Gary James' Interview With Jim "Dandy" Mangrum Of
Black Oak Arkansas
Jim "Dandy" Mangrum was the lead singer for the 1970s Rock group Black Oak Arkansas. In 1973, Black Oak and Jim Dandy really hit it big with a song called "Jim Dandy", which was originally a hit for Lavern Baker in 1957. The history of Black Oak Arkansas is really fascinating and who better to tell it than their lead singer, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum. Go Jim Dandy - Go!
Q - Is there still a Black Oak Arkansas today that tours?
A - Oh, of course there is. In fact, we just got back from doing a big bike rally on a 40 x 40 foot stage, a big PA. It was a memorial for fallen bikers. Hell, it was a ten grand gig. We still play, like all the time. I can't really tell you that I'm gonna have a lot of big tours, because see, nobody wants me to play in front of 'em or behind 'em. (laughs) They all like me personally. To me, bands oughta do the best they can for the audience. It's all about the audience. It's not about us. You're only as good as the people you play for and you ought to give 'em everything you can. If everybody would just do that, instead of tryin' to blow each other off the stage...(laughs)
Q - How many original members left in Black Oak?
A - Me and Rickie Lee Reynolds. It's like a fraternity. I never expected the originals to wanna stay forever. I love it so much I'll never quit until the day I die. I don't expect that out of everybody with me. The originals, I still see 'em every other day or so, Stanley and Pat. Harvey's a bit longer 'cause he's in Kentucky. In the new Black Oak Arkansas, they're like brothers in the fraternity too. I can't think about anybody except maybe Mick Jagger right off hand that is a one man band for this many years. I love Mick. I love The Stones. They're a real Rock 'n' Roll band, man. I mean, they're the best Country band I heard in my life too. (laughs) Ron Wood and Keith Richards are two great Country players besides being able to do all their Rock 'n' Roll stuff, to the roots of Chuck Berry, things that we should keep involved in Rock 'n' Roll. That's what started it. It's great to see bands stay together, whether they have a record contract or not. There were a lot of times they were between record deals, but they were The Rolling Stones. Nowadays, those young bands, if they don't have a record deal, they don't stay together. (laughs)
Q - The originals that are not in the current Black Oak line-up...are they still in the music business?
A - No. They don't want to tour anymore. There's too much going on the road. I mean, Pat's got disability and comp because he got hurt on the job. He still gets around OK. He's older than me. He's older than dirt. He's six months older than me. I'm six months older than Rickie. Seems like Stanley is working in some kind of Radio Shack or music store. For a while he wasn't even doing that. He didn't play his guitar much anymore. Although we got one of his guitars back. A guy stole it from Boston in 1970. (laughs) He was dying and told his best friend that he wanted it off his conscience and they sent it back to me and I took it over to Stanley 'cause he had it when he got into the band. It's a different color. It was red when he started. It's brown when he got it back. It's one of those stereo hollow body Gibsons. It was a great guitar. We just saw Jimmy Henderson come on stage in Monticello. He's from Pearl, Mississippi.
Q - Besides the bike convention, where else are you performing these days?
A - We also played the biggest festival in the world last year, in '07, which was in Sweden. It was great. They had huge stages and big screens on each side. They love us over there in Europe. Journalists mean a lot. I like talking to you. I don't mind doing interviews. So, when we went over to Europe, we did really good. You see magazines everywhere. You don't have free TV, free radio really. Journalism is really big, which is good for us. We do concerts every now and then, but we don't seem to be able to lock onto a whole tour. Whether we got the product or not, it's mostly because nobody wants to...we have to much fun. (laughs) I say "compared to what?" Compared to anybody who's out there on tour. They hate to try to follow that when they're in their dressing rooms before they go onstage.
Q - Is it true that before you put the original Black Oak together, you guys were all in a gang?
