide the Daredevils even deeper into their roots.  They had a recording truck delivered from California, set it up on a remote Missouri farm near Bolivar that Randle Chowning rented, called Rudi Valley Ranch, and started rolling the tape.  The band, technical crew, and producers literally camped out at the farm for two weeks, recording the tracks that would become their second album, It’ll Shine When It Shines released in 1974.  While they worked on the recording, some songs were written on the spot, such as the much beloved title track, ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines’ and ‘E. E. Lawson’.  With the release of the second album the Daredevils found their way to an even greater number of fans with the number-one hit song ‘Jackie Blue’, co-written by Larry Lee and Steve Cash.

‘Jackie Blue’ became the band’s second Top 40 hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it spent two weeks at #1 on the Cashbox Singles Chart.  Drummer Larry Lee wrote ‘Jackie Blue’ when he was inspired by a male drug dealer that he had known.  Their producer Glyn Johns protested, insisting that Jackie Blue had to be a girl and that is when fellow band member Steve Cash got involved and contributed a couple of verses for this song.  This song is about a woman who is in pursuit of happiness but she never gives anything a long enough time to make her happy.  She gets bored easily and there “never seems to be quite enough” to satisfy her.

David Anderle produced their third record in 1975 in Nashville, christened The Car Over the Lake Album.  After its release the band embarked on its first European tour where they were enthusiastically received, firmly establishing them as a most popular American band.  Upon their return, however, co-founder and guitarist, Randle Chowning, abruptly left the band.  In dire need of a guitar player, the band hired Norwegian guitarist, Rune Walle, whom they had met on their recent tour broad.  Although born and raised in Bergen, Norway, Rune was an avid fan of the Daredevils, and already familiar with their material.

This new lineup set the stage for the Daredevils’ fourth album in as many years, the highly acclaimed Men From Earth.  With A&M’s Anderle again at the helm the album was recorded at Caribou Ranch, high in the Colorado Rockies above Boulder.  The album includes a pair of standout Larry Lee tunes, the romantic ‘You Know Like I Know’ and the hard-country ‘Homemade Wine’.

In 1976, co-founder Buddy Brayfield left the band to pursue a successful medical career.  Brayfield recommended Ruell Chappell be hired to fill the vacancy, so Chappell toured with the Daredevils through 1980, playing keyboards and contributing background vocals on their next albums.

Don’t Look Down was their fifth album released in 1977 and it was also recorded at Caribou Ranch, but it didn’t meet sales expectations so the group decided to move from A&M Records to Columbia Records.  Steve Cash, John Dillon, Larry Lee, Michael Granda and Ruell Chappell were joined by musicians Steve Canaday, Jerry Mills and Rune Walle on this album.

It’s Alive was their sixth album and it is a 2-record set recorded live in concert through Missouri and Kansas with the Enactron truck in April 1978.

In September 1978, the group flew to Hollywood to appear on The Midnight Special, but when A&M’s Jerry Moss witnessed the inebriated band members race through their set on the show, he decided not to pick up the option on their record deal and the Ozarks found themselves without a home in 1979.  After fulfilling their contract with A&M Records, the Daredevils signed with Columbia Records in 1980.  They recorded one self-titled album for Columbia Ozark Mountain Daredevils with veteran producer, John Boylan.  At this point in their career, the Daredevils were basically working as a four-piece, using studio musicians to fill in where needed.  The Columbia album is beautifully produced and it contains many songs collectively co-written by Steve Cash, John Dillon, and Larry Lee.  The first cut, ‘Take You Tonight’, was released as a single, as was the hauntingly lyrical ‘Oh Darlin’’, written by Larry Lee.  This was their only album with Columbia Records.

Shortly after the release of the self-titled Columbia album, Larry Lee left the band to pursue a successful writing and producing career in Nashville.

Best of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils was released in 1981 and it is a showcase of the band’s instrumentation.

The Lost Cabin Sessions was released in 1985 and it contains 18 songs which are a group of mostly unreleased tracks from demos that were recorded 13 years earlier.

Modern History was released in 1989 and the group consisted of Michael Granda on bass, Steve Canaday on drums, Don Clinton Thompson on guitar, John Dillon playing guitar and singing vocals and Steve Cash playing the harp and singing vocals.

In 1990, they made cassettes which they sold at concerts Now Hear This! which were not part of a label.

Archive Alive was released in 1997 and it contains twelve tracks that were recorded live at the Cowtown Ballroom in Kansas City, Missouri and the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri on consecutive nights in March 1973.

13 was released in 1997 and it includes 13 songs that feature the band’s four original members, including Larry Lee, who writes and performs two of the songs.

The group kept putting out albums and CDs like Fly Away Home in 1998, Time Warp: The Very Best Of in 2000, 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection in 2002, Rhythm And Joy 1980 Reunion Concert in 2006, Sing Their Best in 2006, American Legends in 2008, Alive and Wild in 2011, Off The Beaten Path in 2018 and Heaven in 2019.  There is even an album where all of their music is on one side and the New Riders are on side B and it is called The Ozark Mountain Daredevils / New Riders Of The Purple Sage.

After Lee’s departure the band continued to tour and record throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s with good friend and drummer Steve Canaday.  Joe Terry, a wonderful singer and one of the most inventive keyboard players around, joined the group and traveled all over the lower 48, Alaska, and Canada playing every conceivable type of venue.  After Rune Walle returned to his home in Norway, renowned Springfield musician, Terry Wilson, stepped in to contribute to the Daredevils’ sound with his brilliant guitar playing, both on the road and in the studio.  When Wilson departed for film work in Los Angeles, his replacement was the immensely gifted D. Clinton Thompson, who joined the Daredevils for tours of both North America and Europe, as well as for several recording projects.  When Thompson left to form his own band, the fabulously infamous Bill Brown stepped in with unbridled energy, bringing his own rocking style to the Daredevils’ live shows.  Brown introduced the band to his friend and incredibly talented guitarist, Dave Painter.  In 2004, Painter became a fulltime member adding his amazing musical skills to the Daredevils’ sound and rich history.  On July 23, 2004, guitarist Bill Brown died of smoke inhalation in a house fire in Springfield MO.  Other members of the modern lineup include Bill Jones, Ruell Chappell, Ron Gremp, Dave Painter, Kelly Brown and Nick Sibley.

13 thoughts on “O is for Ozark Mountain Daredevils

  1. Don’t know a lot of their music but I like the parts I’ve heard. I always placed them as musical contemporaries of the Atlanta rhythm Section, maybe due to the time of their popularity and somewhat in sound. “JAckie Blue” is one of my fave singles of the whole decade.

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  2. The most I ever knew about them was reading Glyn Johns book and he had good things mostly to say about them. Thanks for filling in a lot of blanks. I can’t believe you found this much info on them. I was going to post If You Want to get to Heaven… but couldn’t find much at the time…Great job Jim.

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