20:20 — 20 questions, 20 answers
Published December 11, 2020
In part 15 of our series,
Michael ‘Supe’ Granda —Ozark Mountain Daredevil co-founder—
assorted-band bandleader, ‘silly grandpa,’ sports columnist, singer-songwriter, professional Santa, published author, and so much more abides our queries.
Join us as Supe: Describes being a giant eighth grader trying to play ‘Get Off My Cloud’ for the past half century and more. Declares a place for kazoos and toy xylophone solos in pop music. Shares the secret of good chicken salad. And confirms that Nashville cats really do play ‘clean as country water.’
Photos courtesy of Michael ‘Supe’ Granda
20:20 with Michael ‘Supe’ Granda
NWM 1: Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
Supe: I’m just a regular guy, born in the middle of the century (1950), in the middle of the country (St. Louis). So, there was no way I wasn’t going to be a Cardinals fan. Baseball (as well as mathematics) became an obsession. Still is. Every waking moment was spent thinking about baseball, talking about baseball, collecting baseball cards, and playing baseball (actually, all sports).
As I entered my teenage years, I had to admit to myself that I was fast becoming an average, white guy. I couldn’t jump, run very fast, tackle, hit homers, dribble or rebound. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, in 1963, the Beatles came along. When I saw them, I immediately knew what I would do for the rest of my life. I traded my baseball glove for a guitar and hibernated for the rest of my high school days.
In 1964, my band (the Coachmen Four) played our first gig. When we were each handed ten bucks, the deal was sealed. While my classmates were going to football games and working on their cars, I sat in my basement with my guitar in my lap. I still can’t work on my car.
I traded my baseball glove for a guitar and hibernated for the rest of my high school days.
In 1969, I went off to college to a place I’d never heard of—Springfield, Missouri. With absolutely no desire to attend early morning, sociology class, I maintained a burning desire to find other musicians, stay up late, get stoned, and play music. After all, I’d already been a bandleader in St. Louis for five years. Finding new guys to play with shouldn’t be that hard. It wasn’t.
In 1971, we formed the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (OMD). For the next 50 years, I’ve been lucky enough to make my living, doing something I love. I still love it, just as much as I did in 1963. To this day, every time I pick up my guitar, I turn into a giant eighth grader trying to play ‘Get Off My Cloud.’
NWM 2: What was your first concert as a fan?
Supe: Though, I’m not sure, I think it was Ravi Shankar at the Kiel Opera House. But, growing up in St. Louis, in any given month, you could see the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Arlo Guthrie, Cream, Otis Redding, Chuck Berry, Judy Collins, Paul Butterfield, James Brown, and the Grateful Dead. I saw them all. It was fertile ground for the musical sponge I’d become (and still am).
NWM 3: Name three things that make you smile.
Supe: My grandkids, a good margarita, and band practice (with any band).
NWM 4: In an interview for a 2017 Wires and the Wood story, OMD co-founder Larry Lee told us: ‘The Daredevils began as a writers’ co-op. That’s what we were. We had a mutual admiration for the process.’
Please tell us about that from your perspective, and where on the spectrum of writing-to-performing has your personal experience focused over the years?
Supe: He’s right. From the very start, we concentrated solely on original material. At that point in time, I hadn’t written very much. I was the goofy one, who leaned more to the performance aspect of things. I was always game for some kazoos, a toy xylophone solo, a turkey give-away, or some chicken clucks.
I was always game for some kazoos, a toy xylophone solo, a turkey give-away, or some chicken clucks.
But, as I sat in that circle, I was inspired and amazed at the quality of my partners’ songs. They were wonderful. The care and meticulousness they took was eye-opening. So, I began to dabble. Then, once I started (as any songwriter will tell you), there was no turning back.
Though, I’ve grown to embrace the quiet and solitude of the writing process, I still enjoy putting on a funny hat, climbing onto a stage and singing the songs I’d written in that seclusion. I deeply appreciate both sides of this coin.
Still, the song is the most important element of the whole equation. You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.
OMD founding members L-R: John Dillon, Michael ‘Supe’ Granda, Buddy Brayfield, Randle
Chowning, Steve Cash and Larry Lee | Photo courtesy of Randle Chowning
NWM 5: What are your before-you-go-on-stage rituals?
