OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVILS: MUSIC, MILEAGE AND MAYHEM
By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
December 14, 2008
The Ozark Mountain Daredevils were, in a way, victims of their own success. "If You Want to Get to Heaven, " hillbilly rock 'n' roll with rhythmic guitars and wailing harmonica, rode to No. 25 on Billboard's Pop Singles chart in 1973, giving six young songwriters from Springfield, Mo., a ticket to the big time.
But the band's second single the following year was even bigger: "Jackie Blue, " a pure pop song that sounded nothing like "Heaven, " made it to No. 3. From that point on, every producer who recorded the Daredevils downplayed the sometimes goofy, loose-limbed, country-influenced rock 'n' roll band of "Heaven" in a quest for "Jackie Blue 2" or a hit in some other hot genre.
By the early '80s, after a one-album deal with Columbia, the band found themselves with a rabid fan base but no label. That it stayed together for an additional 24 years of dwindling commercial success and multiple personnel changes makes a good story, and Daredevils bassist and St. Louis native Michael "Supe" Granda documents the long strange trip in "It Shined."
Like its author, who earned his nickname from a Superman T-shirt he wore in college, it's a sometimes goofy, loose-limbed, country-influenced rock 'n' roll saga. Granda pulls it off without a whiff of pomposity, star worshipping or any phony sense of regret for the sex and drugs that came with the lifestyle.
Instead, he focuses on the music, mileage and mayhem, recalling both the excitement and the boredom of the road and pausing often for bemused accounts of energizing performances, superlative meals and oddball characters such as Rune Walle, a Norwegian country singer and general madman who joined the band on guitar in the mid-'70s.
A Lindbergh High graduate, Granda, now pushing 60, grew up in south St. Louis and learned to play the bass while in junior high and high school, getting onstage during the fading days of Gaslight Square. Blessed with a skill for mathematics that would keep him in pocket change later as a tutor, he was able to easily pick up reading music and quickly outgrew a need for lessons.
"I play the bass with my ears, not with my fingers, " Granda writes.
As the Vietnam War intensified, Granda headed for the Ozarks and a student deferment at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, a city of rich musical tradition (the Ozark Mountain Jubilee). On Day 2 there, he met future Daredevil John Dillon.
Granda buried himself in Springfield's music scene, becoming pals with local favorites Granny's Bathwater, and joining forces with Dillon, Steve Cash, Buddy Brayfield, Randy Chowning and Larry Lee as the Family Tree.
The Tree grew a loyal following with regular gigs at the New Bijou Theater, and the songwriting collaborative eventually became the Daredevils. When a demo tape found its way to A&M records, the band was hooked up with legendary producer Glyn Johns (the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Eagles and the Who), who produced its eponymous debut.
"It'll Shine When it Shines, " featuring "Jackie Blue, " and four more albums followed for A&M, then the one with Columbia, each to diminishing commercial success. But as a concert band, the Daredevils soldiered on, touring the world with a rotating roster around Granda, Dillon and Cash.
Dillon and Cash decided to end the band, and its farewell show was in 2004 at the 3,000-seat Shrine Mosque in Springfield.
Granda, who relocated to Nashville and founded Missouri Mule Music during the Daredevils' final years, fills in the spaces with a folksy narrative and an eye for the absurd. But the self-published book could have used an editor. Granda often goes on too long without reminding the reader of the year; he uses first names almost exclusively and several Steves and Bills populate the tale; and, worse for music fans, there is no timeline, discography or index to help keep things straight.
But fans of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Springfield music and rock history will get a kick from the Missouri mule. And the man who produced world-class clucking on the Daredevils' song "Chicken Train" still shows off his goofy side, frequently performing in St. Louis as Supe de Jour, Supe and the Sandwiches or the Garbanzos.
'It Shined: The Saga of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils'
By Michael 'Supe' Granda
Published by Authorhouse, 508 pages, $34.99 ($29.99 paperback)
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