More than 50 years ago, Steve Cash, Randle Chowning and Larry Lee brought together their individual talents as musicians, vocalists and songwriters to become The Ozark Mountain Daredevils. As original members, they embarked on a journey to create poetic, and at times whimsical, songs that would entertain generations while offering them a glimpse of life in the Ozarks.
Their music gained national attention after they signed a recording deal with A&M Records in 1973. Their first album included “If You Wanna Get to Heaven” sung by Chowning and co-written by Cash. It hit No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the critically acclaimed album ranked among the 100 Top Pop Albums that year. Their biggest hit, “Jackie Blue,” came in 1975 following the release of their second album. The song, written by Cash and Lee, reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to No. 1 on Cash Box Top 100.
Cash, who passed away in 2019, performed with the Daredevils for more than four decades. A 1964 graduate of Parkview High School, he was a self-taught musician. As an artist at heart, Cash was a painter, poet and author. “I think his unending curiosity is what made him such a success in so many areas,” says his son, Cody Cash. “He never ceased to be amazed by things, and he wanted to find a way to share that with others.”
Cash was also very athletic. While at Parkview, he participated in basketball and was a member of the state championship team known as the Jolly Green Giants. After high school, Chowning approached Lee about getting together with other songwriters and working on material together. Chowning was founder of the Daredevils and performed as the band’s lead vocalist and lead guitarist.
Lee spent more than 20 years working in Nashville as a songwriter, session musician and record producer. During that time, he helped create 13 No. 1 hits for Alabama and worked with other artists including Restless Heart and Juice Newton. He sang background vocals on several Jimmy Buffett records and toured as a member of Buffett’s band.
“What stands out to me about Larry is that he always continued to pursue the music,” explains Dale McCurry, writer and co-founder of Noteworthy Music. “He was never content to rest on his laurels of a million-play hit that was ‘Jackie Blue.’”
Chowning also lived in Nashville for a decade, where he continued to write songs and record music.
“He is an extremely interesting songwriter,” says Jeff Smith, owner of Studio 2100 in Springfield. “He writes deep so you have to listen to the music.”
In 2015, Chowning and Lee received the Quill Award from the Missouri Writers Hall of Fame, which is the first time the award was presented to songwriters.