The Ozark Mountain Daredevils are an American Southern rock/country rock band formed in 1972 in Springfield, Missouri, United States. They are most widely known for their singles "If You Wanna Get To Heaven" in 1974 and "Jackie Blue" in 1975.
The Daredevils are also mentioned in the "Don's Story" chapter of American humorist David Sedaris' book Barrel Fever. Bassist Michael "Supe" Granda has also written a book about the band, It Shined.
According to the book, "It Shined", by Michael Granda, the band name was derived from "Cosmic Corn Cob & His Amazing Ozark Mountain Daredevils", a name that John Dillon came up with at a Kansas City "naming party" after the band was told that the name they had previously been using, "Family Tree", was already taken. The band shortened the name because none of the band members at the time wanted to be called "Cosmic Corn Cob", and they did not want the name to sound similar to the Amazing Rhythm Aces.
Formation and the Family Tree:
In 1971 Randle Chowning formed a band which included Steve Cash, Randle Chowning, John Dillon, Elizabeth Anderson, Larry Lee and Michael Granda began playing together with Bill Jones (flute, horns, formerly of Mike Bunge's band Granny's Bathwater) and Rick Campanelli (piano) at Springfield, Missouri's New Bijou Theater for small crowds of friends on Wednesday night under the name "Family Tree" ("Emergency Band", "Burlap Socks" and "Buffalo Chips" were other names they considered for this grouping in the early days). Larry Lee was working at the New Bijou as a bartender. The band recorded a demo at Springfield's Top Talent studios and that demo, containing such early songs as "Rhythm of Joy", found its way to New York music executive John Hammond via the hands of band friend Steve Canaday, who was co-owner of the New Bijou Theater. 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 teacher Mrs. Ruedi, where the band rehearsed and where Chowning and his brother Rusty lived. Sunday offered the group $500 to make another demo tape but ultimately decided to pass on offering them a contract.
The band later sent a tape to the team who managed fellow Missourians Brewer & Shipley, Kansas City's Paul Peterson and Stan Plesser (who also owned the Vanguard, a popular coffee house and ran their own Good Karma Productions), who gave the band a chance and became their managers as well. The band then changed their name to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils in 1972 (see "Name") and saw the departure of Campanelli and Jones and the addition of Buddy Brayfield, a friend of Granda's, as the piano player. Anderson, though still romantically involved with Dillon, retired from the stage. Campanelli left on his own to pursue a master's degree in music; Jones rejoined the Daredevils briefly later and would continue to appear as a guest player on some of their shows and recording sessions.
1970s (The A&M years):
The band began playing out in 1972 and 1973. On February 8, 1973 they played at Cowtown Ballroom in Kansas City, Missouri. Later that month, on February 21, 1973, they played a concert at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Shawnee, Kansas. Two weeks after that, on both March 9 & 10, 1973, they played at Cowtown Ballroom again, this time with Brewer & Shipley accompanied by Loudon Wainwright III. Performances from the Cowtown shows later turned up on a CD called Archive Alive in 1997.
The group's demo tape eventually caught the attention of A&M Records staff producer David Anderle, who was looking for an Eagles country rock type of band to place on the label. Anderle and the Eagles' first producer, Glyn Johns, flew to Missouri to catch the band's aforementioned performance at Cowtown Ballroom on March 10, 1973. But the band, nervous about Johns and Anderle being in the audience, did not play their best. Later on, Paul Peterson invited the two men back to his place to hear the band give an unplugged performance by candlelight. This time Anderle and Johns were blown away and they were signed to A&M on May 1, 1973 and sent to England to record their first record with Johns at the helm during that June and July.
The first record, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils (also referred to as "The Quilt Album"), was released in December 1973 and spawned the Top 30 hit "If You Wanna Get to Heaven" in the summer of 1974. The album introduced the band's unique mixture of rock, country, bluegrass and pop to the world and is still the favorite of many of the group's fans.
