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Black Oak Arkansas

+ {The Knowbody Else} + {Jim Dandy / Black Oak Arkansas}

In the advent of The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND came a flood of 70s Southern rock outfits: BLACK OAK ARKANSAS were up there with the best of them. Fronted by the enigmatic, long-maned, bare-chested Jim Dandy (aka James Mangrum), the simple swamp boogie outfit band had a focal point, while many would say he influenced Axl Rose and others of the y’all country-rawk ilk. But did he come to anyone’s rescue?
Formed, ironically enough, in Black Oak, Arkansas, showman Jim Dandy was in fact a replacement for Ronnie “Chicky Hawk” Smith, when the group started out in New Orleans as The KNOWBODY ELSE. Along with Harvey “Burley” Jett (guitar, organ, vocals), Rickie Lee “Risky” Reynolds (guitar, vocals), Artis Brewer (guitar), Pat “Dirty” Daugherty (bass, vocals) and Sam Schattenberg (drums), they put their name to one spirited eponymous LP, THE KNOWBODY ELSE (1969) {*5}, a record on the mighty Stax enterprise caught betwixt and between the outgoing psychedelic scene and the insurgent southern rock movement. The story goes that they’d previously stolen the PA system from Monette High School and, sentenced to 26 years in the Tucker Prison Farm (although AWOL touring across the country), they decided to reside in the backwoods of Arkansas until the courts took a more lenient approach; the decision was duly suspended.
Artis and Schattenberg making way for Stan “Goober” Knight and Wayne “Squeezebox” Evans, respectively, the thunderous 3-pronged guitar assault continued onwards and upwards on the re-named band’s inaugural starting point, BLACK OAK ARKANSAS (1971) {*6}. A moderate seller among the cast-off hippie brigade and most folks of southern persuasion, cult preacher-incarnate Jim Dandy’s hoarse vox (and er… washboard) came to the rescue on the rambunctious `Hot And Nasty’, a highlight from this righteous but rebellious record. Produced by IRON BUTTERFLY’s Mike Pinera and Lee Dorman for Atco Records, the old-timey `Uncle Elijah’ (a tribute to Harvey’s real-life relation) opened up what promised to be a fine set of moonshine-swigging songs, somewhat spoiled by Dandy’s rawking-drawl supplement of GUY MITCHELL’s chart-topping 50s hit, `Singing The Blues’. From Memphis, Tennessee, via Los Angeles, California, they’d finally made the latter their home thereafter.
Building a solid live reputation, mainly in the southern States, sophomore studio set KEEP THE FAITH (1972) {*5} stalled just outside the Top 100, unaided as it was by the title track flop 45. The missing link between NAZARETH’s Dan McCafferty and the not-yet-established LYNYRD SKYNYRD, the growling Jim Dandy and his BOA buddies were fast-becoming a parody of themselves; their bawdy blend of apocalyptic pseudo bible-punching and jingo-istic bent went a long way in leaving them on the fringes. Still, back-porch dirges such as `Feet On Earth, Head In Sky’, `Fever In My Mind’ and `White Headed Woman’, had an appeal all of their own.
Wayne now superseded by Tommy Aldridge, its successor, IF AN ANGEL CAME TO SEE YOU, WOULD YOU MAKE HER FEEL AT HOME? (1972) {*6}, finally saw BLACK OAK ARKANSAS gate-crash the Top 100 club. Hell-raising JD as gritty as ever on opening salvo, `Gravel Roads’, and others `Fertile Woman’, `To Make Us What We Are’ and `Mutants Of The Monster’, rock’n’roll was in fine fettle in the hillbilly hands of this boogie band.
BLACK OAK ARKANSAS were nothing if not prolific, with a release schedule of nigh on two LPs every year. It was no great shock then that one of them would be their first in-concert album, RAUNCH ‘N’ ROLL LIVE (1973) {*7}. At last fans had something to shout about. And with more than half the tracks exclusive to their Portland or Seattle fans (recorded in December ’72), the maverick Mangrum could serve up the likes of `Gettin’ Kinda Cocky’, `Gigolo’, `Hot Rod’ and `Up’, next to staple swingers `Hot And Nasty’, `When Electricity Came To Arkansas’ and `Mutants…’.
Content to step back in country-rock muddy waters, the near-Top 50 HIGH ON THE HOG (1973) {*7} was equally at ease grinding out the gospel through hedonistic hellbilly motifs such as `Happy Hooker’, the funky `Swimmin’ In Quicksand’, the instrumental `Moonshine Sonata’ and the band’s only major hit, `Jim Dandy’ (#25); the latter featured additional vocals from 7th member Ruby Starr (aka Constance Mierzwiak).
1974’s mainstream-targeted STREET PARTY {*5} fell short of quality control in the eyes of the critics, although the band’s stringent touring schedules still helped push it to No.56. A hard-rock boogie band with a tendency to slip from grace into gospel, bluegrass and the odd novelty nugget, crooner Dandy’s persona was such that he could sing the phonebook knee-deep in swamp juice and still come up smelling of red-(necked) roses. The party piece here was their opening re-vamp of Motown’s `Dancing In The Street’, while the simple and bitter-sweet `Sting Me’ or the cotton-eyed `Sure Been Workin’ Hard’ and traditional `Dixie’, found no friends, even on a spiritual level.
