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Southern rock veterans Black Oak Arkansas never quite achieved the level of success enjoyed by contemporaries like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, but have remained a cult band thanks to their raw, primitive energy and the testosterone-fueled antics of lead vocalist/showman James "Big Jim Dandy" Mangrum. Named for Mangrum's hometown, Black Oak Arkansas eventually built up a solid following through incessant touring and enjoyed a run of ten charting albums between 1971 and 1976. The band also found itself with a Top 30 single in their raunchy cover of a LaVern Baker R&B hit called "Jim Dandy to the Rescue," which became Mangrum's signature song. When album sales dried up, Mangrum re-formed the band with more musically skilled veteran players and continued to tour, although the group's glory days were past.
Black Oak Arkansas dates back to the mid-'60s, when a group of young, long-haired misfits headed by Jim Mangrum, unable to find work, turned to rock & roll. However, the group was unable to purchase equipment and ended up being arrested for grand larceny after stealing items from the local school in order to get money. They were nearly run out of town and went to live in the nearby hills, locating and borrowing equipment where they could. The band moved to New Orleans in 1969 and called itself Knowbody Else, with a lineup of vocalist Mangrum; guitarists Ricky "Ricochet" Reynolds, Stanley "Goober" Knight, and Harvey "Burley" Jett; bassist Pat Daugherty; and drummer Wayne Evans. Knowbody Else recorded a self-titled album for Stax, which went nowhere; rethinking their approach, the band became interested in psychedelia and Eastern spirituality, which they filtered through their Southern Baptist upbringing. Changing their name to Black Oak Arkansas, the band secured a deal with Atlantic after several trips to Los Angeles and released its self-titled debut in 1971. While it wasn't a hit, the band toured extensively, building a reputation as a raw, incendiary live act that made up for occasional musical deficiencies with energy and the explicit sexuality of Mangrum, who flaunted his body at every opportunity and became known for such antics as miming sex with the washboard he used for musical accompaniment.
The band's second album, Keep the Faith, was a noticeable improvement, as the band had honed its sound and material through numerous live gigs; If an Angel Came to See You, Would You Make Her Feel at Home? followed the same year, featuring new drummer Tommy Aldridge, but it was 1973's Raunch 'N' Roll Live that established the group as a commercial force. That year, High on the Hog became their most commercially successful album, reaching number 52 on the charts. It was buoyed by the Top 30 cover version of "Jim Dandy to the Rescue," which featured female vocalist Ruby Starr trading innuendoes with Jim "Dandy" Mangrum. Several more albums followed before the group parted ways with Atlantic in 1976; Jett left the band in 1975 and was replaced by Starr cohort James Henderson. Lineup shifts were rampant as the group switched to MCA; Aldridge left and was replaced by Joel Williams, while the guitar/bass axis was gutted and rebuilt around Greg Reding, Jack Holder, and bassist Andy Tanas. This lineup released Race With the Devil in 1977, after the band had one last taste of success with the "Strong Enough to Be Gentle" single. Following several lackluster, straightforward Southern rock albums, the band called it quits in 1980. After recovering from a heart attack, Mangrum reunited with Reynolds in 1984 for a solo album, Ready as Hell; The Black Attack Is Back followed two years later. In 1999, BOA reunited to release The Wild Bunch.
Black Oak Arkansas is an American Southern rock band named after the band's hometown of Black Oak, Arkansas. The band reached the height of its fame in the 1970s with ten charting albums released in that decade. Their style is punctuated by multiple guitar players and the raspy voice and on-stage antics of vocalist Jim "Dandy" Mangrum.