For the second album, It'll Shine When It Shines (October 1974), Johns and Anderle came to Missouri to record, utilizing a mobile recording truck set up outside of the band's rehearsal home. During the sessions, Johns overheard Larry Lee sitting at a piano playing and singing a song about a mysterious friend of his who sometimes dealt drugs on the side. Johns loved the melody and thought it could be a smash hit if the lyrics were altered to be about a girl and the drug references downplayed. Lee and Cash did as Johns asked and the song, "Jackie Blue", became the Daredevils' signature song and a huge hit (No. 3) in early 1975.
The Ozark's third release, The Car Over the Lake Album (September 1975), recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and produced by Anderle alone, featured their old compatriot, Bill Jones, joining them to play and arrange their songs. He also toured with them in 1975-1976. Another face from the past, Steve Canaday, also came back into the group's life at this same time as road manager and opening act before joining the band in 1976. The album sold fairly well but produced no hits. One reason why the band's fortunes began to falter might have been their reluctance to relocate to Southern California after being asked to do so by A&M co-head Jerry Moss. Another reason was their reluctance to do the constant touring that many of their fellow contemporaries were doing back then. A further sticking point was the band's unwillingness to try and duplicate their biggest hit, "Jackie Blue", or copy what other groups were doing. As a result, A&M began to lose a bit of their enthusiasm for the act at this point.
Personnel shifts within the group also began to change the chemistry. In April/May 1976, the band embarked on a tour of Europe. But by the time the exhausted troup hit Copenhagen, Denmark for the tour's final stop at Daddy's Dance Hall, they were confounded by a horrible sound mix for their show. An angry Randle Chowning responded by turning up his amplifier all the way which upset the other band members and resulted in a huge shouting match at the end of the night. Upon their return home, Chowning refused to speak to the others or take their calls. Norwegian musician Rune Walle, whom the band had met while on tour in Europe with his band The Flying Norwegians, was then contacted to replace him. Walle's first show with the group was at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on July 23, 1976 on a bill that also included The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Jeff Beck and Firefall. Chowning went on to form his own Randle Chowning Band
That same year, the Daredevils headed west to the Rockies, to Caribou Ranch near Nederland, Colorado, to record their fourth album, which they had originally titled Nuclear Fishin ' but then changed to Men From Earth after A&M objected. The Nuclear Fishin' title was later used up in Canada for a greatest hits pack. Anderle was once again in the producer's chair and Evergreen, Colorado resident Jerry Mills joined the band on mandolin and also served as the group's advance publicist.
In the fall of 1976, Buddy Brayfield departed to study medicine and Ruell Chappell (vocals, keyboards), from the popular Springfield group Spillwater Junction, came in. But the band's next several releases -- Men From Earth (September 1976), Don't Look Down (October 1977, produced by David Kershenbaum, once again at Caribou Ranch) and It's Alive (September 1978) -- sold in lesser quantities than their previous records had. Jerry Mills and his mandolin were dropped from the group after It's Alive since the band was performing fewer acoustic numbers in their show by this time.
During the summer of 1978, the Daredevils went out for a short run of shows where they opened for Fleetwood Mac.Springfield bassist Larry Van Fleet (from the Randle Chowning Band) sat in for some of these dates. On August 26, 1978, the Ozarks appeared at Canada Jam on a large bill that also included Kansas, Atlanta Rhythm Section, the Doobie Brothers, the Commodores and others.
Also in 1978, John Dillon and Steve Cash contributed to an album, White Mansions, which documented life in the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Waylon Jennings, Eric Clapton, Jessi Colter, Bernie Leadon and several other musicians appeared on this record as well.
1978 also had Larry Lee recording a solo album for A&M that was not released.
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.
By 1979 the group had moved over to Columbia Records and put out the self-titled Ozark Mountain Daredevils in May 1980. This album was produced by famed country rock pioneer producer John Boylan and did not feature Chappell or Canaday, and Walle only appeared on two songs, since Boylan insisted on bringing in session players for a more typical "California country rock laid back sound", which was popular at the time. But country rock's popularity seemed to be on the wane at the dawn of the 1980s as groups such as the Ozarks, Poco and Firefall saw their sales begin to slip away. Columbia dropped the group after only one record.
