Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Dirty Strangers: They're Just A Real Good Rock 'N' Roll Band From Shepherd's Bush!

The Dirty Strangers
Photo: Sara Brinker
The Dirty Strangers were like a bunch of big brothers to me and Rave-Up photographer Sara Brinker during our 1986 London holiday. They became very special to us and we hoped that readers of our 'zine back home would feel the same way.

Originally published in Rave-Up #10, 1985

Interview by Devorah Ostrov
Photos by Sara Brinker & Devorah Ostrov

Brian James, guitarist for Lords of the New Church, and a man whose opinion we highly value at Rave-Up HQ, recommended that Sara and I see the Dirty Strangers while we were in London. And he proved to be right — we fell in love with the Dirty Strangers' sweaty, unpretentious, good-time brand of rock 'n' roll!

Basically, the Dirty Strangers are a band of working-class guys from the Shepherd's Bush section of London. They've been playing their hearts out to anyone who'll listen for the last four years, and hopefully they'll never change or stop!

Crime And A Woman - the fourth album from the Dirty Strangers
Released 2016
Q: So, how would you guys describe the Dirty Strangers' sound?

Alastair: We're just a real good rock 'n' roll band. Let people draw their own conclusions, really.

Q: Do you think there's a lack of "real" rock 'n' roll bands in London at the moment?

Alan Clayton
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Alastair: There's a lot of rock 'n' roll bands, but I mean...

Alan: We're the best!

Alastair: Yeah, well... That's it, isn't it? Without sounding sort of, uhmm... Y'know what I mean?

Scotty: Rock 'n' roll has been unfashionable recently, but I think it's going to come back because there's no pretence about it. Nobody's trying to give you a message or be political. It's just for people to enjoy. We get up onstage and have a good time. And the crowd have a good time. That's all we really want. And I think it's gonna pay off. Well, I hope it does!

Q: Have you had a hard time getting your style across to record companies?

Everyone: Very hard!!!
Alastair Symons
Photo: Devorah Ostrov

Scotty: They don't want to know about us.

Alastair: I think they also realize that it would be very difficult for them to try to change us in any way. We are pretty resolute in what we do.

Alan: We've had A&R people say that they really like us and want to sign us, but every time that it gets back to the company, it gets blocked. They don't see us as a marketable product.

Q: I know you're working on an independent EP. What songs are going to be on it?

Alan: "Survival Dance," "Hands Up," "Are You Satisfied?" and a live version of "Shepherd's Bush City Limits."

Alastair: You might have heard that tune before.

Q: Yeah, but when we heard it we were saying, "Wait a minute, that doesn't sound right. It's supposed to be something else."

Advert for the Dirty Strangers debut LP
with special guests Keith Richards & Ron Wood.
Scotty: Yeah, well... it is, but we added our own words.

Q: And I've heard that Radio 1 is going to be recording you guys.

Alan: We're doing a session called "The Rock Show." We're doing five or six songs.

Alastair Symons & Brian James in SF
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Scotty: It's the first time we've been on the radio. It might change a few people's minds, y'know.

Alastair: I'm glad as well, 'cause there's people up north [Northern England] who are into rock 'n' roll and they deserve to at least know that there's a band in London playing rock 'n' roll.

Scotty: Half of Europe... nearly all of Europe gets Radio 1, so potentially it could be a very big audience.

Q: Is it true that the Rolling Stones are big fans of the Dirty Strangers?

Alastair: I'll tell you what, Keith Richards told us he was gonna sign us to Rolling Stone Records, but at the time something went wrong... I dunno. Anyway, he really likes us. He thinks we're the best band in Britain.

Alan: When the Rolling Stones played Wembley one of them had a Dirty Strangers t-shirt on! We get accused of being like the Stones in a way, but it's never been intentional and our songwriting has never gone in that direction. But it's the nearest thing that people can hang on us, y'know. There's only been one really good rock 'n' roll band up to now — the Rolling Stones. They really cornered the market. So, that's the nearest tag people can put on us. But Keith don't think we're like them and I mean, he should know!

Alan Clayton
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Scotty: Rod Stewart and the Faces is the other comparison we get.

Alan: A lot of people try to conjure up an image that they want people to copy — which a lot of people do. But we don't force anyone to copy us. The only reason [our fans] go out is to be entertained, and that's what music is for. And we come from Shepherd's Bush — the home of rock 'n' roll! The Who, the Sex Pistols, and us!

For more information about the Dirty Strangers, please visit their website at: http://dirtystrangers.com/


And please enjoy this video for "Shepherd's Bush City Limits"...

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Count Five: The Story Behind The One-Hit Wonder Garage Rock Band From San Jose Who Created "Psychotic Reaction"

Psychotic Reaction LP — Double Shot (1966)
Originally published as a three-part interview in Rave-Up issues 8, 9 & 10
A slightly edited version was later published in DISCoveries (October 1994)

Interviews by Devorah Ostrov & Steve Hill
Story by Devorah Ostrov

In October 1966 a two-minute and fifty-six second single, intriguingly titled "Psychotic Reaction," entered the Billboard Top 10 and stayed there for three weeks. Featuring a wall of fuzz and heavy-handed distortion, this garage-rock nugget catapulted the San Jose teenagers who recorded it into the national spotlight. Then, as suddenly as they came, they vanished, leaving only one album (Lester Bangs' delusional thesis to the contrary) to mark their place in rock history.

Here, the members of Count Five — vocalist/harmonica player Kenn Ellner, vocalist/rhythm guitarist John "Sean" Byrne, lead guitarist John "Mouse" Michalski, bassist Roy Chaney and drummer Craig "Butch" Atkinson — tell their story...


