Black Oak Arkansas: 'The First 30 Years'
By Jay Sosnicki
Edited By Michael Bennett
LOS ANGELES, CA, USA - Raunch Rock legends BLACK OAK ARKANSAS' first-ever DVD, "Black Oak Arkansas: The First 30 Years," is now available through Rhino Records.
In 2003, it's hard to believe that Black Oak Arkansas was once one of the most popular bands of the early '70s.
Led by the spandex-clad, sandpaper-voiced Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, BOA was the original party band, combining boogie-driven paeans to the pleasures of the flesh with a cockeyed spirituality that belied their redneck roots.
And if they weren't exactly virtuosos, it hardly mattered; on a good night, there was no band on earth that could tap into the untamed, primitive juju of rock 'n' roll like Black Oak Arkansas.
Originally dubbed The Knowbody Else, the group was conceived in 1965 as a dodge to escape school, work, and the army.
With the aid of some stolen musical gear, Mangrum and his juvenile delinquent buddies (guitarists Ricky Reynolds, Stanley Knight and Harvey Jett, bassist Pat Daugherty, and drummer Wayne Evans) repaired to the hills of Arkansas, where they developed an oddball sound influenced as much by backwoods snake handling rituals and Eastern philosophy as by musical contemporaries like The Beatles and The Byrds.
An eponymous debut for the Stax imprint was dead on arrival, but by 1970, the group had found a home on Atlantic, and an ally in Ahmet Ertegun, who saw potential in Jim Dandy's increasingly ribald stage persona.
As Mangrum said in a 1997 interview, "Ahmet told us he liked the sexy songs, and we liked doing 'em, so we started going more that way."
The renamed group's Atlantic debut, Black Oak Arkansas (1971) established a clear blueprint for almost all the BOA albums that followed: nods to kin and country ("Uncle Elijah," "The Hills of Arkansas"), leering, tongue-wagging tributes to the sexual prowess of the group's washboard-strumming frontman ("Hot & Nasty"), and forays into hippie-inflected mysticism ("Lord Have Mercy On My Soul").
The twin releases that followed in '72, "Keep The Faith" and "If An Angel Came To See You, Would You Make Her Feel At Home," expanded on the group's eclectic musical brew.
By 1972, the word on the street was that Black Oak Arkansas was a party, and the group quickly became a hot ticket on the concert circuit, based on their freaky, high-energy stage performances, and Mangrum's overt sexuality and charisma.
The years of hard touring paid off with 1973's seminal "Raunch & Roll Live." Combining concert staples like 'Hot & Nasty' and 'Mutants Of The Monster' with new classics like 'Hot Rod,' 'Gigolo' and 'Getting Kinda Cocky' (all bracketed by Jim Dandy's bawdy between-song monologues), Raunch is one of the defining live albums of the '70s, perfectly capturing BOA in all its sweaty, tongue-in-cheek glory.
The group's fortunes increased with the follow-up, 1973's "High On The Hog," which spawned their only radio hit, a swamp-boogie take on LaVern Baker's R&B classic 'im Dandy,' with scorching vocal repartee between Mangrum and vocalist Ruby Starr.
The duo's vinyl chemistry quickly became part of the road show, with Starr joining the band (both musically and biblically, by her own account) and living with them at their communal compound in the hills of Arkansas.
Quoth the Dandy to this author: "She wasn't the prettiest gal in the world, but she had a big heart, I miss her every day." (Starr died of cancer in 1995).
Musically, Black Oak's focus seemed to shift after "High On The Hog," with albums that espoused more of a generic party vibe.
1974's "Street Party" and 1975's "Ain't Life Grand" spawned several BOA hits (including "Son Of A Gun' and their straight-ahead reading of George Harrison's 'Taxman'), but they ultimately proved to be the last hoorah for the classic lineup of the band.
Throughout the end of the '70s, Mangrum continued recording and touring with a series of new Black Oak lineups, but half-baked albums like "Balls Of Fire" (1976) and "I'd Rather Be Sailing" (1978) showed that little of the fire -- or the fun -- remained.
By 1980, BOA was dead in the water, with upstarts like Van Halen (and their Jim Dandy-influenced frontman, David Lee Roth) redefining "party rock" for a new generation.
Years of hard living had taken their toll on Jim Dandy; throughout the '80s, he was plagued by numerous health problems, including a massive heart attack.
He reunited briefly with BOA-mate Ricky Reynolds for two lackluster albums, "Ready As Hell" (1984) and "The Black Attack Is Back" (1986), but neither generated much interest.
By the middle '90s, perhaps in response to the bloodless, no-fun climate of the alternative rock world, interest in Black Oak Arkansas seemed to be on the upswing, spurred on by several strong greatest hits collections, and a King Biscuit Flower Hour live set.
By 1999, BOA was back in action with original members Jim Dandy, Ricky Reynolds and Pat Daugherty -- and a new (and well-received) studio album, "The Wild Bunch."
The reformed group continues to tour sporadically, fuelled by the 55-year-old Mangrum's boundless energy and enthusiasm: "I am the true Jim Dandy. It is a dandy world, it is a dandy life and I got me a dandy wife. Anybody can be a dandy, anyone can be a legend; I'm the living proof."
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