Jim "Dandy" Mangrum
and the National washboard he made famous
By Devorah Ostrov
"The sorta people who listen to Black Oak Arkansas are about the closest things to teenage Frankensteins in existence. They hide out in the hills of Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and about the only other music they play is junk like Z.Z. Top and Chicken Shack." -- Robot A. Hull, Creem magazine 1973
Jim "Dandy" Mangrum talks a mile a minute, as anyone who's heard his between-song banter can attest to. "I don't talk between songs so I can sing," he tells me. "I learned how to sing so I could talk between songs!" And although he warns me that "marijuana took my memory," his recollections about the history of the band he co-founded with his friend Rickie Lee Reynolds in 1963 are for the most part amazingly astute.
Mangrum is charmingly cocky, he laughs a lot, and pretty much everything he says should be punctuated with an exclamation point. He plays the washboard like nobody's business and you can tell he's from the South because he employs double negatives with dizzying expertise and throws the word "ain't" around like it's going out of style. He apologizes when he curses, and calls me darlin' in a raspy drawl that turns my knees to jelly.
|Black Oak Arkansas - the boys pose for a 1972 promo pic|
|Mangrum in a 1994 publicity photo|
In a 1971 article for Rolling Stone, John Mendelsohn neatly summed up the band's live prowess when he wrote: "On stage, almost scary, are Black Oak Arkansas."
But by the end of the decade - with critics accusing Mangrum of "obvious and obsessive sexism" and detractors disparaging his "consuming egomania" and "pretensions to cosmic understanding," as well as lineup, label and management issues aplenty - BOA's magnificent run was over.
Other than a couple of commercially unsuccessful albums (billed as Jim Dandy's Black Oak Arkansas) released on niche labels during the 1980s, only a Rhino Records Best Of compilation issued in 1992 kept the band's legacy alive.
A year prior to the Rhino release, Mangrum fell asleep at the wheel, hit a tree and broke his back; doctors said he would never walk again. However, by the time I phoned him for this interview, the 46-year-old was shopping a recently finished recording and performing live again (albeit forgoing the mid-air splits and karate kicks that inspired David Lee Roth). "Life is just fine and dandy!" Mangrum quips, and I believe him.
* * *
On the cover of Circus - September 1974
Black Oak's Jim Dandy Raps On Raunch,
Rock & Sex
"My daddy worked at the Whirlpool plant up there," he says. "My mom was pregnant in Arkansas and she went up there and worked for six months, or so. I was born in Mercy Hospital - Lord have mercy hospital! - up there. It just makes me both [Southern and Northern] and neither. I don't believe in North of what or South of what. I just think we're one big dirt clod in the sky!"
However, he does call Black Oak - where his father returned to cotton farming - his hometown. A blip on AR-Highway 18 in East Arkansas, Black Oak's population hovers around the 270 mark. Memphis, Tennessee, is an hour's drive south and Monette, Arkansas - where Mangrum and some of the guys who made up the original band went to high school - is four miles north.
What was the town like when he was growing up?
"Same way it is now. Hahahaha! Black Oak's school burnt down, and now there's a post office where it was at. It don't even have stoplights. No McDonalds, no 7-11. It's got the Black Oak cotton gin and it's got a bunch of churches. Living in Black Oak was boring mediocrity and that's hard to deal with. You've got to do something, even it's wrong!"
|The Knowbody Else - featuring some future BOA members|
In 1957, LaVern Baker recorded a catchy little number written by Lincoln Chase and took it to #1 on the R&B charts. Mangrum's father pinched the song's title and started calling his nine-year-old son by the nickname "Jim Dandy."
Black Oak Arkansas endorse
"I hated it!" Mangrum nearly shouts. "I thought a dandy was a prissy looking guy with ruffles and socks and knee pants. It got me in a lot of fights, y'know. I got into at least five fights a week. It was almost like a 'Boy Named Sue' kinda thing. I asked my daddy about it one time. He said, 'That ain't what I'm talking about. I'm saying you're a pistol. You're something else. You ain't normal.'"