In the mid-'60s San Jose, California, boasted one of the most happening music scenes in the country. Bands like the E-Types, the Stained Glass, the Chocolate Watchband and the Golliwogs (later to change their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival) were rivals and friends, but the undisputed kings of the turf were the British Invasion-inspired Count Five.

Michalski: We had San Jose wrapped up! Everybody was our fan. We got along with the kids really well, so we had a good following.

The band's beginnings, however, were less than auspicious. Like every other kid growing up in the '60s, each member of the group was infatuated with rock 'n' roll.

Byrne: I grew up with the Beatles. I wanted to be a musician, and I emulated the Beatles.

Count Five pose in front of San Jose's Winchester
Mystery House in this iconic publicity photo.
Ellner: I started with music when I was real young. I used to sing quite a bit. When I was around 10 or 11-years-old I would listen to KLIV. They used to have a contest called Name It and Claim It. I used to listen with my ear to the radio, and I'd win almost every record that came on the air! I could tell the record by the first note because I was such an avid rock 'n' roll fan.

Michalski: I used to listen to a lot of the Ventures. I picked up an acoustic guitar and just went by ear. I kept listening to the radio, trying to pick up everything people were playing. That's how I got going.

By 1964 Michalski and Chaney had formed an instrumental surf group, with drummer Skip Cordell. In 1965, keyboardist Phil Evans joined and when they decided to add a vocalist to the lineup, Ellner auditioned.

Ellner: I had been auditioning throughout the [Santa Clara] Valley with a bunch of groups, and I went over there. I knew Phil, we went to the same high school [Pioneer] and he had heard me sing. And I'd known Roy since I was eight years old, we were in elementary school together. They were operating out of somebody's living room; they really weren't playing anywhere.

With a limited set of Top 20 cover songs, the fledging group, then known as the Squires, began playing local high schools. A local club called the What's It gave the group its first real job.

Buffalo Springfield and Count Five
at the Third Eye - Redondo Beach, CA.
October 14/15, 1966
Ellner: We were singing through the amplifiers we were playing through, but despite all that we did start to get a little bit of a following. We started to get more and more dates.

As their reputation grew, Evans was dumped.

Ellner: Things weren't working out with our piano player. He was having some problems with a girlfriend, and it was a real hassle hauling around this 100-pound piano. Roy and Mouse said, "I think it's time we get somebody new."

Byrne's family had left Dublin, Ireland, and settled in San Jose just a few months earlier, buying the house across the street from Ellner. Like the others, he attended Pioneer High.

Byrne: I came over and asked if I could play. Roy had a guitar I could use.

Ellner: We brought Sean in, and he was playing guitar and writing songs. We started changing our repertoire, and our prowess as the Squires started to get a little bit better.

Next to go was drummer Cordell.

Ellner: Skip was a great technician, but he didn't have the feeling of a real rock 'n' roll drummer. Push came to shove, and one day we decided it was time to get a new drummer.

More auditions yielded an English drummer named Larry.

Count Five — publicity photo
Ellner: What everyone liked about Larry was he had a sparkle-red drum set, and he sang pretty good. For the first time, we were able to do three-part harmonies.

At this point, the Squires became Count Five.

Ellner: Really, Larry was the first Count Five drummer because when we changed the drummer, we decided to change the name.

Byrne: We were thinking of band names like the Dave Clark Five, and all the other Fives — and I just said Count Five and we stuck with it.

Four-song EP issued on the French Disc'AZ label (1966)
Ellner: It was never the Count Five. We wanted the double entendre. You could count one, two, three, four, five; or it could be like Count Dracula.

Perpetuating the Dracula association, an early publicity photo showed the group posed in front of San Jose's Winchester Mystery House draped in ankle-length black capes.

Ellner: That was mine and Sean's idea. We came up with the capes and ruffled shirts.

Byrne: It just fit. We thought that capes went with Counts.

But the capes turned out to be stifling onstage costumes.

Ellner: They were so hot, we'd only wear them for the first two or three songs. Then we'd take them off.

Long hair was also important to the band's image, which didn't always sit well with the officials.

Byrne: It was accepted in Ireland by the time I left in 1964, but when I came to this country — look out! It was not accepted, and it caused me a lot of problems.

Michalski: I got kicked out of school for having long hair. In those days, it was just a little over my collar.

Count Five — publicity photo
Ellner: That's right! In fact, on the back of the album it says Mouse went to Pioneer High School. That's because he lived at my house for about four weeks so he could go there. He was going to Blackford High and they were going to throw him out because he had long hair! At the time, Pioneer was one of the few schools that let boys have long hair.

Drummer Larry came and went quickly.

Ellner: Larry was with us for a couple of gigs, then he got real weird. I don't remember if he quit or if we fired him, but it got real bad and he left. Then my next door neighbor told me about Butch and I went over and talked to him.

Atkinson recalls an uneventful audition.

Atkinson: I was in school with Kenn, Sean and Roy. Kenn knew that I played the drums, so when their drummer quit, he asked me to join up with them. I went over to Kenn's house to audition and they said, "Well, you're probably good enough."

However, he actually made quite an impression on the group.

Ellner: There was this one song we'd written which had a very Byrds-type feel to it. Butch came in, sat down and just played it. It kind of blew us away that he knew our song! He thought it was one of the Byrds' tunes, so he was playing it in this sort of Byrds/Mike Clarke-style! Plus, his drums were red!

At this early stage, the group rehearsed at Atkinson's house.