Supe: Don’t have any specific rituals. Never really have. Every gig is different. I still get nervous, be it a large festival or a house concert. I like greeting friends. I find their exuberance for the event to be invigorating. Forty years ago, I tried to keep the party going all day, all night, every night. These days, I like my afternoon nap.
NWM 6: Where were you and what were you doing when you realized COVID-19 had just changed your life as a performance artist?
Supe: I had just played our 29th annual Mardi Gras gig at the Venice Café in St. Louis with the Garbonzos. I was really looking forward to another busy season, filled with all the wonderful festivals I play every year. Supe & the Sandwiches at W.C. Handy Fest in Muscle Shoals. Silly Grandpa at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. Garbonzo Halloween Party at the Venice. Daredevils at Wildwood Springs in Steelville.
If sanity and science can be restored, 2021 can return to some kind of normalcy.
Everything went down the tubes. Hopefully, if sanity and science can be restored, 2021 can return to some kind of normalcy.
NWM 7: What’s a favorite Supe Granda song?
Supe: That would have to be ‘Ode to Mel Bay,’ just because the song’s story is so cool, complete with a jaw-dropping postscript. When ‘Howie’ (Mark Denny [of Howie and the Hillcats]) and I wrote the song, not only did we want to pay tribute to Mr. Bay [publisher of a vast catalog of music how-to books], we wrote it in the style of Homer & Jethro.
When I moved to Nashville, Chet Atkins heard the song, fell in love with it and immediately recorded it with Tommy Emmanuel on their album The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World. Chet had written many guitar books with Mel Bay and was brother-in-law to Jethro Burns. He got the humor, immediately. He even included the oafish “Red River Valley” guitar solo I had included on my original version.
He called me and said: ‘That song is very clever and I want my name on it. I’ve written a new verse for it. I hope you like it.’ He got no pushback from Howie, or myself. Then, he suggested the writing credit should read, ‘written by Michael Granda & Mark Denny, with additional lyrics by Chet Atkins.’ Once again, he got no pushback.
Whenever I would see him around town, our conversation was terse: Chet: ‘You still doing our song in your shows?’ Me: ‘Yes, sir. I am’ Chet: ‘Good. Me, too.’
A co-write with Howie, Chet Atkins, and Shel Silverstein. Now, there’s a feather in the old cap.
Now for the postscript: Finger Pickers came out and began garnering attention. One day, out of the blue, Chet phoned and requested: ‘Would you come out to tonight’s TV taping of Nashville Now? I’d like to talk to you.’
When I made it to the studio, he put his arm around my shoulder and we strolled down a quiet hallway. Then, he turned and earnestly said: ‘You know, that verse I wrote for your song? I didn’t write it.’
My jaw hit the floor.
‘I called in a favor from a friend of mine—and he wrote it. That was my friend, Shel Silverstein.’
I fell to the floor.
A co-write with Howie, Chet Atkins, and Shel Silverstein. Now, there’s a feather in the old cap.
NWM 8: You have played everything from house concerts and intimate listening rooms (you shared a special fondness for The Rock House in Reeds Spring, Missouri, with us) to huge concert halls and multi-billed arena shows. Name a venue and/or performance and/or bill that stands out as particularly epic.
Supe: Of course, you remember the really good gigs—as well as, the really bad gigs. I remember playing the Reading Festival in Great Britain, alongside Yes, Supertramp, Richard Thompson, and Wishbone Ash. I remember playing the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland, for 3,000 Scots, who knew our music and sang along to every song.
Then, I remember playing the Outer Limits in rural Nebraska, where our dressing room was the cellar, that smelled of stale beer and urine. Not epic, but memorable.
NWM 9: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform, who would it be?
Supe: I never got the chance to see the Beatles.
NWM 10: You have some interesting side gigs. Tell us about a couple of those more recent projects.
Supe: Recently, I’ve become a children’s entertainer. I wrote a slew of silly songs for my grandkids and created the character, Silly Grandpa. I’ve begun playing comedic, 30-minute shows for children. Complete with funny songs, stupid jokes, and little skits, I turn myself into a bumbler. This puts children at ease. Then, I engage them and try to make them giggle. I’ve always contended that children need: 1) More Captain Kangaroo and 2) Less Transformers. I’ve recorded a couple discs and have gotten into the library system. I really enjoy those little kids and love traveling from library to library, a one-man, minstrel show.
Complete with funny songs, stupid jokes, and little skits, I turn myself into a bumbler.