A - We didn't look at it as a gang. We were a band of entrepreneurs. We were like Fran Tarkington with a football. A lot of times we had to scramble. We got busted together for grand larceny for stealing like a PA out of Monet High School, microphone and speakers out of Manela High School, Bell and Howell tape-recorders. Stuff that's more music type stuff. Back then, we went to the law of survival. We just did what was necessary. It was tactical. Cut off supplies and gain some for yourself. (laughs) But we had long hair and they didn't want us to work. Where I come from, you can only work on a farm, in a cotton gin, or in a store. They just kind of all got together and nobody would give us a job. That way, we'd have to cut our hair. So with the law of survival, we started doing other things. We was playing music, but they didn't like that either. We started being a band because I was having so many fights. I was the first long-hair in the state of Arkansas and I had five fights a week at the same barn everyday after school. They didn't understand me. I didn't make them feel good. For some reason I didn't look right. (laughs) I told Rick one day, "Don't you know three chords?" He said "I know four." I said "Well, let's just have a band. I can't fight these mother_ _ _ _ _ _ _ one at a time. We'll win them over and their children." (laughs) I always wanted to do it. When I saw Elvis Presley on TV on Ed Sullivan, behind my grandma's chair, I said "That's what I want to do. That's the job I want. He looks like he's having more cosmic fun than even my cousin Harvey", who drove a stock car in the Indianapolis 500 and won 4th place. He had a good-looking wife. He and my Uncle Marvin made a stock car from scratch, a modified one. That's the first thing I wanted to do, drive a stock car. I still wouldn't mind doing it. But, the main thing is keeping the main thing and my main thing is music to the people. Actually, I'm a natural born agitator. I learned to sing so I could talk songs through the microphone and agitate change that's been denied and say the things that people are scared to say even inside their own walls. They like what I say. Rickie always says "Don't you think we're gonna get in trouble for that someday?" I say "yeah, but it's be glorious trouble."
Q - Before Black Oak, you were in a band called Knowbody Else.
A - That was Black Oak actually. That was me and Rickie and Pat. We acquired Wayne Evans after that on drums. But we got him when we was Knowbody Else and became Black Oak Arkansas after we got him and that was on the first album with the map. We already had Harvey Jett, but we didn't have Stanley and I yet. But it was the same band actually. The name didn't mean much to me. I didn't name it Knowbody Else. I don't know who did. But nobody else was like us back here. When we got to California, everybody else was like us.
Q - You had a deal with Stax Records as Knowbody Else. How did that happen?
A - We were from Memphis, OK? I don't actually know where Jim Stewart saw us the first time. I think it was in a place called The Roarin' Sixties. It had a balcony stage. I used to jump off of this ten foot stage. I used to dance up the stage and got back up there. We were the only White band there. I'll never forget how nice they were to us. Isaac Hayes, "Pops" Staples, Eddie Floyd, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Booker T, Al Jackson...God, he was great. But we didn't have Johnny yet. Whenever Steve Cropper saw us play in Shreveport, he'd come up and jam with us 'cause we were old friends. They had to take our picture off the front cover because the A&R man didn't know we was White until he saw our picture. (laughs) That kind of hurt. They wouldn't distribute us right. They took the picture off and made some kind of picture with a cabin window with the universe behind it. (laughs) We was gonna be on their label It was gonna be called "Hippie". I made 'em change it to "Hip".
Q - You moved to L.A. in 1969 and were signed to Atlantic Records. Wasn't that an expensive move?
A - That was the third time we did it, but we had to. They rode us out on a rail. If we weren't out of town by sundown, we were going to jail! We'd come back with our tails stuck twice and this time we had to stay out there. We came out at a perfect time 'cause they'd said out in California they'd seen it all and I said "I've got 'em!" if they think they've seen it all.
Q - How long did it take you to get that deal with Atlantic Records?
A - Ahmet (Ertegun - Founder of Atlantic Records) was the one that signed us. Jerry Cohen (Black Oak's attorney) helped us. He helped us come out to California, get us our house. He's the one that thought of the name Black Oak Arkansas. He said "Why don't we show them how far you've gotten from where you came from and freak out the establishment a little bit, everything they've been trying to stop, like long hair." Young kids from small towns, it gave 'em hope. We made it...sort of.
Q - Where'd you come up with this "Jim Dandy" image? It was similar to Mark Farner.
A - Well, I actually didn't wear leather pants all that much. Me and David Bowie were the first ones to think of spandex about the same time. Mine had a fly and back pockets. I didn't even know too much about Mark Farner. I did like his style. He put on a show. One of the greatest three piece groups ever. I would've been influenced by 'em if I heard more. We didn't hear much of 'em in the Memphis area. That was more Rhythm and Blues and Blues , also Bluegrass, a little bit of Country. You hear B.B. King, Albert King and Elvis is the king and you put all the dead kings in the pyramid. (laughs)
Q - I'm gonna talk about Elvis. What's this - Elvis encouraged you to record "Jim Dandy"?