Atkinson: We practiced in my living room. My mom still has ringing in her ears 20 years later!

Count Five with Iron Butterfly and
Bystanders - Santa Rosa Fairgrounds
May 13, 1967
But the boys' parents supported their endeavours.

Michalski: They said, "Go for it!"

Chaney: They were behind us all the way.

Regular gigs were still hard to come by, and at one point the group almost broke up before it had started.

Ellner: We had only played a couple of dates, and we hadn't gotten a job in about a month and a half. It was kind of slow and we were getting on each other's nerves. Mouse and Roy came over one night and said, "That's it, we're not going to play anymore. We're going to quit."

Minutes later, the group was offered its breakthrough gig.

Ellner: They had quit and were walking down the street when the phone rang. It was Lt. Robert Podesta from the San Carlos Police Department. He was running a youth club on weekends at a place called the Cinnamon Tree. A group called the Stained Glass had referred him to us. I called Roy and Mouse and said, "Look, let's play these last two dates." We played those two dates and the kids went crazy! It was like Beatlemania! We couldn't believe it.

Atkinson: We played the Cinnamon Tree sometimes three or four times a month on Friday and Saturday nights.

Byrne: It was a tremendous club for teenagers! We were so big at the Cinnamon Tree, they did a full-length painting of us on the wall — with our capes. That was our regular club, maybe the most regular we ever played at.

Count Five — publicity photo
Located just an hour south of San Francisco, by the mid-'60s San Jose had developed its own teen-scene personality, with a host of home-grown groups like the Syndicate of Sound, the Chocolate Watchband and Count Five all adopting a tough, "garage rock" stance.

Ellner: The San Jose scene was incredible! I have yet to see a scene like that anywhere else. There was a great rivalry, and a great camaraderie between the groups.

Atkinson: That was probably the most fun of anything, the camaraderie we had with the other groups. We got along real well with the Syndicate of Sound. It just seemed that anybody you had music in common with was pretty easy to get along with.

The band quickly gained a large local following, comprised mostly of teenage girls.

1967 Double Shot ad for singles by
Count Five & Brenton Wood. "You Must
Believe Me" was written by Curtis
Mayfield & originally recorded by the 
Impressions in 1965. 
Byrne: We never had too many guys come up to request songs, but we had a lot of girls come up and talk to us after the shows!

And "Psychotic Reaction," at that point one of the band's few self-penned songs, stood out as a crowd favorite, although many were mistaken about its subject matter.

Ellner: Sean was in a psychology class with a friend of Butch's named Ron Lamb. They were talking about emotional problems, like neurotic and psychotic reactions, and Ron said, "God, that's a great name for a song!" Sean said, "You know, you're right!" So, Sean came back... I had just got my first harmonica and we were jamming, and we got into the part of the song that goes da/da/da/da/da... That's how the whole thing got started. Then Sean wrote the lyrics to it.

Byrne: It was a drug idea, although we were not into drugs. But we were looking at what was going on around us and we could see that kind of music could sell. Although I don't want to say that we were trying to cash in on the drug thing, we thought it was interesting. We felt the song, we believed in it.

Over the next several months, the group worked on and modified the tune. At the time, they were managed by Ellner's father, who was convinced "Psychotic Reaction" was hit-record material.

Ellner: He told us he was going to get us a recording deal in six months, and in a year we'd have a record on the charts — and that's exactly what happened!

Sons of Champlin and Count Five
at San Francisco's Carousel Ballroom
July 6, 1967
Michalski: We had guys that would come up to us and say, "Hey, I'd like to manage you guys." Then they'd always give us the run around. Mr. Ellner was an insurance man. He knew how to handle business.

Did they have to behave properly because Ellner's father was there?

Chaney: He kept us straight in public. He was always telling us to watch our "P.I." or public image.

Michalski: He was like our chaperone, but he was cool! He was a cool guy.

And sometimes it was handy to have someone's dad around.

Michalski: It's like everybody would be harassing us, and he would take care of us a lot of times.

Ellner: One time, we were walking through the Pittsburgh Airport on our way to catch a plane, and one of the ticket takers made a remark about us being faggots. My dad had had enough of it because we got it everywhere we went. My dad went over and said, "Okay, big man..." They got into this big fight over it. They had to pull my dad away from him!

When Count Five played a show at West Valley College in San Jose, Ellner's father befriended influential KLIV disc jockey Brian Lord. The DJ asked if the group wanted to play on the Dave Clark Five show the following month.

Atkinson: You know how we responded to that!

Ellner: [Brian Lord] went on the radio the next Monday and talked about us for 20 minutes, which really boosted our career.

Count Five — publicity photo
Sadly, the Dracula capes made their final appearance at the Dave Clark Five show.

Ellner: I got carried away and threw my cape to the audience, so we were short a cape. And that was the end of it.

In better news, Lord also arranged an audition for the band with the newly-formed, LA-based label Double Shot Records.

Byrne: He's the one who got us the recording contract. We had been turned down by five other companies.

"Psychotic Reaction" b/w "They're Gonna Get You"
issued by Germany's Hansa label (1966)
Ellner: We had done a number of auditions, but we just couldn't get it. When we signed the contract with Double Shot, it was the only deal in town.

Michalski: When we auditioned for Double Shot, they said "Psychotic Reaction" was the one they wanted — "We'll sign you guys right up!"

Another self-penned tune, "They're Gonna Get You," (which refers to a barber shop as "that awful place") was chosen for the 45's B-side. But it could have been the other way around.