Mangrum remembers listening to "a lot of stuff" growing up. "My daddy was a big fan of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys," he says, "and where we were, country music was predominant."
But he first discovered rock 'n' roll in the form of Elvis Presley. "Everybody told me I had to leave the room whenever Elvis came on TV," he recalls, "but my grandma let me peek around the back of her rocking chair."
One day, he announced his career choice to his 4th grade classroom: "Everybody stood up next to their desk and said what they wanted to be when they grew up. I stood up and said, 'I wanna be a rock 'n' roll singer like Elvis Presley!' They all laughed at me and made me cry. They said, 'Who the hell do you think you are?'"
Black Oak Arkansas gig advert - see them
at the HIC Arena with the James Gang
Is Mangrum saying he was the town "freak"?
"I was the whole southern region freak!" he retorts. "They called me a communist. I didn't even know what one was! Hahahaha!"
It was also about then that Mangrum met fellow teenager Rickie "Ricochet" Reynolds at Monette High School. Reynolds' family had recently returned to Arkansas from California, he played guitar, and his hair was "a little bit longer" than the other local kids. "We started playing music in 1963, me and Rickie," reflects Mangrum. "We've been best friends for 30 years!"
Over the following months, the two boys recruited some other friends and acquaintances from around the area - including Harvey "Burley" Jett on guitar and organ, and Pat "Dirty" Daugherty on bass - to form a band they called the Knowbody Else. At some point during these early days, Stanley "Goober" Knight replaced Jett on guitar, but Jett returned to the fold in time to give the original BOA lineup its trademark three-guitar attack.
The group's early lineup was reshuffled prior to a gig in Reynolds Park, when Mangrum found it necessary to switch from drums to lead vocals after a particularly brutal bust-up (in which he might have been defending his long hair rather than his nickname). "It was one of the longest fights I ever had," he says. "I broke every finger on both hands, except for one thumb. I couldn't hold no drumsticks, so I sang that night. I had to tape the mic to my hand, and that's the first night I did the splits - oooh what a feeling!"
Advert for California Jam - April 6, 1974
featuring Black Oak Arkansas, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath,
ELP, and the Eagles among others
In 1969, the Knowbody Else travelled to Memphis to record their debut LP for Stax. "Jim Stewart [the ST in Stax] was a good friend of ours," notes Mangrum.
But the album of psychedelic and county-rock tunes ran into distribution problems and quickly disappeared. A second Knowbody Else album was left unfinished (only for it to surface in 1974 as Early Times, which includes a few tracks from the first album and features some truly remarkable cover art that Mangrum likens to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves).
But the legend of the Knowbody Else lived on in early BOA press reports that highlighted the criminal past of some band members. It was something the guys were apparently happy to confirm, and even embellish a bit, with tales of "hiding out in the hills" like romanticized outlaws of yore. Part the boys' juvenile rap sheet was actually first made public on the back cover of The Knowbody Else LP, which rather proudly detailed the theft of Monette High's public-address system in the liner notes.
Black Oak Arkansas publicity photo circa 1976
with Ruby Starr and keyboardist Marius Penczner
Too add insult to injury, the PA system didn't even work. "We had to pay for the old one and buy a new one, too," grumbles Mangrum.
* * *
|A Jim Dandy poster for your |
teenage bedroom wall
Third time lucky, as they say. "The third time, we stayed out there. We started doing a lot of the free things out at Griffith Park, and we started playing at the Topanga Corral and the Beach House in Santa Monica, places like that. They liked us out there in Topanga Canyon - where Spirit, Buffalo Springfield, Canned Heat and all them were from. And we started to build a following."
What kind of people were coming to the band's early LA shows? Was it the same hip contingent that followed the Doors? Mangrum ponders the question.
