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2021-06-15

Corrections & Clarifications: This story has been updated to reflect Dwight Glenn’s status as band manager.

An impromptu Ozark Mountain Daredevils?mini-concert in downtown Springfield Wednesday afternoon?felt like history, so many of the two dozen or so invited attendees whipped out their smartphones to capture pics and videos for posterity.

“Everybody get the footage they want? We’re not going to do this very much longer,” said John Dillon, Daredevils cofounder.

Folks were gathered?at Nick Sibley’s?recording studio on Campbell Avenue to see the Daredevils, who this year are celebrating the 50th anniversary of creating their difficult-to-define vibe. Their sound rolls together Southern rock, country, blues and pop cultures to create something distinctively Missourian.

After three songs came the main event, as bandmates unveiled?an artifact central to Ozarks music history:?A?wooden sign, hand-painted, measuring 6 feet by 6 feet, portraying the cover of the band’s self-titled debut. Fans typically refer to that first record as “the Quilt album.”

From 2019:Steve Cash, ‘humble’ member of Ozark Mountain Daredevils, dies at 73

Bandmates John Dillon and Michael “Supe” Granda hadn’t seen the thing in almost 50 years, they said. Granda, whom Dillon quipped looked like “Father Time,” owing to his flowing beard, caressed the painting lightly after the pale blue paper wrapping it was removed.

The Quilt album?sign is a throwback to a vanished time: Before artists used Spotify or TikTok as promotional tools,?20th-century A & R departments at record labels commissioned visual?artists to make replicas of album covers. The signs were then showcased in shop windows at big brick-and-mortar retail stores?where fans flocked to get their music fix. They bought copies on?vinyl?or other tangible media rather than streaming.

The sign graced the plate-glass windows of the legendary Tower Records store on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, which at the time was a bastion of boomer-era youth culture. Band manager Dwight Glenn says the band also believes the sign was displayed for a time at the offices of A & M Records, the Daredevils’ label for the Quilt album.

In December of 1973, when the sign went up, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils had just released the Quilt album. Recorded in England with the help of legendary producer Glyn Johns, the record came?a couple of years after the Ozark Mountain Daredevils emerged from Springfield music venues of the era such as Half-a-Hill,?New Bijou Theater?and Lindberg’s to ink a record deal and earn a place in the global big time, according to News-Leader archives.?

The album contains one of the group’s longest-lasting hits, “If You Wanna Get To Heaven.” Two years ago, when founding bandmate Steve Cash died, John “U-Man” Ulett of KSHE radio in St. Louis told the News-Leader that “Heaven” remained?a hit among today’s listeners.

Just a few years after “Heaven” and the other 10 tracks on the Quilt album came out, the Daredevils’ fame became?so great that the sitting governor of Missouri at the time declared Nov. 28, 1977 “Ozark Mountain Daredevils Day,” partly because the Quilt album went golden.

The governor’s official proclamation cited?the band for helping “make people throughout the world aware of the natural beauty of Missouri and the advantages of living in our beautiful state, as well as exposing the world to our music, art, crafts and culture,” according to “It Shined,” a 2008 memoir about the Daredevils written by founding member Granda.

Years later, a?California businessman rescued the sign from a storage unit. The man had never heard of the Daredevils at the time, manager Dwight Glenn said, but later became a fan. The band recently acquired the sign from the man, who had displayed it in his private office.

“It was getting ready to hit the scrapheap until they contacted us out of the blue,” Granda told the fans assembled in downtown Springfield.

Granda said that after the band wrapped up recording the Quilt album in the early ’70s, his bandmates flew home from England, but he took a plane to Bogot│, Columbia to spend a month with a girlfriend.

“I had no contact because there was no cell phones, no YouTube, no instant download, so I had no idea what the record was going to look like,” Granda recalled. “But when I came home and got off the plane a month later, and they said ‘oh here it is,’ they handed it to me, I fell on the floor, it was so beautiful.”

Granda added, “It’s been pretty iconic and pretty good to us over the last 50 years.”

Bandmate Dillon also called the image “iconic,” adding, “What was great about it was we knew it was unusual and different but it also sort of showcases who we are and where we’re from, which is a really important part of our legacy and probably the reason we’re still together to this day. So it mattered to us that somebody wanted to get it to us.”

Dillon recalled seeing books published decades later that celebrated the best album cover designs of 20th-century popular music.

“They had all these great, you know, psychedelic things from the ’70s and ’80s,” he said, “and one of the very first books out that did all that had our cover, and so it was kind of an honor to be part of that.”?

As far as the original quilt that inspired the album cover, nobody knows where it is today, said Glenn, the manager. Before it became a photo for the album or its hand-painted sign replica, it was a fan gift from someone in England.

Dillon and Granda said they’re not sure where they’ll display the sign, though the album art was also used for the label on the band’s gin brand unveiled last year during the pandemic. Glenn said the band intends for it to be placed somewhere the public can view it; now restored to its rightful home in Missouri, the sign won’t languish unseen in a private collection.

Todd Parnell, author and former Drury University president, was among the fans on hand for the unveiling. He noted Dillon is a Drury alum and that his track record studying philosophy there in the late 1960s and going on to write colorful songs filled with Ozarks imagery makes him “almost the ideal liberal arts graduate.”

Of the unveiled sign, Parnell said, “It’s really part of our history. It’s part of our history forever.”

Reach News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by emailing gholman@gannett.com. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.