A - George Klein told me he was gonna call me. I hadn't met him yet. He got tired of waiting for me. He always kept up with local bands around the Memphis area. He liked us a lot. He liked me. He kept waiting for me to discover the song "Jim Dandy To The Rescue". My Daddy told me that since I was nine years old. You miss a lot of things, even today. I didn't know the song existed. When he (Elvis) called me, he told me about the song "Jim Dandy To The Rescue". "It's on the same label you're on, Atlantic." I said "Yes sir. You don't say no to the King of Rock 'n' Roll." I thought, how stupid...how corny. What'd I say that for? He said "Well, Rock 'n' Roll is created for the disc jockey's own pocketbook." He said "I play Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, Country. There's one King and I ain't him." The coolest thing he told me at the end was; "You know Jim Dandy, it comes through us, not from us. We just get the best seat in the house." (laughs) The King of Rock 'n' Roll told me Rock 'n' Roll didn't really exist and then told me about a song that was about me. (laughs) It was weird. He told me I was meant to do this song. I thought, don't get heavy with me. I getting chill bumps already. (laughs)
Q - OK, so that was a phone call from Elvis. Did you ever meet and talk to him in person?
A - Well, I met him later in Macon, Georgia at the Macon Hilton. I hadn't met him yet when I was talking to him on the phone. I was just kind of a little bit nervous.
Q - Did Elvis call you at home?
A - No. He called me at Wally Heider Studios in L.A., where we was cutting "High On The Hog". "Jim Dandy" was on "High On The Hog". George (Klein) said he was gonna call in two hours and it was exactly two hours to the minute. I couldn't even do anything for those two hours in the studio. I said "You all do something else, I'm gonna sit over here and think." I met John Lennon too. He said, "Can we go talk?" I've been very fortunate.
Q - What did you think of John Lennon?
A - I loved him. I thought he was the truest artist I ever met. He was really, really nice. We was at a humanitarian dinner honoring Ahmet Ertegan. It was like $800 - $1,000 a plate, something like that. About the size of three gymnasiums where everybody was eating. He was the only other guy in there with a hat on. Sort of an Indian looking hat. Stanley and Harvey both had hats. They kind of looked at him and said "He's walking over here. John Lennon is walking over here! He's looking at our table." I thought they were pulling my chain 'cause they knew what I thought of John Lennon. They all started laughing. All of a sudden he said "Hey, can we talk?" I said "Sure." I hope I can talk! Can I say words? He said I was ahead of my time, the Bob Marley side of me. I had to go listen to Bob Marley. I realized it was a people thing. It was the talking I was doing that he liked. Him and George Harrison and Leon Russell, all three came at the same time to see us once in Hollywood.
Q - Where'd you find Ruby Starr?
A - Oh, she was a spitfire. I found her in Toledo...no, Evansville. She was from Toledo. We were playing Evansville in a baseball stadium there. We went into town to eat. We was walking back and they were playing in this, like, gymnasium thing. It was downstairs. We walked by downtown. She was singing a Janis Joplin song. She was great. It was a hard time for women in the business though, after Janis passed away. I don't know why they were worried about women. There were just as many men flipped out on drugs, O.D.ing, and dying. I loved her to death and she was with us for a long time. I don't mean that literally. She acquired a brain tumor and she died seventeen years ago and I still miss her today.
Q - Did she got out on the road with you guys?
A - She did go out on the road with us. She had her own band, but she'd also come up and sing with us. She sang on several tunes in the studio with me and Rickie and Pat. We did two European tours with her and two or three U.S. tours with her, but a lot of the times, when she had her own band going, it was here and there. We wanted her to get out to other type audiences besides just our type of audience.
Q - What was the name of the band Ruby was in?
A - I think they were called Ruby Jones when we first found her. They had something to do with the name, so we turned it around to Ruby Starr. She wanted to do the Starr thing with two Rs. She liked the Betty Boop type of thing...big hair. She wasn't really a red head, but found a red hair piece and then did the rest of her hair that color to make it big like Betty Boop. She was a spitfire.
Q - Did you ever open for Seals and Crofts and The Bay City Rollers?
A - No, never. We played with Seals and Crofts at the California Jam. Everybody at that thing was almost a headliner. Black Sabbath and us had more people than anybody 'cause we was in the middle at the right spot.
Q - Was there a follow-up to your hit "Jim Dandy"?
A - Well, Laverne had one called "Jim Dandy Gets Married". (laughs)
Q - Yeah, but I'm talking about you.
A - No. There really wasn't a follow-up. We weren't really a singles band. In fact, when we came out, FM (radio) was just getting started. We didn't have to have airplay to have future audiences and tour a lot. We had a loyal following. Our fans were as loyal as say the Dead Heads were.
Q - If you had it to do again, would you still have been in a band?
A - Yeah, I love it. I've been in one band so long now, I'm not gonna quit. I wouldn't advise trying this at home. Most of the personalities, it's almost impossible to where everybody is getting along. Then, when you grow up and get married, like The Beatles did, you break up. (laughs) But, I do love it and I think it's a great thing. If people get a chance to do it, it's a learning experience that they'll never, ever forget. That's even if you don't get to make it in the business. They'll always look back on that as special time.