By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

June 6, 2004

Thirty years ago this spring, "If You Wanna Get to Heaven" was blasting out of car radios and starting to climb the charts, adding a different color to the country-rock palette and making stars out of six songwriters from Springfield, Mo.

But with the exception of some "best of" packages, the music of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils has been largely unavailable on CD. In fact, singer Steve Cash's daughter Star had not heard a lot of it -- because it wasn't "in her format." And she's 29. Today, thanks to reissues with bonus tracks and a recent before-they-were-famous collection called "The Lost Cabin Sessions," the Missouri band's music is new again.

"You know," Cash remembers his daughter saying after hearing "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," "if you changed the drums to sound modern, that would be a hit right now."

"Heaven," with its long, sinewy harmonica intro, horns and insistent beat, spent five weeks in the Top 40 in 1974, peaking at No. 25. A year later, the poppy "Jackie Blue" was an even bigger hit, reaching No. 3 and spending 12 weeks in the Top 40.

But being hitmakers was never the goal of guitarists Cash and John Dillon, guitarist/harmonica player Randle Chowning, drummer/guitarist Larry Lee, keyboard man Buddy Brayfield and bassist Michael "Supe" Granda. The six came together as a hippie-era songwriters collaborative to simply share each other's songs.

"It was only after one or two rehearsals that we realized we all played enough instruments to have a band," Dillon says. "It was a real organic beginning, the way you picture things happening in a perfect world: A group of people come together to share their work and realize that everyone has something to offer, and they become a cohesive thing. It's marvelous."

Cosmic beginning

The Daredevils went from playing gigs around Kansas City under a different band name every night to signing with a major label and being flown to England to record with hot producer Glyn Johns, who had already worked with the Eagles, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Who and the Beatles.

The Daredevils rise began when Paul Peterson, who operated Kansas City's Cowtown Ballroom, heard a tape of the Daredevils. He says, without a shred of self-consciousness, that it changed his life.

"It was one of those experiences, you feel like your body's metabolism changes. I thought, 'Gee, this is going to be important,'" says Peterson, who became the band's manager and today guides the original lineup's catalog from California.

Peterson, who also managed fellow Missourians Brewer and Shipley, shopped their demo tapes with his partner before eventually attracting the attention of Johns and A&M Records.

That was a long way from their early days playing local gigs.

"The Rhythm of Joy was the name of the group when I first met them," Peterson recalls. It's also the name of an early song that is on the "Lost Cabin Sessions."

Other band names included Burlap Socks, Buffalo Chips, and the Emergency Band.

Peterson says Cash came up with the name that stuck, and it's clearly a product of its time: Cosmic Corncob and His Amazing Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

We shortened that," Peterson laughs. "Only a bunch of hippies could come up with that."

John Dillon

"Lost Cabin" days

"The Lost Cabin Sessions" is a snapshot of those days.

"The cool thing is that these songs were recorded without any pressure, or with anybody looking over their shoulders," Peterson says. "It's a real honest rendering of the material."

"Sessions" consists of some "rediscovered" Daredevils tracks, most of which have never been available, at least in these versions. Some of the tracks had a brief life on vinyl in the '80s, and some were later polished and re-recorded after the band had made it.

Dillon's "Keep on Churnin'," for example, appeared on the band's third effort, "The Car Over the Lake Album" (1975). The country piano rhythms and fills of Buddy Brayfield in the demo were unfortunately traded for the horn sound of "Heaven."

On the other hand, the later version of Chowning's "Leatherwood," also on the "Car" album, features much more confident vocals and harmonies.

"The important thing," Peterson says, "is that this was the original lineup, and that's why the interest was so strong."

Cash remembers the "Lost Cabin" days as a time of constant music.

"There was just was a flurry of songs being written and worked out most all of the time," he says. "Nothing was out of bounds," from jazzlike pieces brought in by Lee to R&B-influenced songs.

"I remember we had only so much money, we had to get things done fast," Cash says. "I mean, when we first went in to make a demo for Epic (which was rejected), we had $500 to work with. They expected two songs -- we did 23."

By the time those songs were given to Johns and A&M, the band had written "golly, 250 songs, just a ton of songs," Cash says. "We were really just in it for that. Each one of those songs is precious. We just brought them out of the blue."