Ellner: There was a point where they didn't know whether to go with "Psychotic Reaction" or "They're Gonna Get You" for the A-side, because the requests were equal.

Byrne: To let you in on a little trivia, "They're Gonna Get You" was originally called "House on the Hill," but Hal Winn [the group's producer] didn't like it, so he changed it.

Some band members were sure that "Psychotic Reaction" would be a smash...

Ellner: I never doubted it for a minute. We were so naïve! "We're gonna make a record and it's gonna be a hit!" And it was.

Count Five, New Dawn, and the
Art Collection at the Terrace Room
in San Jose — July 15, 1967 
While others were taken by surprise...

Michalski: I didn't think it would do that well. I thought it was a pretty simple song.

Ellner: Mouse and Roy hated it! They were into R&B and blues. We had some fights when it first came out because my father insisted that we play it twice a night, the first song of the set and the last song of the set.

As the single raced up the charts (eventually peaking at #5), the label pressed the group to quickly record a full-length album.

Byrne: "Psychotic Reaction" took off so fast that Double Shot said, "You've got to get down here and do an album." Do an album of what? We had no music!

Michalski: We had some other originals, but they wanted a lot of material and they did push us to get the record out. We were making the songs up in the hotel room.

Byrne: One time we were sitting in our hotel room and Mr. Ellner says, "They're coming over to listen to you guys. What songs have you got?" We didn't have anything. I said to the guys, "How 'bout this?" and I started playing these chords and singing, "Some nights I'm alone..." Hal comes in and I sing, "Some nights I'm alone..." He says, "Okay, I like it."

That spur-of-the-moment composition would eventually be called "The Morning After," which would become the B-side of Count Five's rarely seen second 45.

1966 advert for the Big Bam in
Alabama with the Beach Boys,
Peter and Gordon, Lou Christie,
Ian Whitcomb, the Hollies -
and in tiny print at the
bottom of the page - Count Five.
Byrne: Everyone in San Jose thought "The Morning After" was going to be our next hit.

But disillusion with the recording industry was quick to set in.

Byrne: Our problems were with the engineer, the arranger, and the producer. At the time, we thought they didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. We were told, "You don't know your own music." We were playing it, but they were telling us, "You don't know your own music."

Chaney: That's where they had more control. They figured they knew more about what people wanted to hear than we did. [The album] might have been different if it were done our way.

Michalski: They couldn't handle loud music and feedback. We'd get down there in the speakers and get the feedback — controlled feedback. They couldn't handle that. They'd say, "Hey, cut! Turn it down!" And I know I played better than what was on the album.

Ellner: We were rushed in the studio. Their whole thing was money. "That's good enough," was always the statement. We were never happy with any of the stuff, but they didn't care.

Atkinson: A lot of stuff we put on record didn't really work out. It kind of came out trashed. They didn't really work with us very much. I was so disappointed in the record at first because I thought they'd done such a terrible job of engineering it.

During one recording session, Ellner snapped.

Pye International ad for "Psychotic Reaction"
Atkinson: I recall one day when they really got to Kenn and he said, "You guys can just...!!" He was coming over the speakers, of course, and there were some girls and some press in the booth, and at that moment they shut off the sound. But you could lip-read what he said!

Ellner: And then I flipped them off. This guy [Hal Winn] was changing every f**king thing we did. He hated my voice and he hated me. I was saying, "You can't do that. That's not our sound." The whole day he'd been cutting up everything we were doing and I just couldn't take it anymore.

Byrne: They actually cancelled one of our recording sessions. They'd spent all this money for the studio, we'd spent all this money getting to LA and they said, "Go home. We're not going to get along today." It was either go with what they said or "Goodbye."

Count Five and E-Types at the Bold Knight
in Sunnyvale, California — July 7, 1967
Certain song titles on the album spark more recording memories/nightmares: "Pretty Big Mouth" for instance...

Byrne: It was a song I came up with to fill the album. I had those words floating in the back of my mind. That song happens to have a mistake at the end of it. I was supposed to sing, "Big, big mouth," with the music, but I was one step late. We said, "Let's do it again," and they said, "You don't know what you're talking about." So, we left it in. It does sound pretty good.

And "Peace of Mind"...

Byrne: I remember that day very well because someone was singing off-key. If you listen real close you can hear it. Thank God, they blamed somebody else! It was me! Also, if you listen, you can hear the foot-pedal squeaking at the beginning of the song.

Atkinson: I forgot my WD40 that day. There are so many things they left in that album.

And what about "The World"...

Byrne: They didn't record the vocals as I was doing them, but Hal heard me and liked what I was doing. I sang it again and Hal said, "No, Sean, do it the way you did it the first time." So, I did it again and Hal says, "No, do it like the first time." It got to be "The World," take 15! I was going out of my mind trying to remember what I had sung. I don't remember what take they used; I did it so many times.

Black & white publicity pic of the LP cover
According to the band, Winn's production of "Psychotic Reaction" was no more satisfactory.

Ellner: When we did "Psychotic Reaction" he didn't really do anything, he just sat there. I don't even consider him as producing "Psychotic Reaction." All we did was go in to do a demo tape. They turned on the machine and that was it. I think they probably cut it flat.

And the much-noted "phasing" effect you hear on the song wasn't an added production feature, but a technical glitch.

Ellner: They took the mono mix and popped it onto another track to make it double-track stereo and because of that, you get a lot of cancellations going on. That's what's happening, you're cancelling lots of notes and it sounds like crap! It's not a true phase shifter.

They do, however, acknowledge the wisdom of some changes Winn made to their signature tune. He suggested that Byrne insert the classic tagline: "And it feels like this!" And it was Winn's idea to shorten the song by a full verse.

