'It Shined' tells the roller-coaster saga of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 21, 2008 - It was 1969 when the Granda family from south St. Louis rolled out onto Interstate 44 in their station wagon to deliver young Michael to Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. Within five years, the young man was a founding member of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, an internationally famous band with a hit record.
What followed was a 35-year roller-coaster ride in which the young rocker won fame and lost it and finally reinvented himself as an Internet-age music entrepreneur. The road goes on for Michael "Supe" Granda, but now he has paused long enough to tell his story -- and that of his band -- in a new book, "It Shined -- the Saga of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils."
The book is a thorough -- very thorough -- recounting of the ups and downs of this unusual group, which refused to play by the rules of the recording industry but still managed to build a long lasting career.
When they were supposed to move to California to be in the thick of things, the band members opted to stay in their Missouri cabins and country homes. When they were supposed to pick a style and stick to it, they continued to make albums that included rock, country, pop, gospel and bluegrass elements, leaving the record companies without an easy marketing handle. When they were supposed to tour nonstop, they maintained some limits that cost them money but may have saved their sanity. When they were supposed to have a front man to sing all the hits, they countered with a seemingly endless supply of writers and singers.
As Granda put it at a recent book-signing in Glen Carbon, "When you hear the Eagles, you know immediately it's the Eagles. It's a formula, and we never did that. How could you make 'Chicken Train' sound like 'Jackie Blue'?"
Granda, known as Supe for his early penchant for wearing Superman clothing, played the bass, sang harmonies, cracked jokes and provided some rock credibility. Later, he began writing and singing songs and served as media spokesman and master of ceremonies on stage.
The group had its first hit, "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," in 1974 and its second, "Jackie Blue," in 1975, then failed to land a third hit despite years of trying and finally lost its record contract in the early '80s.
But the members carried on long after radio had consigned the band to the oldies stations, supporting their families with long tours of small towns, festivals and taverns -- including a memorable series of festival performances on the square in downtown Belleville. They had a comeback of sorts in the 1990s, recording new music and maintaining a busy schedule, and then it faded again in this decade, although they have had a few reunion shows in recent years.
Most of the members were in and out of the band at various times. Granda was there for all of it. And he's put it all in his book, covering the formation of the band, the lucky breaks that helped them make it big, the long tours, big dinners, disagreements and bad behavior, and finally the long decline.
Typical for Granda, the story is full of laughs and funny stories, many of them from the road, such as when the band got a closed gas station in Iowa to fill their truck's empty tank by posing as doctors on a hunting trip, or the night they almost froze to death, or of speeding along Midwestern highways in a bus under the moniker "Teens for Christ." Granda ends the story on a poignant but hopeful note as the band reunites once more to honor a deceased member.
It's a long story -- 494 pages of narrative, with some pictures but no index or discography. Fortunately, the story flows swiftly along, and most '70s rock fans who check this out will be able to stay with it for its humor, descriptions of the life of a rock band, and comments about what made the band stand out in the first place -- its original, intelligent and often moving songs. Although the band eventually was based in Kansas City, St. Louis makes many appearances in the book, too, as a favorite concert setting.
It helps that Granda didn't rely on his own memory for all of the stories. Rather, he spent a few years interviewing band members in an attempt to find consensus versions. "I would get four, five, sometimes six stories that all were just a little bit different," he noted. Throughout the book, band members and other cohorts help carry along the narrative in extensive quotes.
Granda gives less attention in the book to his solo career. But he moved to Nashville, worked with a variety of bands and performers, wrote bunches of songs and made recordings that reflect his passions -- up-tempo rock with an occasional big band edge, and plenty of good fun and craziness. He sells the recordings -- and the book, $27 in paperback -- on his own website, supeline.com , and also on the Daredevils' website, ozarkdaredevils.com . He also has recordings on the CDBaby music site.
Looking back on a lifetime spent on stages large and small, Granda said he has no regrets. "Does a doctor regret being a doctor?" he said. "It's what we do. It's what I do. It was a very rewarding way to make a living."
Carl Green is a freelance journalist.