The story of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils
In the early to mid 1970s, a rock and roll band that had its roots in the Missouri Ozarks rocketed to fame, fortune and the top of the charts.
This weekend, the group–with two of the original members still on board–will be performing at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City.
The Ozark Mountain Daredevils will take the stage 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 21 at the Star Pavilion Theatre at Ameristar, located at 3200 North Ameristar Drive, Kansas City. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com.
Two songs made the group a household name across the United States in the 1970s. Those songs included the band’s first hit “If You Wanna Get to Heaven,” which made it to number 30 on the charts, followed by the smash hit “Jackie Blue,” which climbed all the way to number one on two of the three major musical charts and to number three on the other.
Michael ‘Supe’ Granda is a member and one of the co-founders of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Granda has spent every day since their inception and is described as the band’s bassist, singer, songwriter, and resident jokester. Granda and John Dillon are the only two original members who are still with the group.
In a telephone interview with the Platte County Landmark from his home in Nashville this week, Granda explained how the band got its start.
“Everybody was from Springfield except me, I was from St. Louis. I went to Springfield to go to college in 1969. I had no interest in my 8 a.m. psychology class but had giant interest in my late night rock and roll class,” Granda said.
In 1971, the band got together. The group’s original name was Family Tree. Why the name Family Tree?
“We were just a bunch of granola-eating hippies and Family Tree fit what we were doing,” Granda says.
“From the very first note, I knew–we all did–that it was going to be successful,” he says.
The group was not a cover band, Granda says, instead performing songs the band members had written themselves.
“We stuck to our guns, we stuck to our original songs. We played zero hits of the day because we wanted to make a record and we didn’t really care about playing the night clubs six days a week,” he explained.
“We had a little rock and roll band that we concentrated on and in December of this year it will be 50 years,” he added.
In the early 70s, acclaimed music producers Glyn Johns and David Anderle heard the band play at the infamous Cowtown Ballroom in Kansas City. Johns and Anderle 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.
According to the Daredevils’ web site, 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.
The recording contract was the group’s first big break. It was life-changing.
“We were just a bunch of stoned hillbillies from the Ozarks who got a record contract,” the affable Granda told The Landmark.
“We got the record contract and made the record,” Granda says. The album introduced the band’s unique mixture of rock, country, bluegrass and pop to the world.
“And then we had a hit,” he continued.
If you were a young person in the 1970s you’re familiar with it. Their song “If You Wanna Get to Heaven” made its way into the charts, peaking in the top 30 songs in America in the summer of 1974.
“If You Wanna Get to Heaven” was co-written by John Dillon and Steve Cash.
After their summer of ’74 hit, soon things would really take off. Their second album came out in October of 1974.
For the second album–entitled It’ll Shine When It Shines–Johns and Anderle came to Missouri to record, using a mobile recording truck set up outside of the band’s rehearsal home. During the sessions, producer Johns overheard Larry Lee sitting at a piano playing and singing a song about a mysterious friend of his who frequented night clubs and sometimes dealt drugs on the side. Johns loved the melody.
“Glyn Johns, our producer, took Larry aside and asked him what that song was about,” Granda says.
Johns thought it could be a hit if the lyrics were altered. He wanted the Jackie Blue in the song to be a woman, not a man, and suggested the drug references be downplayed.
“So Larry and Steve Cash (another original band member–Cash died in 2019 at the age of 73) went off into an adjacent studio and changed the lyrics all around. It came to be a song about a girl who stays by herself in her room,” Granda told The Landmark.
“Jackie Blue” wasn’t just a hit, it was a smash hit. It climbed to number one in the spring of 1975.
There were three charts at the time, Granda recalls–Billboard, Cash Box and Record World. “Jackie Blue” hit number one on two of them and made it to number three on the Billboard chart.
Granda explains that “Jackie Blue” was the song “that kind of afforded us the wonderful life we have lived.”
Still getting royalties on that one?
“Yes. We still get checks on that but there aren’t as many zeroes on it,” he said.
Granda not only plays bass he is also a songwriter.
“We had so many writers in the band. There are only 10 songs on an album so being the fifth writer, I got one song every other record,” he explained.
In their heyday, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils would play 80 or 90 gigs a year.
“Even back in the day, we never really toured much. We wouldn’t allow them to send us on the road for 11 months. Maybe that’s why we were never as big as the Eagles,” Granda said.
One of their favorite bands to tour with included the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. “We became friends with them very early on and are still friends with them.” The Daredevils also toured with groups like Pure Prairie League, Brewer & Shipley, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
During the summer of 1978, the Daredevils went out for a short set of shows where they opened for Fleetwood Mac.
In 1978, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils appeared at Canada Jam, part of a large list of notable performers that also included Kansas, Atlanta Rhythm Section, the Doobie Brothers, the Commodores and others
Nowadays, the group plays 12-15 gigs per year. “We’re 70-year-old men,” he says in explanation.
The band has already performed some concerts after COVID restrictions had eased.
“We played two gigs last month in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” he said.
While Granda lives in Nashville, the rest of the band members live in the Springfield area.
Granda, who remarked during the interview Monday said he was packing his suitcases and his gear, said he would be heading out for Springfield on Wednesday. The band will rehearse in Springfield and then on Friday they’ll drive to Kansas City in advance of the Saturday night show at Ameristar.
Granda says he’s looking forward to the show.
“I grew up in St. Louis but I love Kansas City. Kansas City people have been very good to us. I have some very dear friends there.”
(For more behind-the-scenes info about the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and to see what the co-founder is up to these days, see this Between the Lines column)