Ellner: Those were his two production moments. Originally, there was an additional verse at the end. After, "I can't get your love/I can't get satisfaction/Uh-oh, little girl/Psychotic reaction," we modulated the key, "Da, da, da, da duh..." and went into the final verse. Hal cut the modulation, went back into the centrepiece, and then faded out because the song was too long. That was smart. Given the market at the time, I think it was a good move.

Four-song EP issued on Mexico's Gamma label (1966)
Byrne: I always wonder, "Did they make it a hit by changing it?" I don't know. They said they did. They said the way we were playing it, it wouldn't have been a hit.

While much has been written about Count Five being "San Jose's answer to the Yardbirds," it's interesting to note that the album's two cover songs — "My Generation" and "Out in the Street" — are both from the Who's catalog.

Byrne: At the time, we did more Yardbirds' covers than we did Who. The only reason the Who songs appear on the album is because we did them a little better than we did the Yardbirds', at least as far as the record company was concerned. Truth is, we did neither of them very good.

And how perceptive of them to record "My Generation" before it became a hit for the Who in the U.S.

Byrne: I have to give credit to Kenn and Mouse for that. They were always searching for new material to do, and at the time Kenn was very into the "English Sound."

"Psychotic Reaction" began its climb up the charts during the summer of 1966, and by September the guys were on the road full-time promoting it.

Count Five hanging out with the Voxmobile in 1967!
Ellner: It was actually released the week I graduated from high school! Our tour... I had just started Jr. College and I was touring the United States. I had all these assignments I couldn't do. I had to drop out.

One memorable billing had Count Five topping the Doors!

Michalski: I remember the first time I met Jim Morrison. He said, "The only difference between my group and your group is that you've got a hit record." He had mustard all over his face from eating a hot dog! He was a pretty sloppy guy.

Count Five being interviewed
Ellner: Jim Morrison tried to steal Butch's snare drum! It may not have been Jim, but it was somebody in his band. We'd played with them at the Santa Barbara Fairgrounds. We were packing up and were without the snare drum. Roy had conveniently picked up Jim's leather jacket and they came over and said, "Did you see a leather jacket?" We said, "Did you see a snare drum?" They said, "Oh, that's your snare drum? Somebody must have picked it up by mistake." And we said, "Oh, that's your leather jacket?" So we gave them back the jacket, got back our snare drum, and were on our way.

The band's most notable moment, all agree, was playing a two-day festival known as the "Big Bam in Alabama."

Atkinson: That was our first big show!

Ellner: Alabama was amazing! That should have been one of our last tour dates because you should never start the first tour of your life like that.

"Teenie Bopper, Teenie Bopper" b/w
"You Must Believe Me"
Released on the Belgium Palette label (1967)
(Both songs were non-album tracks.)
Byrne: It was our first time away from home with a big paycheck, and we went nuts! It got to a point where I passed out onstage!

Ellner: You have to understand, we got on a plane and flew to Alabama. We didn't know who was on the bill or anything. We got there and the lineup was the Beach Boys, Ian Whitcomb, Peter and Gordon, the Hollies, the Happenings, Lou Christie, and Count Five!

Chaney: [The groups] rented the whole top floor of the hotel. We were playing poker with the Hollies; we were in the Hollies' room with the Beach Boys! And there's hundreds of girls outside banging on the door. Finally, Allan Clarke [of the Hollies] opened the door and said, "If you f**k, come in. If you don't, piss off!"

However, touring through the Southern states in the mid-1960s presented some problems as well.

Michalski: We had a lot of problems! We got into a lot of fights! Especially in restaurants. They'd call us hippies and queers, and tell us to get out.

Count Five pose in front of the KCOP-TV van in LA.
Chaney: Tight pants and pointed boots... In Orange County, Texas the sheriff's son looked like Hoss and I was with his girlfriend. He came in and said, "Roy... I want to see Roy!" Needless to say, I'd gone out the back door.

Count Five's Top 10 status guaranteed them appearances on all the obligatory local radio and TV shows across the country. However, they missed out on two of the nation's biggest shows.

Michalski: We had a chance for Ed Sullivan, but they said they wouldn't let us on because we were just too weird. They weren't ready for us. The Beatles were strange and the Rolling Stones... But we were even stranger than them!

Ellner: And we turned down The Milton Berle Show. It was the first time a rock group was going to perform on the show. Milton Berle was intrigued by the capes and he wanted to include us in a skit, but nobody would take off school for a week to do it.

One show they did do was American Bandstand. After playing their hit, Dick Clark asked Ellner to explain the group's album cover.

Count Five — publicity photo
Ellner: I had to tell him that we were standing over this concrete hole in Los Angeles, where they were ripping down all these buildings. The hole was filled with sewage, that's why our faces look so funny; we couldn't breathe! Here I am talking about sewage on national television. It was awful! So I told him, "What really happened was the photographer was down there and everything was cool... and then he slipped! I'm surprised the photo even came out!" Dick Clark was a little stunned.

A second 45 — "Peace of Mind" b/w "The Morning After" — was released as the follow-up to "Psychotic Reaction," but by that point Double Shot had lost interest.

Atkinson: It made #106 in the nation and fell off the charts.

Double Shot issued a few more Count Five singles between 1967 - 1969, including several non-album tracks and a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "You Must Believe Me," none of which dented the charts.

Byrne: Our record company didn't promote us after "Psychotic Reaction." The dollars started rolling in for those guys and they wanted to keep them. They didn't put the money into producing or promoting us.

