Desert Island Discs: “It’ll Shine When It Shines” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974)Posted: March 20, 2012
In the early ‘70s, between the breakup of The Beatles and the beginning of disco, rock music was all about hippies moving to the hills. “Southern rock” was the term of choice, and it was heavier on the rock than the weaksauce that passes for “country rock” these days. (grumble grumble grumble, goldurn kids…) And it’s the subject of today’s Desert Island Discs, 1974’s “It’ll Shine When It Shines” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
Record label execs are basically herd animals. Each wanted their very own Eagles or Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd. As a result there came Pure Prairie League and The Outlaws and Firefall. In 1973 A&M Records’ execs received a demo tape from a Springfield, Missouri band called “Cosmic Corn Cob & His Amazing Ozark Mountain Daredevils.” Thankfully the band shortened its name: according to Wikipedia this was because they wanted to avoid confusion with the Amazing Rhythm Aces, but mainly because none of the members wanted to be known as “Cosmic Corn Cob.”
Two A&M producers flew to Missouri to hear the Daredevils perform. They were nervous that night, and they stunk. Unperturbed, their promoter invited the two back to his coffee house in Springfield to hear an “unplugged” performance. That was the ticket: the two were blown away and the band got signed.
Their eponymous first album was recorded in England and released in late 1973. It sold well and generated a minor hit, “If You Wanna Get to Heaven.” The next album was recorded on the band’s home turf, in the pre-Civil War house that served as their rehearsal space. I’m skeptical when an artist or band says they experience “a special vibe” in a particular studio, but that’s undoubtedly the case here.
Of the six band members, five contributed songs to this album and collaborated on a few. The best-known song on this album, and the Daredevils’ biggest chart hit, came when drummer Larry Lee was at the piano noodling a song about a 420-friendly woman they knew. A&M producer Glyn Johns suggested if they cleaned it up they’d have a hit on their hands. Lee and lead singer Steve Cash tweaked and buffed and polished till they came up with “Jackie Blue,” wherein the woman morphed from a stoner to a loner. Johns was right: it hit #3 in the summer of ’75.
The versatility on this album is astonishing. There’s rockers (“Look Away,” “Kansas You Fooler,” the aforementioned “Jackie Blue”), swamp boogie (“E.E. Lawson,” “Tidal Wave”), country (“Walkin’ Down the Road,” “It Probably Always Will”), ballads (“It Couldn’t Be Better,” “What’s Happened Along in My Life,” “Lowlands”) and even a couple of hillbilly spirituals (“You Made It Right” and the title track). (Yes, kiddies, there was a day when variety in pop music was a GOOD thing.)
My two favorites on the album are “Look Away” and “It Probably Always Will.”
The Daredevils never recreated this success, but they created an album that stands as an icon of ‘70s Southern rock. Back in the day when country rock contained as much “rock” as “country.” If it were released today it would be called alt-country and compared to Son Volt. A Desert Island Disc to be sure.
Incidentally, the marketing super-geniuses at UMG have kept the Daredevils’ CDs out of print for several years. They’ve just recently been released again, but a company in the UK has put them out for many years. They sell a twofer of the first two CDs on one disc which is an amazing bargain. Find it, snap it up.