September 8, 2017
(Another woefully-late blog post...) As part of my big trip to the Midwest five weeks ago, my brother Dan and I went to the first annual Mid-America Music Festival for the sole purpose seeing one of my favorite groups: the Ozark Mountain Daredevils! As recounted in my travelog blog post (August 31), my brother Dan and I drove up from Kansas City to the small town of Trenton, Missouri on Saturday July 29. It is located in the north-central part of the state, and is rather isolated. The countryside is much like South Dakota, but greener and hillier. We took a quick look at downtown, and then drove about a mile east to the Black Silo winery, where we were directed to park in an open field along with a hundred or more other vehicles.
The festival had already begun the day before, but I was not familiar with the other performers, and with not much time to spare, I preferred to see the sights in Kansas City. Soon after we arrived, a group called Whiskey Jim and the Outlaw Benders was playing. They were pretty good, a mixture of electrified country and blues. Dan and I strolled around the vineyard, chose some good barbecue from some several food vendors, visited the gift shop, and walked up to where they were giving some hot air balloon rides. It was just tethered up-and-down deal, and Jacqueline and I had already done a "real" balloon ride in 2008, so we passed on that amusement.
As the sun sank toward the horizon, another group started playing, I forget which one. About that time, a guy with long gray hair in a pony tail walked from the stage area past where we were sitting toward the main winery building, and he looked familiar to me. I showed the photo I took to the people who were selling Ozark Mountain Daredevils at one of the tent-covered tables, and they confirmed to me that it was indeed Michael "Supe" Granda, the bass player! I ended up buying the group's latest "Alive and Wild" CD, and Dan bought two of their "classic" CDs and a T-shirt.
Finally, at about 9:30, the main event got underway, and I was thrilled that they started with one of my favorites, "Standing On the Rock." It's an acoustic, bluegrass-sounding song with a fun harmonica part. Unfortunately, we learned that the group's harmonica player, Steve Cash, was able to be there due to ill health. In his place, one of the extra guitar players (Nick Sibley) handled that task, and he did just fine. Just two of the original six members were there: John Dillon (guitar, fiddle) and Michael Granda (bass, guitar). For the most part, the musicians all played very well, with great enthusiasm, and I loved it. There were problems with the microphones, causing some exasperation a couple times, but it was fixed eventually.
I took notes of all the songs they played, and while I was very happy that they did just about all of my favorites, there were two with which I was not familiar. In the set list below, I included phrases from the refrain in parentheses, as a possible identifier. Not surprisingly, they finished the regular part of the show with "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," and for an encore they covered a classic tune "Route 66" that was geographically appropriate. (That highway passed through southern Missouri where they have lived their lives.) The final songs, "It'll Shine When It Shines," was the title track of the second album, and in many ways is the most spiritual and most definitive song that they do. It was a perfect ending to a great show. It was a very special and memorable experience for me.
The Ozark Mountain Daredevils were founded in the early 1970s by a group of college guys in Springfield, Missouri. Their first big hit came out in early 1974: "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," which was still very popular when I saw them in concert in Slagle Hall at the University of South Dakota in the fall of 1974, when I was a freshman. Their second hit single was "Jackie Blue," which is a nice, mellow pop-rock song, but is not typical of the group's strong country flavor. There were originally six members, but keyboardist Buddy Brayfield quit in order to pursue a medical degree in 1977 or so. (He is now an M.D., possibly retired.) After another year or two, guitarist Randle Chowning quit, and apparently there are still some hard feelings, unfortunately.
I learned from the show in Missouri (and from looking at the notes in the CDs that I have) that Ruell Chappell is the lead singer for songs (such as "Jackie Blue") that were formerly sung by drummer Larry Lee, who left the group in the 1980s, and later returned on a part-time basis for a while. Chappell, who used to have long hair but is now 100% bald/shaven, was the replacement keyboard player after Buddy Brayfield left the group. Like John Dillon, he is good-natured with a perpetual grin. Bass player "Supe" Granda (known for wearing a Superman costume back in the good old days) is lot like bassist Mick Fleetwood with Fleetwood Mac: very talented and just a little eccentric, in a nice way. Until recently I didn't know that Steve Cash (the harmonica player) is the one who sings in a very low voice; "E.E. Lawson" and "Black Sky" are two great examples of his work.
By the early 1980s, the group had gone through some turmoil, and their album released at that time (also titled "Ozark Mountain Daredevils," the same as their original album!) showed the four core members with very sober faces. Were they burned out from touring? They faded away over the next few years, with occasional regroupings that never lasted too long. Then in the late 1990s there was another surge of interest and energy, which is when they produced their final (?) studio CD, "13." (That's the number of songs on it.) From that point on, they were basically semi-retired, and they have been doing a few shows a year at various places in and around Missouri, but that's about it. After realizing that my hopes that they might do a national tour one of these years were unrealistic, I decided to see them while I still had a chance. After all, as we have learned over the past couple years, the number of classic-era rock stars who have passed away keeps climbing...
In an effort to summarize the complicated changes that have taken place over the years, I came up with this table, which is greatly simplified and possibly prone to error:
|guitar||John Dillon (+ fiddle)|
|bass||Michael "Supe" Granda|
|drums||Larry Lee (+ guitar)||Ron Gremp|
|guitar||Randle Chowning||Rune Walle (+)||Bill Brown||Dave Painter|
|keyboards||Buddy Brayfield||Kelly Brown|
|Ruell Chappell (keyboards, percussion)|
|Jerry Mills (mandolin)||Bill Jones (saxophone)|
|Steve Canaday||Nick Sibley (guitar, harmonica)|
Here are all the studio-recorded albums released by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils over the years. In addition, there are two "live" albums ("It's Alive," 1979) and "Alive & Wild" (2011), as well as many different greatest hits albums.
In the near future, I plan to update the Music page with the above information, but with greater detail.
It's fitting to note that, while in Kansas City, my brother Dan took me to a famous venue for blues, rock, and country music ("Knuckleheads"), and that across the street there is a large mural on the side of the building with the likenesses of many great musicians from years past. I can identify most of the faces, but not all of them.