Dillon, who today works with Meridian Creative Alliance, an advertising agency in Springfield, says of the "Cabin" tracks: "I was amazed at how naive it sounded, in a way, and the ambiance seems so innocent. Yet, because of that, it's really true. So I think that's what this compilation does: It proves our roots were honest.

"We had no design on becoming famous, we were just a bunch of artists and poets sharing our work with each other. So when we became successful (with the "Heaven" single) and began making our living, it was like a fairy tale to us."

"Heaven" came together in a Springfield minute: Cash had the lyrics and brought it to the group; Dillon had a guitar riff. It took either 10 minutes (Dillon's recall) or 30 minutes (Cash's) to nail the song.

"We knew we had something, but we were so naive at the time that we didn't understand the music business at all," Dillon says. "(Our managers) got really enthusiastic about it, and, through their efforts, we began to realize we had a future in the marketplace. But that was a foreign concept to us."

Then, a year later, the "Shine" album was released and, Dillon says, "'Jackie Blue' comes out and is played around the world, but we still resisted the idea of fame. It was a different world, and we were interested in the work."

"A wonderful time"

In recent years, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils have played limited dates -- mostly festivals during the summer -- with a lineup that included only Cash, Dillon and Granda from the original band. Today, even that lineup is inactive.

So it's ironic that "The Lost Cabin Sessions" and the reissues are coming out now when, as Cash says, "we can't capitalize on it. (But) we were kind of winding down after 30 years on the road. We might play again for fun, or money, but it has to be a good thing. We're not just gonna go play on a regular basis anymore."

Cash is launching a new career as a novelist and reveling in being a grandfather -- his son Cody and daughter-in-law Allison are about to have their second child.

"I baby-sit (for Chloe) three times a week," he says. "It's my favorite time of the week."

His adventure-fantasy novel "The Meq" has been published in the U.K., and he recently made a deal with DelRay/Random House for a series of three books, the first scheduled for April.

It will have elements of fantasy but, Cash says, will be based in 1881 -- in St. Louis.

"Supe" Granda relocated several years ago to Nashville, Tenn., where he writes songs and records music for his Missouri Mule label. He is a frequent performer in St. Louis as Supe du Jour or with Supe and the Sandwiches.

Randle Chowning and Larry Lee are also in Nashville, and both are still active in the music business. And Buddy Brayfield is a doctor in the Ozarks.

But 30 years ago, Cosmic Corncob and his Amazing Ozark Mountain Daredevils were making a few bucks a night to support their songwriting habit.

"It was wonderful, it was the most creative experience in my life spent with other people," Cash says. "There's not much to show for it monetarily, but that's not the point. It was a wonderful time to be in your 20s."

CDs in print by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils:

"The Lost Cabin Sessions"
2003 Varese Records

Tracks recorded before the band's major-label debut in 1973.

Highlights include "Lost Cabin," "Keep on Churnin'," "Chicken Train," "Rainbird," "The Rhythm of Joy" and "A Satisfied Mind."


"The Ozark Mountain Daredevils"

1973 A&M Records (CD still in print)

aka "The Quilt Album," for its cover art

"If You Wanna Get to Heaven" is worth the price of admission; also features the official version of "Chicken Train," "Country Girl," "I'm Still Dreamin'" and "Road to Glory."


"It'll Shine When it Shines"

1974 A&M Records; reissue, 2003 New Era Records

Features writing by five of the six Daredevils, highlighted by the smash "Jackie Blue" and laid-back, California harmonies of "You Made it Right."


"The Car Over the Lake Album"

1975 A&M Records; reissue with bonus tracks, 2002 New Era Records

This expanded version features songwriting by all six members. Highlights include "Keep on Churnin'" and "Leatherwood," plus "Cobblestone Mountain" and the bonus "Time Warp."


"Men From Earth"

1976 A&M Records; reissue with bonus tracks, 2002 New Era Records

"Lost Cabin Sessions" tracks "Fly Away Home" and "You Know Like I Know" appear here, as well as the jazzy/funky "Arroyo" and "Homemade Wine."


"Don't Look Down" (1978) and "It's Alive" (1978), a double live LP, wrapped up the band's time with A&M; they're out of print but will be reissued next year. "Ozark Mountain Daredevils" (1980) on Columbia Records was the group's last studio album. It, too, is out of print; there are no reissue plans.