"It was... not so much the Doors kind of people. It was more like... It was like Jim Morrison's people, but more like... It was that plus more! We were different. Everybody was curious about us. We were going around in fur robes, and had long hair, and were from Arkansas; and we were singing about karma and being hot and nasty, too! They thought it was just totally... they thought we weren't real. And then they realized that we were. We was chewin' tabacca onstage, and spittin' in a spittoon between the bass drums, and playing a washboard. They basically said, 'What the hell's that?' Hahahaha!"
BOA's self-titled debut album - Atco Records (1971)
Cover design & photos by Eve Babitz
Ahmet Ertegun, president of Atlantic Records, caught a Knowbody Else show at the Topanga Canyon Corral and, legend has it, personally signed the group directly afterwards. The music mogul liked their "country picking," says Mangrum, "and he thought that 'Hot and Nasty' was a sex song with a sense of humor."
In fact, according to Mangrum, by the time Ertegun discovered them, the group's setlist not only featured "Hot and Nasty" but also included "Lord Have Mercy on My Soul," a saints-and-sinners boogie that "came from an acid trip in Memphis." And there was an epic guitar jam that they'd recently retitled "When Electricity Came to Arkansas." ("We'd been calling it 'Steamroller' for some stupid reason," notes Mangrum.)
"We were already doing everything on that first album," he states. "We had a lot of the material developed for that album."
Premier Talent Agency advert
circa the Street Party LP
"We didn't become Black Oak Arkansas until right before the album came out," says Mangrum.
The suggestion that they rename the group after Mangrum's hometown came from Jerry Cohen, an LA attorney and friend of the band. "He said to call it that because nobody else was like us back there, but everybody was like us out in California!"
By sheer brute force "Hot and Nasty" (which Mangrum maintains is a "spoof" and not a serious comment about his personal virility) dominated the album and became a live favorite, but Mangrum admits that it was "never much of a single."
"We put it out 'cause some people wanted it. But at that time, in that day and age, they wouldn't play it on the radio. It was, y'know, too hot and nasty! Hahahaha!"
Although the lusty rocker grabbed everyone's attention, there were other less conspicuous highlights on BOA's first album. "Hills of Arkansas" and "Uncle Lijiah" (with lyrics based on tall tales told by Harvey Jett's great uncle) both reflected the group's love of country music and perfectly suited the 23-year-old Mangrum's prematurely-aged, bourbon-soaked vocals.
Poster for the Great Rock Express - Frankfurt, Germany 1974
with BOA, Uriah Heep, America, Steely Dan, and others
Mangrum recalls that promotion for the album included a "great interview" for Rolling Stone and a Playboy feature that said he was "better than Mick Jagger." He laughs boisterously at the memory. "Which I didn't ask them to say! Y'know, thanks, but I don't need this kind of help. Made me feel like my balls were in a vice." Even without a single, Black Oak Arkansas reached #127 on the charts and was certified gold. "I know it offended the AM radio stations real bad," muses Mangrum, "but we just didn't need singles. We didn't care!"
|Jim Dandy is the Creem Dream!|
But BOA's phenomenal popularity wasn't based on record sales. More importantly, it came about through the band's "relationship with the people," says Mangrum. For most of the group's career, a gruelling tour schedule kept them on the road for 300 days a year. "They toured us hard 'cause we liked to play," states Mangrum. "I said, 'Set 'em up and we'll knock 'em down.' And boy, they held me to it."
They started out as the support act on Iron Butterfly's final outing, and then joined Grand Funk Railroad on their '71 U.S. jaunt.
"They helped us a lot," says Mangrum of Grand Funk Railroad. "Mark Farner [GFR guitarist] liked us, and they even gave us the big outdoor screens. They should never have given me a screen! Hahahaha!"
According to the naturally charismatic frontman, "We set the pace for a lot of musicians out there. A lot of frontmen wished I'd never showed up! They had to start catwalking at the front of a 40x40-foot stage for an hour-and-a-half, running back and forth - singing while they're on the run. It was a little harder than what they'd been doing."