"Reaccion Psicopatica" b/w "Te Encerraran"
("Psychotic Reaction" b/w "They're Gonna Get You")
issued on Spain's Hispavox label (1966)
Ellner: It's too bad they didn't give us a chance to record a good second album. They went with an R&B act, Brenton Wood ["Gimme Some Sign"]. It was something they understood better. They never really understood what we were about.

Do they feel that Double Shot ripped them off?

Atkinson: I'm sure the record company cut themselves a pretty good deal, but I'm sure it was all legal. We were all underage. We had to talk our parents into letting us sign the contracts, and they didn't know anything about the music business.

Chaney: Everyone seemed to be taking care of us, but I'm sure they were taking care of themselves, too.

Michalski: They were the ones driving the Cadillacs after the record came out. They did well.

By 1968, Count Five was drifting apart. Michalski and Chaney were the first to leave. They were replaced for some local shows by two members from the Syndicate of Sound, but by the end of the year the band had broken up.

The John Byrne Tribute to 
Bay Area Garage Bands featuring
Count Five, Syndicate of Sound & members
of the Chocolate Watchband
February 21, 2009
Atkinson: It's kind of tough when your first record is a hit and you can't do it again. I think it would have been better if we had cut a couple of flops and then had a hit. We weren't ready for it; it seemed too easy. When we couldn't do it again and again, it got kind of frustrating.

Michalski: And the draft got us. We were all 19, and at that time when you were 19, you were drafted. Butch enlisted because he wanted to be a pilot. Sean wasn't a citizen yet, so he didn't have to worry. Kenn had a bad back. Roy got out of it. But it took me four years to beat it.

Ellner would have liked to have carried on a while longer.

Ellner: I really wish we had. I think all our lives would be quite different now.

One long-circulated rumor has it that towards the end of the group's career they turned down a million dollars in order to go to college. Is that true?

Byrne: Yes! I'm sorry I didn't save the newspaper. The San Jose Mercury News had a front-page headline saying we turned down a million dollars. We turned down a tour, it wasn't a guarantee. Somebody said, "Your potential is a million dollars." But we did turn it down and I was the cause of it because, believe it or not, I wouldn't quit college. I was having too much fun!

* * *

*
John "Sean" Byrne died on December 15, 2008 from cirrhosis of the liver.

* Craig "Butch" Atkinson passed away on October 13, 1998.

* For more information about Count Five, visit the band's official website at:  http://countfive.com/about

Thursday, 4 January 2018

From The Knowbody Else To Black Oak Arkansas: My 1994 Interview With The Group's Lead Rabble-Rouser Jim "Dandy" Mangrum

Jim "Dandy" Mangrum
and the National washboard he made famous
(I've recently updated this interview with information that wasn't available at the time)

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
And he isn't shy about blowing his own horn. For five years in a row during the 1970s, Black Oak Arkansas was one of the Top 5 money-making bands in the world. "In the world! Five years in a row!" Mangrum repeats, making sure I understand the significance. And the band achieved that status despite a barrage of critical derision and a complete lack of radio airplay (except, of course, for that one song).

BOA built its reputation as a populist band with a punishing tour schedule — and make no mistake, their following was staggeringly massive and wholeheartedly dedicated. During sold-out shows with the likes of Foghat, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Montrose, and Spooky Tooth, Mangrum was fond of working the mostly male, mostly teenage crowd into a fever pitch with an evangelical zeal. His intro to the song "Rebel," caught for posterity on the group's 1976 Live! Mutha LP, is an excellent example:

Mangrum in a 1994 publicity photo
"We are the same kind of people," Mangrum bellows. "And I gotta ask ya... I gotta ask ya one thing here... Are there people out there in the world that try to put ya down all the time? They try to keep ya from getting high! They try to keep ya from being free! That's the way they treat me, too! And I wanna tell ya something... We are the same kind — I guess we're just a bunch of rebels!"

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
Although the group's publicity during its heyday would have you believe differently, James Mangrum wasn't actually born in Black Oak, Arkansas. In fact, he wasn't even born in the South. On March 30, 1948, Mangrum was "dropped" (as he terms it) in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

"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
Mangrum was raised as a Southern Baptist; his mother is a Sunday school teacher. "My mama is very, very, very, very religious," he says, counting the number of times he said "very" to make sure there were enough. "She has the keys to the church. My daddy won't go into a church unless it's a funeral or a wedding, and he has to know somebody real good to do that." But he skirts the subject when it comes to his own current religious beliefs, saying, "I got plenty of my own for different occasions and different things that happen."

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
Ampeg equipment
Some 16 years later, it would become BOA's signature song. However, Mangrum insists that he was completely unaware of the tune prior to his band recording it and for many years had no idea why his father called him "Jim Dandy."

"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 
At 13, he lost his virginity to an older cousin in a hayloft. "She had her way with me," declares Mangrum. And by the time he was 15, he was playing drums and had grown his blonde hair into a pageboy that fell just over his shoulders. "I was the only longhair in Arkansas at the time," he boasts.

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
The band's original vocalist, Ron "Chickie Hawk" Smith, was bumped to stage manager and the first of several drummers (before they finally found Wayne "Squeezebox" Evans) was hired.

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
Mangrum terms the PA heist "nothing but a childish prank, really." However, he adds, "We got busted and they charged us with grand larceny." (In 1975, Mangrum told People magazine: "They was tryin' to pin everythin' in northeast Arkansas on us.") The boys were sentenced in absentia to serve time at Tucker Prison farm, although those sentences were later suspended.