In 1980 Walle left the Daredevils to be replaced by Springfield guitarist Terry Wilson.
In December 1980 Brayfield, Chowning, Jones and Walle reunited with the band for two shows, one in Springfield and one in Kansas City. The first was at Hammons Student Center on December 6 and the second, on December 31, occurred at the Uptown Theater in K.C. The latter show was later put out on CD (in August 2006) and DVD (in June 2007) as 1980 Reunion Concert: Rhythm And Joy.
Larry Lee left the band and relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a solo career in 1982. He also worked as a songwriter and country producer (for Alabama, Juice Newton and others) and would still play drums on occasion with other acts. In the mid-'80s, he even did a stint with Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band. Chappell also split in 1982, leaving the group a quintet.
Later the same year, there was another major upheaval as Dillon and Cash decided that they'd had enough as well. After some consideration, it was decided that the group would continue with Granda and the returning Randle Chowning leading a new lineup that included Bobby Lloyd Hicks (vocals, drums, percussion, ex-Steve Forbert), Joe Terry (vocals, keyboards, from the St. Louis group the Couch Dancers) and Tulsa guitarist Gary Smith. Canaday stayed on and once again became the band's road manager.
This new grouping only lasted about a year and a half before Chowning left. Hicks took a job with Kerry Cole & the Lefty Brothers and Joe Terry joined a new band, the Morells. At this point, Dillon and Cash agreed to rejoin and Gary Smith stayed around a few months more before relocating to Branson, Missouri, so the mid-1984 Ozarks lineup was: John Dillon, Steve Cash, 'Supe' Granda, Steve Canaday and Jason LeMasters (guitar), the latter soon departing to work for Kris Kristofferson and replaced by Chowning, back for his third stint with the Daredevils.
In 1985 the band followed singer/drummer Larry Lee to Nashville to record a new album produced by Wendy Waldman that, like their 1980 Columbia release, utilized session players. Lee briefly rejoined for this album but there was no interest at all from any of the labels in Nashville in the project. A small French company, Dixie Frog Records, eventually picked up the record and it was released in France as Heart of the Country in 1987. Many of the same songs were released in England in 1989 as Modern History on the Conifer label.
In the meantime, the Daredevils continued on with Morells guitarist Don Clinton Thompson in 1985 after Chowning left again during the recording of the aforementioned Nashville album in 1985. A group of mostly unreleased tracks (the demos that they used to send around to the record companies) from 1972 was released on Varèse Sarabande Records this same year as The Lost Cabin Sessions.
There were more personnel changes as Canaday left to move to Nashville in 1988; he was briefly succeeded on drums by the band's roadie, Rick 'Lumpy' Davidson, who previously had sometimes joined the group onstage playing washboard.
At the end of 1989, Thompson quit to reform his old band, the Skeletons, and Davidson moved to Branson to take a job as sound mixer at Ray Stevens' theater. In 1990 guitarist Bill Brown (from Supe's side band Supe & the Sandwiches) and Morells drummer Ron Gremp came aboard. The band continued their now-limited touring.
A 1990 release, Now Hear This!, was put out on cassette tape only.
Granda, like Lee and Canaday before him, decided to uproot himself and settle in Nashville where he peddled his songs, searched for a deal for his side band, Supe & the Sandwiches, and became involved in other projects, including a stint as bass player in Michael Clarke's Byrds. In the summer of 1992, the Daredevils resumed their ever-dwindling schedule of gigs.
In 1996 the Ozarks were approached by their former manager, Stan Plesser, to re-record some of their best-known songs for a company called Eclipse Records. This was recorded in Nashville with producer Bob Wright with only Dillon, Cash and Granda (Larry Lee and Steve Canaday guested on backup vocals) playing on this project accompanied by session players. The CD was titled Jackie Blue and appeared in March 1997 as a budget product sold mostly at truck stops.
New Era Productions, a company formed by an old Springfield buddy of the group's, Benny Smith, agreed to fund another album of brand new material, 13. This was produced, mostly in Nashville, by Larry Lee, who played and sang on it as well. Chowning also contributed to the album. 13 was released in June 1997. Also that year came Archive Alive, a CD containing performances from their 1973 shows at Cowtown Ballroom in Kansas City and Kiel Opera House in St Louis.
