Cult Heroes No. 9: Jim Dandy
Yee-haw, y’all! This week’s Cult Hero is Big Jim ‘Dandy’ Mangrum, frontman of Black Oak Arkansas. Click here to read about Classic Rock‘s previous Cult Heroes.
Words: Geoff Barton
More than Robert Plant, more than Roger Daltrey – more than anyone, really – Jim Dandy created the loud’n’proud, lewd’n’crude, in-your-face persona of the modern-day rock’n’roll singer. Without this wizard of the washboard there would certainly be no David Lee Roth and arguably no Steven Tyler either.
Jim Dandy was also indirectly responsible for the most scary experience of my life.
Long ago trip I made a trip to the US to see Black Oak Arkansas along with a guy called Bob Hart, who was the first-ever pop’n’rock reporter for The Sun newspaper. The idea was to visit Dandy and his cohorts in their home state (that’s Arkansas, natch).
I remember it taking what seemed like days, plus innumerable airport stopovers, to get to our destination of Little Rock. But still the journey wasn’t quite complete. We needed to get to the tiny hick town of Mountain Home, where the Black Oak members lived in high-on-the-hog harmony, all together in a sort of stockade-cum-hippy commune.
Thoughtfully, the band had laid on a little Piper Cherokee plane to get us there. The only trouble was, a hulking, hirsute Black Oak roadie – who, these days, could quite easily be cast as Hagrid in a Harry Potter movie – was to be our pilot.
Amazingly – considering the combined weight of the roadie and Bob Hart, who was a big man himself – the take-off passed without incident. But my heart practically stopped once we got to cruising height, and the roadie pulled out a reefer the size of a stick of salami. He lit up and the cockpit filled with pungent smoke quicker than a kitchen chip-pan fire in an old episode of London’s Burning.
Next, the roadie beckoned me over. “Let’s swap seats for a while,” he said. “You can fly this goldarn thing while I relax a little. Just keep it level and pointed in a straight line.”
And so it was, for the first and only time in my life, that I ended up flying a light aircraft – indeed, any kind of aircraft. I was frozen with fear as we buffeted through the clouds. Were there mountains in Arkansas? Skyscrapers? Electricity pylons? I had no idea – but I kept a damn good lookout.
To make matters worse, the roadie passed out unconscious about half an hour into the flight – myself and Bob Hart emitting simultaneous whimpers of despair – and the aircraft steering wheel (or whatever it’s called) began to take on the consistency of melted butter.
Miraculously, the roadie regained consciousness about five minutes before we were due to land. Which we did – again safely, with Hogwarts’ corpulent (and, by now, decidedly mellow) Care Of Magical Creatures teacher back at the controls.
After that fraught start, my trip to see BOA turned out to be one of the highlights of my life.
The Black Oak members and management, their families and even some of the road crew, dwelt in a bunch of log cabins set in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and on the shores of the man-made Bull Shoals Lake. To preserve the band’s anonymity, the whole place was surrounded by a 10-foot-high ‘privacy fence’ made out of oak trees. Gaining entry via a pair of mighty wooden doors, I felt like a cowardly Injun sneaking inside Fort Apache.
But the Black Oak guys were charming and their hospitality was second to none. I drank fiery moonshine (brewed on the premises), sampled magic mushrooms (doubtless cultivated on the premises) and played table tennis in a state of giggling euphoria.
There were barbecues every night, and the meat and fish were as fresh as the day when Ted Nugent first picked up a longbow.
I took a dip in Black Oak’s swimming pool, the tiles at the bottom arranged to recreate the band’s distinctive ‘muscle, lightning bolt and acorn’ logo in stunning mosaic.
I water-skied on Bull Shoals Lake – the band had their own powerboats moored to a jetty just a short walk through some woods. That was an amazing experience. The lake was full of deep, crystal-clear water and if you looked down as you skimmed along, it felt like you were flying over the tops of the petrified trees lying just below the surface. If you fell in, as I did frequently, it was no great problem: it was just like taking a warm bath.
(You think I’m making this up? Then log on to www.blackoakresort.com and prepare to be amazed.)
If there was trouble in this here paradise, the closest I got to it was when the band’s svengali Butch Stone (who would later go on to manage Swiss rockers Krokus, of all bands) issued a polite warning.
Included among Black Oak’s hippy enclave were some of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Archetypal wholesome country types radiating healthy good-looks from the outdoor life; long-legged Daisy Dukes to a tee, only these lovelies were uniformly blonde-haired. Several of the girls, it turned out, were the daughters of band singer Big Jim ‘Dandy’ Mangrum.
“They’re strictly off limits,” Butch advised, before issuing the chilling Wild West-style caution: “We wouldn’t want y’all leaving here all shot up and lying inside a casket, now would we?”
Some years after my trip I encountered Jim Dandy again. After an extended absence, he made an unheralded reappearance with a solo album called Ready As Hell in 1984. I arranged a phone interview with the great man and my first question was: where have you been all this time?
The years of moonshine, magic mushrooms and non-stop good times had obviously taken their toll.
“W-e-e-e-ll, Geoff,” Big Jim responded in his distinctive Arkansas drawl, “d’y'all know what? Ah had mah-self a heeee-art attack.”
In 2010, it’s difficult to believe that Black Oak Arkansas were once one of the most popular bands of the early 70s.
But check out the links below and you’ll soon realise I ain’t serving y’all up a trough full of horseshit.