The group, which was originally called "The Knowbody Else" and had a penchant for each band member having a nickname, was formed in 1965 in Black Oak, Arkansas, by Ronnie "Chicky Hawk" Smith (vocals), Rickie Lee (alternately "Ricochet" or "Risky") Reynolds (guitar), Stanley "Goober Grin" Knight (guitar), Harvey "Burley" Jett (guitar), Pat "Dirty" Daugherty (bass), and Wayne "Squeezebox" Evans (drums). Their first PA system was stolen from Monette high school. The school from which Jim stood up in Mrs. Billie Layne's civics class wrote a '0' on top of his assignment brought to it her desk and told her he was quitting school. She told him that he would not make a living without an education to which he responded "I'll make more money than you will in your lifetime." The long haired rebels from a community made up of mostly farmers, sharecroppers, hired hands and bible belt rednecks with flat tops then cleaned out an old galvanized grain bin on the edge of town and began blasting out ear piercing sounds that echoed their special blend of music that came from rock, gospel, country and blues influences. Members of the group were subsequently charged in absentia with grand larceny and sentenced to 26 years at the Tucker Prison Farm (this sentence was later suspended). This led to their retreat to the hills of rural northcentral Arkansas where they lived off the land and refined their musical style. They also lived in Long Beach, Mississippi and played at the local Lobe theater/dance hall and the short-lived venue, "The Black Rainbow." Some of their influences during this time were the Beatles and the Byrds. At some point the band and Ronnie "Chicky Hawk" Smith agreed that a mutual friend named James "Jim Dandy" Mangrum would make a better front man, Ronnie Smith agreed that he would make a better stage production manager.
The Knowbody Else moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1969 and signed a record deal with Stax Records. Their self-titled debut album was largely ignored by the public. During this time the band became interested in psychedelia and Eastern spiritualism which, combined with their Southern Baptist upbringing, contributed to their sound.
After several trips to Los Angeles, California, in 1970, the band was signed by Atco Records (whose parent label Atlantic Records once had a partnership with Stax) and rechristened "Black Oak Arkansas". Their self-titled debut album Black Oak Arkansas was released in 1971, and is generally regarded as the band's best. The record featured enduring BOA classics like "Hot And Nasty", "Lord Have Mercy On My Soul", "Uncle Lijiah" (written in pseudo-tribute to Harvey Jett's real-life great uncle) and "When Electricity Came To Arkansas", which was wrongfully accused by fundamentalist religious groups of containing backward-masked "Satanic messages". The band toured extensively, gaining a reputation as a premier live act throughout the early '70s all across America, and later even in Europe. Keep the Faith followed in 1972, featuring the manic concert staple "Fever In My Mind". Drummer Wayne Evans left the band and was replaced by journeyman skinsman Tommy Aldridge on BOA's next release If an Angel Came to See You, Would You Make Her Feel at Home, which featured another enduring BOA concert favorite, "Mutants Of The Monster" and expanded on the group’s eclectic musical style.
In 1973, Black Oak Arkansas released their fourth LP Raunch 'N' Roll Live, and took the rather unorthodox tack of including previously unrecorded new songs on their first live concert album like "Gigolo", "Gettin' Kinda Cocky", as well as two more BOA classics: "Hot Rod", which features Dandy's sly double-entendre lyrics, and "Up", which spotlights Aldridge's marathon (yet highly-entertaining) drum solo, a portion of which he played with his bare hands. Raunch 'N' Roll Live was re-issued in 2007 by Rhino Records as a 2-CD set containing both concerts that the original vinyl album was culled from. Their fifth album, High on the Hog, also released in '73, ended up being the high point (no pun intended) of BOA's career, peaking at number 52 on the Billboard albums chart. Vocalist Ruby Starr of the band Grey Ghost also toured intermittently with Black Oak during this period, and her raspy voice can be heard on the group's remake of LaVern Baker's 1957 hit "Jim Dandy," which reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Baker's song was recorded by at the suggestion of a big fan of the band, the King himself, Elvis Presley, when he invited them to Graceland. 'Hog' also included perennial favorite "Happy Hooker" and the instrumental "Moonshine Sonata", as well as edgier songs like "Red Hot Lovin'" and "Mad Man".
The band was riding high on the concert trail as well by this time, headlining large venues like Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium and Charlotte Motor Speedway, and even Royal Albert Hall in London, England. Black Oak Arkansas also played at the famous California Jam festival in Ontario, California on April 6, 1974. The massive concert attracted over 200,000 fans, and BOA appeared alongside 1970s rock giants Black Sabbath, the Eagles, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple, Earth, Wind & Fire, Seals and Crofts and Rare Earth, and portions of the show were telecast on ABC Television in the US, exposing the BOA to a wider audience.