On September 25, 1999 Steve Canaday was killed when the small plane he was traveling in crashed in Nashville, Tennessee while he was working as an aerial photographer.
On July 23, 2004, guitarist Bill Brown died of smoke inhalation in a house fire in Springfield that also took the life of another popular Springfield guitarist Don Shipps. On October 16 of this same year, the group and several other Springfield bands appeared at the Shrine Mosque in a memorial show for Brown and benefit for his family.
Since that time the band has gone into semi-retirement but usually emerges each year to play shows, sometimes joined by members Larry Lee and Randle Chowning. The 2004 lineup contained Dillon, Cash, 'Supe,' Ron Gremp and Dave Painter (who joined for the 2004 Shrine Mosque show). Beginning with a series of shows in May 2007 at Gillioz Theater in Springfield, Kelly Brown joined as the group's new keyboardist. These shows were recorded for a 2008 DVD release called Revival (Live at the Gillioz) .
Starting in 2005, Lee and Chowning have re-teamed in a new group, Beyond Reach, that formed in Nashville but has since moved its base back to the two men's hometown of Springfield, Missouri.
A brand new live album by the Daredevils, a two-disc set featuring 21 tracks, including old favorites, rare songs and a couple of new ones, titled Alive & Wild, was made available in October 2011. This was taken from shows performed at Wildwood Springs Lodge in Steelville, Missouri in November 2010. Larry Lee and Randle Chowning also played at the Steeville, Missouri shows for two years, making those shows a special blend with their contributions to the songs that the fans enjoy. The band line up for some of these shows included: John Dillon, Steve Cash, Michael 'Supe' Granda, Ron Gremp, Dave Painter, Kelly Brown, Bill Jones, Ruell Chappell and Nick Sibley (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals). Since 2010, the band has continued to make concert appearances with this nine piece line-up, excluding Larry Lee and Randle Chowning much to the chagrin of the fans.
Former early band member Buddy Brayfield, now Dr. Sam Brayfield is a family practice, hospice and palliative care physician in Osage Beach, Missouri and plays with a local band 'Buddy and the Notes'. For the first time since 1980, Brayfield rejoined the group for a reunion concert in September 2010 that included four of the original six members. Brayfield indicated that he decided to play in the Missouri concert since his children had never seen him play with the group. The show was at the Gillioz Theater in Springfield, Missouri.
In March 2015, Randle Chowning and Larry Lee were honored by the Missouri Writers Hall of Fame and given the coveted Quill Award. This was the first time that the award was given to songwriters.
(Founding members listed in bold)
John Dillon - vocals, guitars, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica, mouth harp, autoharp, dulcimer, percussion, keyboards,
Mike 'Supe' Granda - vocals, bass, guitar, mandolin, percussion,
Steve Cash - vocals, harmonica, percussion, keyboards,
Bill Jones - woodwinds, horns,
Ruell Chappell - vocals, keyboards,
Ron Gremp - drums, percussion,
Dave Painter - vocals, guitars,
Kelly Brown - keyboards,
Nick Sibley - guitar, mandolin, backing vocals,
Buddy Brayfield - vocals, woodwinds, keyboards, percussion,
Randle Chowning - vocals, lead electric & acoustic guitars, steel guitar, harmonica, mandolin,
Larry Lee - vocals, drums, acoustic guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, percussion, saw,
Steve Canaday - vocals, drums, percussion, guitar, bass (deceased),
Rune Walle - vocals, guitars, sitar, banjo,
Jerry Mills - mandolin,
Larry Van Fleet - bass,
Terry Wilson - vocals, guitars,
Bobby Lloyd Hicks - vocals, drums, percussion,
Joe Terry - vocals, keyboards,
Gary Smith - vocals, guitars,
Jason Le Masters - guitars,
Don Clinton Thompson - vocals, guitars,
Rick 'Lumpy' Davidson - drums, percussion, washboard,
Bill Brown - vocals, guitars (deceased)