Tommy Aldridge endorses Sonor
The Drummer's Drum
"Nobody's ever done anything like that before or since. Including us!" says Mangrum about the eclectic mix of music on the three LPs.
"Back then, we were doing what they call rock & country today," he points out, "and we had comic relief too! But we didn't know what we was combining. I ain't gonna take credit for it. We was from Arkansas and we didn't know what was going on out there. And if you don't have nothing to go by, you have to follow your heart and do what you think is right. You learn things the hard way, but at the same time, you do things that are innovative and different. And sometimes that's a beautiful way for change to happen. And we did it. We'd sing about weird things compared to what everybody else was singing about then. Today, there's a lot of rock & country people singing about these subject matters, but we did it before there was an industry. We did it before country was cool. Y'know, they tell me I'm just now going country and I laugh! God, I laugh!"
Ad for Ruby Starr's LP
Scene Stealer - Capitol Records (1976)
"When troubles got you down
and sorrow's all around
if you think your loves all been in vain
just cry to end the pain.
Please keep the faith, we need it..."
"[The album's cover] wasn't our idea," answers Mangrum to suggestions that it was blasphemous. "It's ridiculous, but it ain't blasphemous. Actually, it didn't bother me that much. We were on the road 300 days a year, let me remind you, and it was on the racks by the time we saw it. When you look at it like that, it could have been worse."
Daily Texan music critic, (Metal) Mike Saunders, was a fan of the group (although not necessarily of Mangrum's vocals, which he said were "like Captain Beefheart in heat"). In his review of the album, Saunder's states that Keep the Faith "...is an excellent rock and roll album. Black Oak Arkansas' songs are built around unusual chords and interior structure; clichés to be sure, but not the kind you hear often."
Just five months later, Atlantic issued If an Angel Came to See You... It was the first of BOA's albums to crack the Top 100, but Saunders' review was less enthusiastic: "Something happens when this group goes into a studio. I dunno just what it is - with the result that two major factors, namely a weakness in songwriting coupled with the abominable production of their albums so far, have kept Black Oak Arkansas records far below what they're well capable of... A lot of wasted potential going on here."
1974 UK tour poster
See BOA with Black Sabbath at the
Inspired by the likes of Ginger Baker, John Bonham and Mitch Mitchell, Aldridge had been playing with bands around the Florida Panhandle prior to joining Black Oak Arkansas. He'd stay with BOA for four years before joining a list of notable bands including Pat Travers, Whitesnake, and Thin Lizzy.
"I loved Tommy!" exclaims Mangrum. "He was my choice. We auditioned sixteen people, and he was the sixth one. We knew we had our drummer, but I had to listen to the rest of 'em because they'd come all the way from wherever. Tommy was wonderful, innovative... He never took nothing seriously, which I loved about him! He didn't take women seriously; he didn't take playing drums seriously. And he never practiced. He was that good without even practicing!"
With "Dork" - sorry, Aldridge - in tow, BOA crisscrossed the U.S. and Canada throughout 1972. A two-night stint at San Francisco's Winterland coincided with the June release of If an Angel Came to See You..., followed by gigs in Missouri, West Virginia and Indiana. There was a quick detour up north to New Jersey, then it was back down to Texas. During August the band were back in the Bay Area one day and in Montreal the next; Saratoga Springs, New York, was followed by Nashville, Tennessee. And on September 3rd, BOA was one of the few bands to actually take the stage at the infamous Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival on Bull Island.
High on the Hog - Atco Records (1973)
Reissued on CD by Rhino Records
Cover artwork: Joe Petagno
Mangrum has fond memories of Bull Island. "They were making these big ol' bonfires 'cause the talent was late, and they ended up destroying all the concession stands and takin' all the food they wanted," he recalls. "And Joe Cocker and all them wouldn't go out there. We went out there! We did it! And boy, they loved us that day! They had the lighters going - thousands of people with lighters going as the helicopter left. It was a great show!"