The follow-up to High On The Hog, 1974's, Street Party (featuring "Son Of A Gun", "Hey Y'all" and "Dixie", as well as a cover of the Motown classic "Dancing In The Street"), may have failed to maintain the momentum, but another 1974 release entitled Early Times, a shelved Stax recording by The Knowbody Else (now released on the back of their success and under the BOA banner), made up for lost time. Guitarist Harvey Jett left the band after Street Party and was replaced by "Little" Jimmy Henderson in 1975 and he debuted on the band's final studio album for Atco Records, the underrated and overlooked Ain't Life Grand. Grand included a snarly remake of George Harrison's Beatle classic "Taxman", as well as bright new originals like "Fancy Nancy", "Rebel", "Good Stuff", "Cryin' Shame" and "Let Life Be Good To You". The band signed a contract with MCA and promptly released X-Rated later in 1975, which marked the beginning of Black Oak Arkansas' decline. In 1976 they released two fairly nondescript and unsuccessful albums for MCA, Balls of Fire and 10 Yr Overnight Success, the latter of which as a five-piece band with the departure of Rickie Reynolds, who was more of less replaced on tour by keyboardist Marius Penczner during this period. Also in '76, Atco released a final BOA contractual obligation album, the poorly-recorded, but high-spirited Live Mutha, recorded on Mother's Day, 1975 in Long Beach, CA, hence the title.
Following continued diminishing returns on their record sales, but while still remaining a consistent concert draw, Mangrum panicked a bit and gave the band a nearly complete overhaul in 1977, dropping "Arkansas" from the group's name (in an attempt to downplay their Southern-ness), replacing everyone except Henderson and even altering his own vocal style in an attempt to sound more mainstream (and ostensibly impress music critics in the process), but it didn't work. The just plain "Black Oak" lineup was rounded out by Greg Reding (guitar and keyboards), Jack Holder (guitar), Andy Tanas (bass), and Joel Williams (drums) and they released two albums on Capricorn Records (which itself was teetering on the brink by that time), Race with the Devil in 1977 and I'd Rather Be Sailing the following year, and neither album sold well at all. In 1978, guitarist Shawn Lane joined the band at age 14 and toured with the band for four years.
In the early '80's, Jim Dandy temporarily left the band for health reasons, but Rickie Lee Reynolds kept the band going with former Zorro bassist Jack Brumby, AW Zeugner and Lester John with Bob Simpson doing the lead vocals at first, later replaced by Randy Ruff for almost three years. Released in 1984, Ready, as Hell debuted a heavier sound with pinch harmonics and keyboards featured throughout. The album also marked the return of Rickie Lee Reynolds on rhythm guitar. In 1986, The Black Attack Is Back continued the heavy style of the previous album and featured the particularly adventurous track "I Want A Woman With Big Titties". Despite that lack of subtlety, the album is regarded by many as the finest of the band's long career, with arguably the most talented lineup to date. Still, it made no commercial headway.
James Mangrum has continued recording and touring with a series of different Black Oak lineups, up to present day. Black Oak Arkansas currently enjoys a loyal fan following. However, the later lineups have yet to duplicate the level of album sales that the original lineup generated in the early-mid 1970s. Jim Dandy is credited with inspiring Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth's image and onstage persona as well. In addition, in the 1980s former Maine State Representative Chris Greeley once 'opened' for them as a member of the rock band Toyz.
Original Black Oak Arkansas guitarist Stanley Knight passed away on February 16, 2013, just four days after his 64th birthday following a brief battle with cancer. Singer Ruby Starr also succumbed to cancer on January 14, 1995.
In 2013, Jim Dandy and Black Oak Arkansas entered into a new management arrangement with indiGOLD Management. The band plans to enter the studio in March, release a new album for Atlantic Records late in the year, and begin touring to support the album after its release.