Without much ado, Jett’s berth was taken by “Little” Jimmy Henderson, prior to the recording of 1975’s AIN’T LIFE GRAND {*6}. Met with a lukewarm response, the album found itself languishing at a lowly peak position of #145 – a shame for a boogie band that showed so much promise half a decade ago. Fans opting for a heavier and less funkier ‘Skynyrd, Dandy/BOA acolytes had to make do with the droolin’ drawl of `Fancy Nancy’, `Back Door Man’, `Cryin’ Shame’ and a cover of GEORGE HARRISON’s BEATLES track `Taxman’.
A switch to M.C.A. Records did little to dispel the band’s reputation for the raucous and the raunchy when X-RATED (1975) {*6} – sporting a cover of a leggy lass on the cover shot – lavished them with their final Top 100 entry. From opening salvo `Bump ‘N’ Grind’ to the subtler and softer `Strong Enough To Be Gentle’ (not that `Too Hot To Stop’, `Flesh Needs Flesh’ and `Wild Men From The Mountain’ were all that bad), Dandy was croaking to the converted.
1976’s BALLS OF FIRE {*4} swung into gear without so much of a bye-your-leave; its title taken from a rudimentary re-vamp of the JERRY LEE LEWIS hit `Great Balls Of Fire’. Also on the agenda was a cover of BOB SEGER’s `Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’, a lively piece that put group compositions `Fistful Of Love’ (a feisty flop 45), the mock-live `Rock’n’Roll’ and the OTT `All My Troubles’, slightly in the shade.
Without the need for third guitar man Rickie, BLACK OAK ARKANSAS duly parted company with M.C.A. when the rock-by-numbers set 10YR. OVERNIGHT SUCCESS (1976) {*3} totally capitulated. Opening with a mumblin’ mouthful re-hash of The GUESS WHO’s `When The Band Was Singin’ “Shakin’ All Over”’ (`Can’t Blame it On Me’ sounding rather profound), the need for change was more than apparent.
A complete tsunami overhaul left only Dandy and Henderson remaining (Aldridge would find fame with PAT TRAVERS and OZZY OSBOURNE), and when the re-named BLACK OAK came back on the scene, guitarist/keyboardist Greg Reding, guitarist Jack Holder, bassist Andy Tanas and drummer Joel Williams had joined them on their first LP for Capricorn Records: RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1977) {*3}. Bookended by ham-fisted covers of GUN’s `Race With The Devil’ and BUDDY HOLLY’s `Not Fade Away’, the record was GBH to the brain, as was its irreverent follow-up I’D RATHER BE SAILING (1978) {*3}. Adding 14-year-old wonder-kid Shawn Lane on guitar, a final tour saw them disband soon afterwards; Jim Dandy left BOA for a few years; they toured without him.
A “heavy metal” JIM DANDY & BLACK OAK ARKANSAS reconvened in 1984 for READY AS HELL {*4}, a record that showcased Reynolds, Steve “The Axe” Nunenmacher (guitars), William Lemuel (bass), Jon “Thunder Paws” Wells (drums) and Billy Battle (keyboards, violin). A second set, the derivative THE BLACK ATTACK IS BACK (1986) {*4} – featuring a cover of DION’s `The Wanderer’ – pursued much the same manic manifesto, although the band had been usurped by TWISTED SISTER and a hundreds of un-PC hair-metal outfits.
After more than a decade out of the spotlight (an official bootleg REBOUND {*3} was issued in ’92), JIM DANDY’S BLACK OAK ARKANSAS were cooking on gas once again in 1999, as original members Mangrum, Reynolds and Daugherty came together for a rare reunion. Completing the new line-up were guitarist Rocky Athas and drummer Johnnie Bolin, the latter being the kid brother of deceased guitar hero TOMMY BOLIN. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the resulting album THE WILD BUNCH {*6} – live at House of Blues – boasted a couple of BOLIN classics in the shape of `Post Toastee’ and `Shake The Devil’, while a brace of BOA nuggets were dusted down with surprising enthusiasm. Long-time fans even agreed that the new material was up to scratch, making the record the band’s best since the mid-70s. Not a hard feat.
BLACK OAK ARKANSAS once again re-formed in 2013; Dandy, Reynolds, Daugherty and Henderson adding current line-up:- Hal McCormack (lead guitar), Buddy Church (rhythm guitar), George Hughen (bass) and a returning Johnnie Bolin for a “new + rare” Atco Records album, BACK THAR N’ OVER YONDER {*6}; `(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ one of a handful of covers enlightening the public to why the highway Dandy-man and Co were all the rage many moons ago.
© MC Strong 1994-2001/GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2016

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