Black Oak Arkansas Resurface with 'Back Thar N’ Over Yonder,' Their Latest Heapin’ Helpin’ of Southern-Fried Boogie Rock
This is an excerpt from the Holiday 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus features on Roger Waters (and the four guitarists behind The Wall Live) and more — including the Winery Dogs, Marty Friedman, a guide to the most incredible concerts and roadshows in rock and metal history, a holiday gift guide and John Petrucci's monthly column — check out the Holiday 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.
Fine 'n' Dandy: They crawled out of the South and took America by storm. They made millions and lost it, but like a bad rash, they never really went away. Now Black Oak Arkansas resurface again with Back Thar N’ Over Yonder, their latest heapin’ helpin’ of southern-fried boogie rock.
"Yeeeeaaaahh!” roars Jim Dandy, the platinum-maned, bare-chested frontman for southern boogie–rock merchants Black Oak Arkansas.
“I do believe that it’s gittin’ hot in here. Can you people feel the heat?” He pauses for a moment, eliciting a roar from the crowd gathered at the Selland Arena in Fresno, California, on this evening in March 1974. Then he continues in a slithery, rapid-fire voice: “Well I wanna tell you somethin’. Do you know where this heat is comin’ from? This heat is comin’ from between yo’ legs, that’s where.”
And with that, Black Oak kick into the sublimely greasy “Hot Rod,” a tune littered with automotive metaphors, but one that, Dandy assures everyone in attendance, “ain’t about no car.”
Afro-ed drummer Tommy Aldridge, a man known for beating the skins as much with his bare fists as with a pair of sticks, begins to pound out a grimy funk rhythm, and the band’s bassist and three guitarists—a quartet of dudes who answer to names like Dirty, Burley, Goober Grin and Ricochet—tear into the tune’s loping, harmonized riff.
Out in front, meanwhile, struts the master of ceremonies himself, James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum, blond tresses hanging halfway down his exposed back and a demented, toothy grin plastered on his face. His getup is likewise arresting, if minimal: knee-high brown boots sporting enough fringe to make Tina Turner envious, a bullet belt topped with a star buckle almost as big as his head, and, in between, his signature item of clothing—a pair of shiny and skin-tight white spandex pants that barely conceal his own hot rod, straining just below the surface of the taut, thin fabric.
Clutched in one hand is Dandy’s instrument of choice, an old washboard, which he’ll use to scratch out some rhythmic accompaniment at various points in the song; at other moments, say, when Burley or Goober Grin steps up to take a solo, he’ll crouch down, legs spread wide, and position the board straight out from his crotch, running his hand up and down its side as if jacking it off.
It’s a sight to behold, to be sure, and also a stylistic approach that was aptly summed up in the title of Black Oak Arkansas’ 1973 album (and the one that featured the first official release of “Hot Rod”), Raunch ‘n’ Roll Live. And, indeed, what BOA were shilling in those days wasn’t for everybody. Critics at the time described Dandy’s appearance as resembling a “muscle-bound bull-moose dragged up as Buffalo Bill’s old lady,” and his voice “like a cross between a hog moaning with delight and a jackhammer ripping up a city street.” A review of Raunch ’n’ Roll, meanwhile, brusquely declared Black Oak “the worst mob of droolers ever immortalized in plastic.”
But beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. And in the early Seventies, critics be damned, rock and roll fans had a different opinion of the southern-rock sextet from the tiny town of Black Oak, Arkansas (pop. roughly 272). The band was riling up audiences upward of 300 nights a year and had amassed a catalog of solid-selling albums, with Raunch ’n’ Roll Live being the first of several to go Gold.
One week after the Fresno gig, they appeared alongside Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and others at the massive Cal Jam festival in Ontario, California, playing before a more-than-quarter-million-strong crowd. At their own shows, their opening acts were a who’s who of future stars, from Bruce Springsteen to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Kiss. On the road, they consumed copious amounts of pot, hash and women, and roamed the country in a converted Greyhound Scenicruiser called the Cli-Ty (the name, Mangrum once helpfully explained to a British reporter, “symbolizes…you know…the clit area”).
At home, they were the largest private landowners in the state of Arkansas, residing commune-style on a fenced-in, 1,300-plus-acre parcel of property in the Ozark Mountains that they dubbed Heaven. They made millions of dollars. They spent millions of dollars. They lost millions of dollars. They hobnobbed with the likes of Elvis Presley, John Lennon (who told Dandy he was “ahead of his time”) and even Bill Clinton. They were, to borrow the title of their landmark 1973 studio album, living High on the Hog.
The past 35 years, however, tell a drastically different Black Oak story, one filled with band breakups, managerial deceptions, lawsuits, financial ruin, homelessness, heart attacks and death. But while the crowds have thinned, the money has disappeared, the Cli-Ty has been retired and Heaven long ago burned to the ground (Dandy was accused of orchestrating the fire), Black Oak Arkansas are still alive and kickin’. Save for a few hiccups, the band, in one configuration or another, has never stopped performing.
Photo: Neil Zlozower/AtlasIcons.com
For the rest of this story, plus features on Roger Waters (and the four guitarists behind The Wall Live) and more — including the Winery Dogs, Marty Friedman, a guide to the most incredible concerts and roadshows in rock and metal history, a holiday gift guide and John Petrucci's monthly column — check out the Holiday 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.