Jim Dandy recommends TDK tapes for all
your home recording & bootlegging needs!
A month later, on October 1st, Black Oak Arkansas pulled into Davenport, Iowa, for a show at the John O'Donnell Stadium. "We wanted to get out and take a little walk, go to a diner instead of eating the catered stuff," recounts Mangrum of how the band met Miss Ruby Starr. "We heard her singing when we were passing... We heard this band practicing before they played that night in some little barroom. The band was terrible! The drummer was the worst, and of course, she thought she was in love with the drummer. I had to convince her that she wasn't! Hahahaha!"
Born Constance Henrietta Mierzwiak in Toledo, Ohio, Starr had been performing since the age of nine. When BOA stumbled over her, she was the lead singer of a blues/psychedelic outfit called Ruby Jones, which had released an album the previous year on Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label.
1973 poster advertising BOA's
Madison Square Garden concert and
the band's move to Heaven, Arkansas
Most BOA fans would be introduced to Starr the following year, with the release of High on the Hog and its chart-topping single "Jim Dandy." But the group's first release of 1973 was the rowdy live LP Raunch 'n' Roll.
Produced by Atlantic regular Tom Dowd and engineered by Big Star associate Richard Rosebrough, the album captured two fiery shows in Portland and Seattle near the end of the '72 tour and provided the band with its second gold album.
In some ways, Raunch 'n' Roll drew a subtle line under BOA's earlier LPs with their cosmic inclinations and demented tales of saints and sinners. Going forward, there would be less religion and a lot more sex in their messages.
According to Mangrum: "Y'know, the thing is... Ahmet Ertegun told me, 'Enough religion.' He wanted a little more 'Hot and Nasty.'"
BOA headline the Memorial Day Picnic
at the Tulsa Fairgrounds Speedway
with special guests Mahogany Rush, Styx,
and the Steve Marriott Band
With Tom Dowd once again producing, some work was completed at Wally Heider in LA. However, the bulk of the LP was recorded at Criteria Sound in Miami during an August break in the middle of yet another cross-country tour (which included a May 29th stop at Madison Square Garden).
Mangrum in his white spandex
pants & ammo belt on the cover of
Given his perfect moniker, Mangrum was uniquely qualified to deliver the song's verses from a first-person perspective. "LaVern Baker did it about Jim Dandy the character," he points out. "I sing it as though I'm sitting on a mountain top. And oddly enough, all the words were true to my life. I was living up in the Ozark Mountains on a mountain top. I had a girl named Sue, she was my second wife and the second verse goes: 'One day, I met a girl named Sue/She was feeling kinda blue/I'm a dandy kind of guy/Can't stand to see a little girl cry.'"
Lineup for Reading Rock '76
BOA headline on Sunday with support from Ted Nugent,
Brand X, AC/DC, the Enid, and Southerland Brothers & Quiver
Full-page ad for High on the Hog
Not surprisingly, influential Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau didn't like High on the Hog and gave it a "D." According to his review: "[Black Oak Arkansas] are actively untalented, incapable of even an interesting cop."
But here's a surprise: Mangrum didn't really like the album, either. "There's some songs on it that I liked," he notes, "but it could've been better. I love 'Swimmin' in Quicksand,' but it showed the signs of how much work they were putting on us. And I like 'Happy Hooker' and 'Jim Dandy to the Rescue,' but other than that, I can't remember much on it."
"High 'n' Dry" is a fabulous song, I remind him.
"That's true!" he enthuses. "I've always loved that song. We still play 'High 'n' Dry' to this day. Rickey wrote it and I love it! But, y'know, [manager] Butch Stone wanted us to put out two albums a year so we could tour new product. It was oversaturation; we were just competing with ourselves. We hadn't quit selling one [album] before we put out another one. It was like, forget that one and go on to the new one."
Besides touring and recording, BOA marked 1973 with the purchase of an ex-hunting and fishing lodge sat on over a thousand acres of land in the Ozark Mountains. They called it "Heaven on Earth."