I’ve also recently released a CD with some of my Nashville cat friends, calling the band the YoYos. With pickers, who have played with Bruce Hornsby, Captain Beefheart, Poco, John Fogerty, and Chris Stapleton, the musicianship is out of this world. Nashville cats really do play ‘clean as country water.’
I’m also contributing to a TV pilot titled Local King. The idea was inspired by Springfield, Missouri’s own Benny Mahan. It’s about talented, dedicated musicians, all over the country, who never quite hit the big time—but, are still the rage in their hometowns. If they were to travel a hundred miles down the road, they wouldn’t be able to draw flies. But, on their home turf, they’re still the cat’s meow. Our first episode features Billy Peek, a St. Louis guitarist, who played with Chuck Berry and Rod Stewart, but never left his St. Louis roots, or his St. Louis club gigs. Folks still flock to see him—just because he’s so good and has honed his craft to perfection.
NWM 11: Who might we be surprised to find on your playlist?
Supe: I’ve always had a very eclectic playlist. I’ve always enjoyed playing Rubber Soul [Beatles] and Trout Mask Replica [Captain Beefheart] back-to-back. I like AC/DC. I like Dave Brubeck. I like NRBQ [New Rhythm and Blues Quartet]. I like Laura Nyro. I like Warren Zevon. There are only two kinds of music—music you like and music you don’t like. I like most everything—if it’s genuine.
I’ve always had a very eclectic playlist.
That’s the problem I have with most new music. So much of it is just so average. I’m sure there are cool artists out there, making cool music. I just don’t have the time or the patience to wade through the morass to find that gold nugget. I would rather listen to my Little Richard records.
Plus, as a songwriter, my mind is a mobius strip of the latest songs I’m working on. This occupies most of my time, as well as my brain.
NWM 12: Daredevils bandmate and fellow author Steve Cash died a year ago. There must be so many, but would you care to share a Steve story, please?
Supe: There are a lot of harmonica players in the world. Every campfire has one. Steve actually invented something—a style that was unique and all his own. He was left-handed. So, he played everything upside down and backwards. It was entertaining, watching seasoned harp players approach him and want to talk shop. He didn’t like to talk shop. He would just shrug his shoulders, like it was all no big deal.
He was also the greatest wordsmith and lyricist—EVER. The thing I will always remember most about the man was his willingness to help out a struggling songwriter (like, the rest of us in the band). If any of us had painted ourselves into a corner, lyrically, he could unravel a month of writer’s block, by moving a word or removing a word. He helped me, often. He helped everyone, often.
[Steve Cash] was also the greatest wordsmith and lyricist—EVER.
I stood next to the man onstage and heard him play harmonica for almost fifty years. I was as entertained as anyone. There will never be another Steve Cash.
NWM 13: Who does a favorite cover of one of your songs and what is it?
Supe: Other than Chet’s version of “Mel Bay,” Augie Meyers (Sir Douglas Quintet/Texas Tornados) recorded “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday Night.” Billy Bremner (of Rockpile fame) recorded our co-writes, “Green with Envy,” “Wheel of Misfortune,” and “Road to Love.” Walter Egan recorded “Happy Home.” Most recently, a Swedish singer, by the name of Gitte Pallson, recorded “Best of Both Worlds” with a wonderful, Swedish translation.
NWM 14: The Daredevils cut a couple of albums in the 70s at the iconic Caribou Ranch near Nederland, Colorado. Tell us something about that experience.
Supe: We recorded two albums at Caribou Ranch (Men from Earth and Don’t Look Down). The place is, without a doubt, the most scenic and idyllic environment an artist could ever want. It was an all-inclusive facility, with a stocked kitchen, an extensive wine cellar, and a full-time staff. If any of us wanted anything to eat, drink, smoke, or snort, ‘all of the above’ was a phone call away and simply folded into the recording budget. Plus, Nederland and Boulder were just down the hill, well within reach.
Days would start with a fire in the fireplace and a leisurely breakfast. Here, we formed a game plan for the day’s session. We would filter down to the studio (which was in their huge barn) and spend the afternoon cutting tracks. As the day ended, a communal meal was prepared by the staff and served in the dining room. We would gather around the dinner table, assess the day’s work and form an additional plan for the evening. Then, we would spend it working into the night.
[Caribou Ranch] is, without a doubt, the most scenic and idyllic environment an artist could ever want.
