Black Oak Arkansas’ ‘Dandy’ Days on Stage

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Black Oak Arkansas’ 1973 album, High on the Hog

Let’s get this part out of the way: The Southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas took their name from their hometown. (And a grand idea it was, though it’s hard to imagine that the names of other bands that came to prominence in the ‘70s would sound as pleasing if they were named Boston Massachusetts or Topeka Kansas.)

Black… Oak… Arkansas… It sounds just perfect and thanks to the presence of their frontman, James Mangrum, aka “Jim Dandy,” they created a niche for themselves in a crowded musical genre.

The band’s roots are found in a group called The Knowbody Else, which Mangrum formed with “some high school pals” in Black Oak in 1963. They all had colorful names: Ronnie “Chicky Hawk” Smith, Rickie Lee “Richochet” Reynolds, Stanley “Goober Grin” Knight, Harvey “Burley” Jett, Pat “Dirty” Daugherty, and Wayne “Squeezebox” Evans.”

In 1969, they moved to Memphis and signed with that city’s foremost label, Stax Records. When their album was largely ignored, all of them (but Smith) moved to Los Angeles, signed with Atlantic Records’ Atco subsidiary and renamed themselves after their hometown. Their 1971 self-titled album includes “Hot and Nasty” and “Lord Have Mercy on My Soul,” two of the band’s enduring staples of their live performances.

Thanks to incessant touring, the release and several subsequent studio albums each reached the midway point on the Top 200 Albums chart, as the group began to build a following.

“There was no other group doing that kind of music then,” Reynolds told Classic Rock magazine. “We were the first ones to have the three guitars, the first to mix up rock, country, and rhythm and blues.”

Things were really looking up in 1973, with the release of two new albums. First up was Raunch ‘N’ Roll Live, recorded at a pair of December 1972 concerts, which showcased the band’s well-received live performances. (They had earned significant exposure as the opening act for big “farewell” tours for Iron Butterfly and Grand Funk Railroad.)

Ruby Starr

Mangrum, born March 30, 1948, was the consummate frontman, with his long, blond hair, slim build, skintight pants, a washboard, and plenty of sexually explicit antics. By then, the band had welcomed singer Constance Mierzwiak to their lineup, taking on the stage name Ruby Starr.

One of Atlantic’s notable in-house producers, Tom Dowd, had taken charge in the studio and High on the Hog followed in September 1973. Thanks to the success of the live LP and a fitting cover song, the new album continued the band’s momentum.

James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum

For years, singer Mangrum had become known by his stage name, “Jim Dandy.” The choice of recording that song, first popularized by R&B singer LaVern Baker in 1956, is credited to none other than Elvis Presley, a masterstroke, which earned the hardworking band, a much-needed pop hit.

The song, released in Nov. 1973, reached #25 on the Hot 100 (and #17 in Record World) on Feb. 16, 1974, and delivered Black Oak Arkansas their second gold album of the year.

Related: “Jim Dandy” was climbing the chart at the same time as Brownsville Station’s big 1973-74 hit

This ad for the band appeared in the Dec. 14, 1974 issue of Record World

In April 1974, Black Oak Arkansas was one of just eight bands to perform at the legendary Cal Jam festival at the Ontario Motor Speedway in California. The lineup featured some of classic rock’s biggest names including headliners Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Deep Purple, along with Black Sabbath and relative newcomers the Eagles.

The charismatic “Jim Dandy” and his red-haired foil, Ruby Starr, 24 years old at the time, were ideal stage partners to perform their hit single.

“For this next tune,” said Mangrum, just 26 years old, “we want to bring out our kissin’ cousin. Come out here, Ruby!”

Watch Black Oak Arkansas sing their hit at Cal Jam in ’74

Later that year, they headlined the August Jam at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Starr, born on Nov. 30, 1949, died at just 45 years old on Jan. 14, 1995, of cancer.

Over the years, Black Oak Arkansas would release more albums, including many other live recordings. Their lineup, which has featured dozens of musicians, still includes Mangrum and Reynolds, their rhythm guitarist. A new boxed set, titled Jim Dandy To the Rescue, is being released on March 15, 2024. It’s available here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

6 Comments so far

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  1. Bluzrider
    #1 Bluzrider 14 April, 2020, 07:58

    In either 1969, or 1970, I can’t remember which, I am in this small college town called Marquette Michigan, on the banks of Lake Superior, in the middle of winter, with snow 4 feet on the ground, it was truly the last town in the states before, you got to the damn North Pole.

    A couple of friends and I are walking past this small little bar, and we decided to go in and get a drink, who was the band that night? None other than Black Oak Arkansas. There were about 50 people crammed in this little bar, and Black Oak Arkansas Kicked some serious ass that night. It was a great show, and I have never forgotten them, they had a fan for life, after that night.

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  2. Kilowatt
    #2 Kilowatt 31 March, 2021, 11:55

    Black Oak Arkansas was one of the loudest bands I’ve ever heard. They were right up there with Blue Cheer and Keith Richards Tele called Micawber . I loved it, but then I like loud motorcycles and heavy caliber handguns. My ears not so much.:)

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  3. NastyMasty
    #3 NastyMasty 31 March, 2022, 07:41

    David lee roth copied him

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  4. RockandRollJoe
    #4 RockandRollJoe 2 April, 2022, 15:23

    Black Oak Arkansas was added at the last minute as the opening act for Grand Funk Railroad at Boston Garden on October 3, 1971. What a great show that was!

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    • Chuck the Duck
      Chuck the Duck 31 March, 2023, 14:00

      Jim Dandy and Black Oak Arkansas was a great live act in their early days as the band ascended to stardom. Saw them at what was Municipal Auditorium, in New Orleans, LA. Could not keep your eyes off that band throughout their performance. Three guitars blazing away and Jim Dandy strutting back and forth across the stage, what a great show and better memory!

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  5. DAVE
    #5 DAVE 7 December, 2023, 15:16

    They don’t make them like that anymore!! !

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