Stage pass for
the Swing Auditorium gig
on December 28, 1975
At the time, it probably seemed like a good idea for the band, their wives and girlfriends, the kids, the manager, the road crew, and the pet goldfish to all live in an enclosed compound in the middle of nowhere.
"It was Shangri La," muses Mangrum, "except that we were 15-feet apart from each other after being on the road 300 days a year! It was a 'sociological experiment' that I don't wish to do again."
How much did Heaven on Earth cost the band?
"More than you wanna hear, darlin'," says Mangrum.
Lots more BOA money was used for charitable causes in the local community. The band played a benefit for the building of a new school in nearby Oakland, Arkansas. And they paid for a new hospital wing. "They couldn't afford the kind of machines they needed for cancer therapy and everything else," explains Mangrum. "They were mountain people, what they call hillbillies. And even though they're taxed like everybody else, if they got cancer and they didn't have the money on 'em - they died."
* * *
Jim Dandy is featured in the
Hit Parader Interview
BOA's first big gig of the year was California Jam. On an unusually hot day in early April, an estimated 200,000 - 300,000 rock fans gathered at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Southern California. Deep Purple and ELP co-headlined the 12-hour concert - during which Richie Blackmore had a strop and threw his guitars and equipment into the crowd; some pyrotechnics went awry and set the stage on fire; and Keith Emerson played a grand piano while spinning end-over-end 50-feet above the ground.
Black Oak Arkansas were a bit further down the bill with Black Sabbath, the Eagles, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Regardless, according to Mangrum: "We blew everybody off the stage at California Jam!"
In May and June, the band again hooked up with Black Sabbath for the UK leg of the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath tour. It was the first time the guys had been overseas, and unlike the American rock press which gave them no respect, for British journalists it was a full-on lovefest.
"They loved us!" exclaims Mangrum. "They loved the way we talked. Hey, I was great at journalism! I could do 14 or 15 interviews a day. I did more interviews than Mohammed Ali and the President of the United States. I didn't think it was work; I thought it was great! I came from Black Oak, where there was nobody to talk to. You wanna talk? Great, c'mere!"
Advert for the Black Sabbath/Black Oak
Arkansas gig at the Winter Gardens
in Bournemouth, England on
May 31, 1974
BOA returned home in time to promote the July release of Street Party, their sixth album for Atlantic Records.
There were summer gigs at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina and the Mississippi River Festival, before they returned to Europe for some September dates, followed by year-end shows up and down the East Coast.
But Harvey Jett had left the band by that point. "Burley was a great person!" Mangrum recalls. "Burley was one of the funniest guys in the band. He did these characters Berky and Jerky..." He stops just short of actually telling me what happened to the band's lead guitarist, but according to one story it seems Jett got off the tour bus in St. Louis, Missouri, and simply walked away. Most reports say he "found God" and became a minister.
The Street Party LP kept the band in the charts and in the music press through '74. But Mangrum admits, "I barely remember Street Party." And he wonders, "Wasn't 'Everybody Wants to See Heaven (Nobody Wants to Die)' on it?" Indeed, it was. As was a tremendous a capella reading of the traditional Southern anthem "Dixie."
Black Oak Arkansas - publicity photo
He instantly apologises for cursing in a most wonderful way: "Excuse me for saying that there carnal thing."
However, critics took issue with some of the album's other tunes like "Sting Me," "Good Good Woman," and "Jail Bait," which Creem writer Richard Riegel noted "are variations on Dandy's sexist saturation."
Advert for Street Party
Atco Records (1974)
At the same time, Cliff Goldbeck of Louisville, Kentucky, penned a letter to Creem asserting: "Black Oak Arkansas is the most obnoxious, macho, sexist band in America."
"If I worried about what people thought," responds Mangrum, "I never would've been 'Jim Dandy' in the first place, now would I?"