The funniest event occurred during the Don’t Look Down sessions. We had an English engineer, Pete Henderson, and a Norwegian guitarist, Rune Walle. During a break in the recording, discussions turned to drinking. Our piano player, Ruell Chappell and Henderson got into a light-hearted tussle about who could drink more—the Yank or the Brit. This went on, until Rune walked into the control room and said: ‘Hey. What about the Norwegian?’ It was decided that we would hold the drinking Olympics that evening. The ground rules were simple: 1) One shot of Heineken, every sixty seconds and 2) If you couldn’t answer the bell, you were eliminated.
Steve Canaday won the Gold Medal, when his closest competitor threw in the towel after 213 shots (over three and a half hours).
Through all of the hilarity and hi-jinks, though, we were able to buckle down, concentrate, and record our music. Many wonderful records came out of Caribou. We feel fortunate to have contributed a couple of them.
NWM 15: What song/album could you play on repeat?
Supe: Anything by Bob Marley. Not only do I love the man’s music and message, his bass player, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett is one of my favorite bass players.
NWM 16: You literally wrote the book on the Daredevils with the publication of It Shined a dozen years ago; you also have written newspaper columns and a TV pilot. Tell us about your attraction to writing outside of music.
Supe: I found that, whether you’re writing a three-minute pop song, a three-hundred page book, or a three-episode TV pilot, the process is still the same. Writing is writing. The hardest part is sitting your butt in the chair. Once you’re there, the muse takes over.
I’ve always been full of hot air (as many of your readers can already tell). Oftentimes, I find that I can better express my thoughts, ideas, and jokes through prose, as opposed to the confines of lyric, structure, and melody. If I want to expand and expound, I can.
But, I still love the challenge of writing a song. The wordplay and phonics still excites me.
NWM 17: Beatles, Stones or Zeppelin?
NWM 18: Has anything positive come out of the COVID shut-down/slow-down?
Supe: Yes, it has. It helped me focus and concentrate on finishing a couple writing projects that I just couldn’t seem to drag across the finish line. I’ve finished two books that have been on my plate for years.
One is a collection of baseball columns that were published in periodicals throughout the 80s and 90s. The other, Fat & Funny, is a series of essays and observances about being a professional Santa Claus. Oddly enough, both are finished, but I don’t have the cash to publish them. If there’s anybody out there (wink, wink).
NWM 19: What are your non-musical gifts/talents?
Supe: Since I’ve obtained a white beard and a beer belly, I’ve become a professional Santa Claus—and a damn good one. I don’t have to bring an instrument, sing on key, or remember lyrics. It’s a piece-of-cake gig. All I have to do is be fat and funny.
I’ve become a professional Santa Claus—and a damn good one.
I’ve worked with the Tennessee Titans, the Nashville Ballet, and have spent the last six years as the Santa for the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s just an acting gig, playing the role of a jolly, old man. It’s also an easy way to make a few extra bucks during the holidays.
I’m also an avid gardener and love cooking what my gardens produce (my specialty is pesto). My gardens are quite eclectic—lots of colorful flowers, lots of vegetables, lots of bamboo and large bamboo sculptures. I love hanging out in my gardens. I’ve written quite a few songs with my fingers in the earth.
NWM 20: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you which we might not know to ask?
Supe: I want your readers to know that I am a very grateful man. For those folks who reached into their pocket and took out a dollar to buy a record, a ticket, or a T-shirt, I owe them everything. I don’t know how to thank them enough, other than to continue to make the music and art that makes them happy. I thank every one of you, from the bottom of my existence.
I thank every one of you, from the bottom of my existence.
Right now, I’m trying to find funding for my books and a home for my TV pilot, Local King. I’ll be recording a new CD, as soon as things lighten up. Plus, I’m sure there will be new projects around the bend. My plate is always full. That’s a good problem to have. I’m a lucky man.
Ode to Mel Bay
Michael 'Supe' Granda
Before moving to the Ozarks in 1969, Supe had already been a bandleader for five years in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Though his first rock-n-roll excursion never made a huge splash, it did include a gig at St. Louis’ famed Gaslight Square. Upon his relocation to Springfield, Missouri, he became a co-founder of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils in 1971 and has spent every day since the band’s inception as a bassist, singer-songwriter, and “resident jokester.” During the same time frame, Supe’s voracious appetite for “all things music” has spun him into numerous side projects. He also maintains his own record label and publishing company called Missouri Mule Music.
To learn more about Supe visit http://www.supeline.com/
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