This article written by John Meacham recently appeared in the County Journal. It tells the tale of the Beaucoup Bottom Boys’, their song “Memories of the Ozarks” and Blackberry Winter’s rendition of it called “Ozark Mountains” – most recently recorded on Blackberry Winter’s latest album “Still Standing”.
Memories of the Ozarks
By John Meacham
Authorities differ as to whether the Shawnee Hills are part of the Ozark Mountains, but Marv Juhl of Du Quoin made his position clear back in 1980, when he wrote, “All across Missouri and south to Arkansas! From the hills of Oklahoma to Southern Illinois! Ozark Mountains, I hear you calling, and with you is where I long to be!”
Those lyrics are from “Memories of the Ozarks,” which Marv wrote to a tune his son, Bob, had composed on his guitar. Now, the Blackberry Winter band has recorded the song, under the title “Ozark Mountains,” on its new album, “Still Standing.”
“It only took three or four days after I played the tune until he had the words,” Bob recalled in a recent interview. “We worked on it two or three times before we decided we had it like we wanted it. When a song comes to you, it comes to you.”
Blackberry Winter was formed when West Plains, Mo., native and folk singer Marideth Sisco was asked by producer Debra Granik to assemble musicians to play the soundtrack for “Winter’s Bone.” The film, set in the Missouri Ozarks and released in 2010, went on to win critical acclaim and numerous awards.
Sisco performs the lead vocal on Blackberry Winter’s rendition of Marv and Bob’s song, and the writers are pleased with the result.
“It’s 98 percent the way we originally intended it to be,” Marv said. “We’re so glad somebody got it out there so people can hear it.”
Marv, Bob and Joe Juhl (another of Marv’s sons) and several other Du Quoin-area musicians recorded “Memories of the Ozarks” as the Beaucoup Bottom Boys, named for Beaucoup Creek in Perry County, on their 1981 LP, “Comin’ Out.” Bob sang the lead vocal on that album.
This is the photo from the back cover of the Beaucoup Bottom Boys’ 1981 LP, “Comin Out.” Kneeling in front are Steven “Butch” Kosma (acoustic guitar and vocals) and David Lee Halstead (acoustic guitar, mandolin and vocals). Behind them are Bob Juhl (acoustic guitar and vocals), Marv Juhl (bass), Don Willi (fiddle) and Joe Juhl (banjo). Steve Townes (not pictured) played harmonica with the band. (Photo by John Meacham)
Thirty years later, Matt Meacham, Marv’s great-nephew and a Bremen native, included the song on a demo recording that he and fellow musician Travis Stimeling made. Matt, who was then a folklorist with the West Plains Council on the Arts, gave copies of that recording to several of the members of Blackberry Winter. “Memories of the Ozarks” caught their attention.
“We fell in love with it. It was a natural to include on this album,” Sisco said.
Marv said the beauty of such places as Giant City, Bald Knob and the Garden of the Gods was the inspiration for his words. He grew up in New Holland, near Lincoln in central Illinois, and moved south in 1962 to take a job with Associated Lumber Company in Carbondale. He later managed that company’s branch in Du Quoin for many years.
“We lived on the prairie, and when we moved down here, it put us in a different environment,” Marv said. “I was just amazed by Southern Illinois and Missouri.”
Marv brought with him an interest in country music he had developed as a young man by listening to square dance bands and radio shows such as the National Barn Dance. He had taken guitar lessons and learned at least one country standard, “Red Wing,” from his high school band director.
It wasn’t until Bob and Joe developed their interests in music that Marv really got serious about playing, though.
“I didn’t read music, and still don’t,” he said. “We always just played it by ear.”
Soundtracks from the movies “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Deliverance” influenced the Juhls’ love for bluegrass music. The three, along with friends like Pastor Bob Brown, chaplain at the Menard Correctional Center for several years, played for audiences at church picnics, campgrounds, senior citizen centers and store openings all over the region.
“Wherever we could get a free meal,” Bob joked.
One highlight of their career was the Beaucoup Bottom Boys’ appearance on WSIU-TV in 1980, just before the station broadcast the Grand Old Opry for the first time as part of its annual fundraising campaign. A highlight yet to come will be the Juhl Family and Friends Band’s performance at the Old-Time Music and Ozark Heritage Festival in West Plains June 20 and 21.
(Autographed copies of the “Still Standing” CD may be ordered directly from Blackberry Winter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The album is also available now in digital format from CD Baby, iTunes and other outlets. It will soon be available on Amazon.)