He adds, "Y'know, there were a lot of people who thought I was having too much fun back then. To this day, there's people out there that think I've had too much sex. There's people out there that think I've had too much money to spend, and too many cars, and done too many things they always wanted to do but didn't. Basically, they think I've had too much fun in life. And you know what? I disagree! Hahahaha!"
By early 1975, Jett had been replaced with Jimmy "Soybean" Henderson, a young guitarist from Jackson, Mississippi, who was originally recruited to play lead in Ruby Starr's band.
Advert for a three-night stint at
Chicago's Aragon Ballroom with
BOA, Foghat and Montrose
A 1975 Circus feature by Michael Gross illustrated just how big the band was in the mid-'70s: "Sitting in a Holiday Inn, not in Evansville or Bakersfield, but just a few minutes walk from Hyde Park in London, Jim Dandy Mangrum was mighty annoyed. Second damned time Black Oak Arkansas came to England and already they had his picture on every one of the pop magazine covers. Couldn't go out on the street and shop. Couldn't spend the funny English money. For 2½ weeks Jim Dandy watched as Goober went out, Dork went out, Rick went out and Pat went out, spending money and learning about London birds - and they didn't mean the flyin' kind. Then Jim got pissed enough to up and split, himself. Blond hair streaming, the heavy hung howler took to the streets with a wad of money in his pocket, heading for the stores, but he didn't know it was Sunday and the stores were all closed..."
However, cracks were starting to appear.
In April, BOA released Ain't Life Grand, their final studio album for Atlantic. Produced by Richie Podolor at his American Recording Co. in Los Angeles, the LP had a noticeably better sound quality than the group's previous efforts. However, Ain't Life Grand stalled at #145 in the album charts, and signalled a slide in the band's Stateside marketability.
Ticket stub for the
Black Oak Arkansas/Ted Nugent
gig at the Apollo in Glasgow
August 31, 1976
Before Live! Mutha had even been released, BOA had signed a new contract with MCA Records and issued X-Rated, the first of three albums they did for the label between 1975 and 1976 - none of which revived the band's by then flagging recording career.
In retrospect, Mangrum thinks the move to MCA (a label he claims, "weren't in touch with the street level at the time") was ill-advised and attributes the change to "bad management."
"Butch Stone should have kept us on Atlantic," he contends. "They offered us a very fair deal, to tell you the truth. But we were overworked because [Stone] didn't think it was gonna last. It lasted over seven years in its heyday and if he'd handled it right, it would've lasted longer than that. But he took a two-million-dollar deal with MCA because of the money. He thought it was gonna end any minute."
"Fistfull of Love" b/w "Storm of Passion"
Italian picture sleeve 45 - from the marvellous
(but wildly inappropriate) Disco Boom series
During their tenure at MCA, all the original/longterm band members (with the sole exception of Mangrum) fell by the wayside. "Butch fired Rickey," says Mangrum. "Me and Rickey cried over it, but he was fishing a lot and he wanted to stay with his wife and kids."
Rumor has it that Tommy Aldridge was displeased with the band's massive pot habit. Supposedly, he snuck out of the Ozark compound in the dead of night and hid out in Chicago before hooking up with the Pat Travers Band. Stanley Knight and Pat Daugherty both split following 10 Yr Overnight Success - which was also the last BOA album to feature Ruby Starr. In the end, only Mangrum and Jimmy Henderson were left.
"I love my brothers," says Mangrum about his bandmates, "especially the seniority members. They were first. They went out with me and they had the hearts to stay with me. They stayed with me for a long time and they finally said, 'Can we go home now?'"
Black Oak Arkansas
(L-R:) Rickie Reynolds, Tommy Aldridge, Jim Dandy,
Pat Daugherty, Stanley Knight and Jimmy Henderson
"I hated our second [Capricorn] album," emphasises Mangrum. "They made us write material that leaned more towards the Eagles and that type of stuff [instead of] the earthy feel of old Black Oak stuff. Then they overproduced it and made it sound like Saturday Night Fever."
|Jim Dandy Mangrum - publicity photo|
"I'd rather be doing anything other than this album, yeah. That's what we call it. Before that, was Race With the Devil. That had some great stuff on it; it's the best of the two. There's quite a few songs on I'd Rather be Sailing that would've been great if they'd been done right."