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
By the end of 1969, after spending some quality time in New Orleans, the Knowbody Else had hightailed it out to Los Angeles. But according to Mangrum, it took a few tries before they settled in. "We went out there three times," he says, "and came back twice with our tails tucked. We ran out of money; we didn't have no clue."

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

It appears that even at this initial stage, the group played up the caricatured "hillbilly" image that followed them throughout their career — for better or worse — as the country bumpkins shtick stopped many people from taking BOA as seriously as the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and other varmints from the same neck of the woods.

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
Produced by Mike Pinera and Lee Dorman of labelmates Iron Butterfly, BOA's self-titled debut LP was issued in March 1971. And by the time of its release, the Knowbody Else had morphed into Back Oak Arkansas.

"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
Meanwhile, their cover of "Singing the Blues" is quite possibly the album's stand-out track. Written by Melvin Endsley in 1954 (and previously recorded by Marty Robbins, Guy Mitchell and Dean Martin), the tune was a favorite of Mangrum's father — to whom he dedicated it. "I did it for my dad," says Mangrum. "I hadn't seen him in a while."

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!
BOA's contract with Atlantic (and their subsequent deal with MCA) called for two albums a year, and between '71 and '76 the band released a total of eleven LPs — three of which went gold.

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
Mangrum reflects, "I believed that people deserved sight as well as sound. They deserved a show for their money — not just a bunch of amoebas on the back wall. I love Jim Morrison, but back then he could get away with leaning on the microphone singing 'This Is the End.'"

The band's next two albums, Keep the Faith and If an Angel Came to See You, Would You Make Her Feel at Home? carried on the dichotomy of religion and sex, the cosmic craziness, and the unique blend of country, R&B, and heavy rock that had defined BOA's debut.

"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)
Released in January 1972, Keep the Faith's cover pictured its title as a leather-bound volume alongside other great teachings like the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, and the lead track advised the band's suicidal listeners:

"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
Hammersmith Odeon!
In between the two LPs, the band embarked on a major U.S. tour, during which they seem to have misplaced Wayne "Squeezebox" Evans and acquired Tommy "Dork" Aldridge. (The nicknames appear to have been a job requirement. I wonder if Aldridge enjoyed his as much as I do?)

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
Scheduled to take place over Labor Day Weekend in Evansville, Indiana, the three-day festival was hastily relocated to a no-man's land described as a "collection of swampy fields" on a bend of the Wabash River. Many of the bands (including headliners Black Sabbath) cancelled in the run-up to the concert, which dissolved into a sodden, drug-fuelled, unsanitary quagmire. Anarchy reigned as concession stands were overturned and the main stage was set on fire. (For more information about the festival go here.)

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!
Someone called "Wampy" was at Bull Island and thinks he saw a bit of BOA's set. He (just barely) remembers: "Black Oak played Ole Uncle Alijha [sic] or something like that, that was about the same time the food trailer was on fire." (For more personal memories of the festival go here.)

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.

Described by Creem magazine as "the Suzi Quatro of the Ozarks," with her wild red curls and Daisy Mae wardrobe, Starr's sassy trade-offs with Mangrum became a main component of BOA's shows and she toured with the band for the next few years.

1973 poster advertising BOA's
Madison Square Garden concert and 
the band's move to Heaven, Arkansas
"We were like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok," offers Mangrum when asked if he and Starr were in love. "If the bullets were flying, she'd stay right there with me."

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.'"

"He didn't want us to be totally unreligious," Mangrum continues. "He wasn't telling us to be devils, or nothing. I don't want you to get that wrong. He just wanted us to do stuff he thought was more commercial. So, I wrote 'Gigolo' and 'Gettin' Kinda Cocky' and Harvey wrote 'Hot Rod.'"

BOA headline the Memorial Day Picnic
at the Tulsa Fairgrounds Speedway
with special guests Mahogany Rush, Styx,
and the Steve Marriott Band
In September 1973, full-page record company adverts announced the release of High on the Hog, the group's "electrifying new album," and promised that "without letting go of their unique and distinctive form of funk, [BOA] display some other sides to their music, with ballads, country rock, and straight-ahead rock n' roll."

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).

Illustrator Joe Petagno (who later designed the cover for Sweet's Give Us a Wink) was responsible for the LP's iconic gatefold sleeve, which featured brilliantly conceived cartoon versions of BOA (complete with a washboard and jug of moonshine) sat astride an enormous hog. Mangrum is a tad less thrilled by the artwork than one might have expected. "Yeah, that is a funny cover," he says slowly through gritted teeth. "I thought it was just as funny as the Seven Dwarves thing."

High on the Hog proved to be the group's breakthrough album. The LP climbed to #52 and went gold, while the single "Jim Dandy" was a massive Top 20 hit that stayed in the 45 charts well into 1974.

Mangrum in his white spandex
pants & ammo belt on the cover of
After Dark
BOA memorably performed their hit on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert — where Starr enthusiastically shouted, "Go, Jim Dandy!" while she pretended her itsy-bitsy red frock was a dress, and Mangrum strutted around the TV show's soundstage in white spandex pants that left little to the imagination. (Mangrum assures me the pants had "a fly and two god dang back pockets." He also swears he wore the spandex because he was tired of constantly ripping out the crotch in his jeans and not for "y'alls benefit.")

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.'"

The third verse about riding on a submarine and getting a message from a mermaid queen is a bit harder for him to explain, but nevertheless, "Jim Dandy" was such an obvious song for BOA to do, it seems odd that it took them so long to record it. But Mangrum insists, "I didn't know [the song] existed. If I'd known it existed, I would've already done it!"