Signed to the Southern-centric label shortly before it declared bankruptcy, the band didn't really have a chance to reap much in the way of public relations, promotional expenditure, or tour support. But Mangrum does have a great story to tell about the label's co-founder Phil Walden: "He got me in a Leer jet one day, thought he was gonna impress me. He put a lot of cocaine out there, and then the Leer jet went straight up. I just brushed it off into the carpet - 'cause I don't need that stuff. You should have seen the look on his face! Hahahaha!"
By the early '80s the group's deserted compound had burned down, and Mangrum had pretty much disappeared from the music scene. He told rock journalist Marc Shapiro: "I'd had a heart attack. I wasn't eating very well. I was being suicidal because I was a very bitter man."
"I stopped playing because somebody else was getting my money," he tells me, alluding to a complex royalty arrangement overseen by the band's then-manager, who Mangrum believes ripped off the group for millions of dollars.
|Advert for the X-Rated LP and tour|
By the mid-'80s Mangrum was back and so was Rickey Reynolds (newly nicknamed "Risky"). "He's a part of me, y'know," says Mangrum of his old cohort.
Sporting a logo that suggested it was a solo project (something to do with boring legal stuff) and what looks like a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired cover photo, in 1984 Mangrum and Reynolds released Ready as Hell. And Kerrang's Mick Wall was deliriously happy about it: "Ready or not, or ready as Hell, Jim Dandy is back, back, baaaccckkk in the saddle again. Yup, the only man in the world to make a washboard go WOOAARRRGGGHH! has been up and treading the boards barndancing his merry way across the stages of the US these past few months. The original AARRGGGHHHH! Of Arkansas has been hammering the living daylights out of his 'Ready As Hell' album to crazed and rapturous responses..."
|Jim Dandy's Black Oak Arkansas - Ready as Hell (1984)|
"I broke my back," he says, "and they didn't think I'd walk again. They didn't know why my spinal cord wasn't severed. They said I had uncommonly strong back muscles! I called every whore I knew at the time and thanked 'em! Hahahaha!"
New vertebrae were fashioned from bone chips to replace the three that had disintegrated, and an eight-inch long titanium bar now keeps his spine in place. "It ain't never gonna feel right," laments Mangrum. "It don't bend when I do."
But Mangrum knows he's fortunate. A little over two years on, and he's not only walking he's once again performing - just don't expect him to do the splits anymore. "The doctors told me I shouldn't. I did splits off five-foot drum risers forever and they said I did a lot of damage to my spine that I didn't know about."
Today, Mangrum has a new wife; it's his fourth marriage ("Those three other marriages were never my idea," he asserts, and I picture shotguns). He has three children and has recently become a grandfather for the first time ("Jim Dandy is a grandpa!" he exclaims with delight). And he and Rickey are working on a new album, which they're calling The Wild Bunch after one of the tracks. There are rumors that Atlantic is interested, but Mangrum's staying tight-lipped about the details for now. All he'll say is, "It's a nice deal."
Before we end the interview, Mangrum has one final thing he'd like to say: "I'm still alive and well! I am the granddaddy bad boy! I'm the one that got away and I'm here to stay! I'm the original outlaw! Hahahaha!"
|Jim Dandy Mangrum - 1994 publicity photo|
* * *
*Guitarist Jimmy Henderson passed away unexpectedly on 3/5/2016.
*Guitarist Stanley Knight, who wrote the gorgeous "Memories at the Window" on BOA's debut LP, passed away on 2/16/2013 after a battle with cancer.
*After being diagnosed with lung cancer and a brain tumor, Ruby Starr passed away on 1/14/1995.
For more information about Black Oak Arkansas, visit the band's official website: http://blackoakarkansas.net