Lineup for Reading Rock '76
BOA headline on Sunday with support from Ted Nugent,
Brand X, AC/DC, the Enid, and Southerland Brothers & Quiver
According to Mangrum, Elvis Presley finally brought the song to his attention. "Elvis told me to do 'Jim Dandy to the Rescue.' Since I was Jim Dandy, he wanted me to do it. He called me up at Wally Heider studios when we were doing High on the Hog... Actually, [WHBQ disc jockey] George Klein called me first — he's a truly great friend of mine. He told me that the King was fixin' to call. And I said, 'Why? What did I do?' I thought I'd pissed him off. When Elvis talked to me, he said, 'I got something I want you to do.' And I said, 'Just tell me and I'll do it,' because I very much idolized Elvis Presley."

Did Mangrum think the song would become such a big hit?

Full-page ad for High on the Hog
"The record company knew it would be," he allows. "Ahmet Ertegun wanted it. He said we should have done it already. He said, 'Get it out as fast as you can!' We beat Sha Na Na by two weeks!"

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
In a gesture of gratitude to their fans, original copies of Raunch 'n' Roll contained deeds of dubious legality that entitled the bearer to "honorary ownership" of a one-inch square parcel of Heaven. And according to one report, there were plans to build a fully-functioning community on the site, where "group members and their employees expect to settle... and live off the land."

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
As 1974 dawned, Black Oak Arkansas were at the top of their game and another busy year loomed ahead, including the band's first UK and European gigs and another LP. However, before the end of '74, guitarist Harvey "Burley" Jett would literally walk away from the group.

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 
With all the attention clearly focused on the group's lead rabble-rouser, Melody Maker warned its readers: "Black Oak Arkansas are UK bound... Watch out for the sexiest thing since Jim Morrison." And Charles Shaar Murray's report for the NME read: "Fringed suede jacket, fringed suede boots, and those white satin pants. Now, what better costume could a good ol' boy wear to tell the world that he's a mountain superstud out for some hot action?"

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
But mention of the LP's lead track, an amped-up cover of Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Streets," triggers a lively response from Mangrum: "We did that song before Van Halen and fucking Mick Jagger and David Bowie!"

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)
While Riegel's review goes on to term BOA "not only the best Southern-rock band, they're also the best country-rock band in America," he points out: "...lead singer-spokesman Dandy Jim Mangrum would probably be voted the most obnoxious rock personality in America if a special election were held today... Detractors cite Dandy's obvious and obsessive sexism, his consuming egomania... his pretentions to cosmic understanding... Dandy's list of offenses against hip decency is endless."

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
The reconfigured group returned to the UK that February to headline a month-long tour (with special guests Sassafras), and the following year they "ripped the lungs out of the chest of the Reading Rock Festival," as Mick Wall later recalled in Kerrang! magazine.

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
Despite the fall in record sales, BOA continued to be a popular live act and U.S. gigs continued apace through the year, including a sold-out, three-night stint in November at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom with Foghat and Montrose. By this point, according to one of the group's endorsement adverts, Black Oak Arkansas were hauling seven tons of Ampeg equipment around with them. "We'll pack a 24-foot trailer from top to bottom with our Ampeg gear," bragged equipment manager Ronnie Mason in the ad. And, possibly to the consternation of the band, he added, "I've seen an Ampeg fall off a tailgate. Never even hurt it."

A recording of their show on May 11th at the Long Beach Auditorium in California was released the following January as Live! Mutha. It didn't pack quite the same punch as Raunch 'n' Roll, but it fulfilled the band's contractual obligation to Atlantic.

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
Although BOA were still capable of stirring things up in the deep south, where Baptist minister J.D. Tedder warned that they were "a mongrel group of satanic origins that is promoting drugs, sex and revolution" (he was fined for slander and ordered to pay $59.75 in court costs), their two 1976 albums — Balls of Fire released in May and 10 Yr Overnight Success released in October — went mostly unnoticed and the band fell apart.

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
Older BOA fans would have been hard-pressed to recognise the group called just Black Oak that issued two albums on Capricorn Records in 1977 and 1978. Backed by perfectly capable musicians who lacked fun nicknames, Mangrum took a misguided stab at mainstream rock and did his best to sound like whichever one of the Doobie Brothers was the lead singer. "The two Capricorn outings are striking in their wimpiness," marvelled David Perry in his Rhino Best Of liner notes.

"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
Is he talking about I'd Rather be Sailing?

"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
"I had to stop for a while," he continues. "Y'know, it was depressing to find out that somebody... You're up there in front of 30-60-100,000 people with those supertroopers on you, and then you find out you don't know diddly. Somebody just took all your money! That shows you how much I knew. I didn't know that much."

But his former manager isn't a subject Mangrum likes to talk about. "I don't like to talk bad about people. My momma told me he was shiftless and no good, but I didn't listen to her. She also told me I was gonna go deaf with rock 'n' roll, and I can't hardly hear nothin' over the ringing in my ears now!"

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..."

In the real world, reception to the LP (as well as its '86 follow-up The Black Attack is Back) was fairly subdued and Mangrum again dropped off the radar.

Jim Dandy's Black Oak Arkansas - Ready as Hell (1984)
A car accident in '91 almost spelled the end for Jim Dandy. He'd been working on some new material in the studio, fell asleep at the wheel while driving home and hit a tree.

"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


* * *

*The Wild Bunch was released in 1999 on Deadline Music. It also featured original BOA bassist Pat "Dirty" Daugherty.

*
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