HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: May 2017. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary singer: Jim “Dandy” Mangrum. He is best known as the frontman of Black Oak Arkansas, one of the best Southern rock bands. BOA have released many albums and have played many memorable concerts, including the California Jam in 1974. In 2013, Atlantic Records released “Back Thar N’ Over Yonder”, which contains new recordings and 10 unreleased songs, recorded in the ‘70s by Tom Dowd. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
Black Oak Arkansas released “Back Thar N’ Over Yonder” in 2013. What’s special about its material?
I enjoyed it. It’s a good album for the band, I guess. We are really enjoying the stuff we did on “Back Thar N’ Over Yonder”. Some of the stuff is really good, the newer stuff, you know. There was also a collection of songs that they were never released, but also we have some new songs that are really good like “Sweet Delta Water”, which is in the same league with “High ‘n’ Dry”, the country side of Black Oak. But also “Plugged In and Wired”, which is a good rock song.
What are the latest news from the Black Oak Arkansas camp?
Right now, here in Memphis, we are in the studio and we do a lot of rock and blues. This is first album since we were on the road for five years, from 1972 until 1977. The fans want us to still write songs. But we wanted to do covers. One is an old Grand Funk Railroad song that I changed the words on it, because of Ruby Starr (ed: vocals). We use this music from a song called “Heartbreaker” (1969) and we call it “Ruby’s Heartbreaker”. This album is gonna be a real Black Oak Arkansas album again. It’s like it came right after the gold albums “High on the Hog” and “Raunch ‘n’ Roll Live” (ed: both released in 1973). That was a great live album, you know. It was one of the 5 greatest live albums up to that point. We got gold records for that live album, but then “Frampton Comes Alive!” (1976) came out and it was a ball. We are doing some good shows out there and we are enjoying playing again. Being back in a band since Ruby Starr was with us. Ruby had an inoperable brain tumor and we lost her 22 years ago.
Now we’ve got another singer, Sammy B. Seauphine. She’s something else. Except for being a fine singer, she dances and we have a big time on stage, that’s for sure. She sings well, she looks good, she is good. We have two lead guitars and it’s great. Everybody in the band comes from Arkansas, except for Johnnie Bolin (drums), who we know him for 30 years. That’s Tommy Bolin’s (Deep Purple, Zephyr) brother, a top guitar player. He’s from Sioux City, Iowa. I was born in Michigan. My home has always been Arkansas. I grew up in Black Oak, Arkansas and I thought I was a bum. I personally don’t like a lot of people in Arkansas (laughs). We got some new guys in the band and now they all are from Arkansas. But this bass player is from over Bentonville, Arkansas, in the west side of Appalachian. He’s a great bass player and a great singer. His name is Dave Snell. The lead guitar player we got, (ed: Arthur Pearson) and we have for a while, he is from Marked Tree, Arkansas, which is 16 miles from Black Oak. Sammy’s daddy is from Lepanto, Arkansas which is 12 miles from Black Oak. She grew up on Black Oak steppe and I had been raised on Black Oak steppe. Those three plus me, Rickie (ed: Lee Reynolds –guitar and founding member) and Johnnie Bolin on the drums. Arthur Pearson (ed: guitar), he was a fan and it took him 5 years before we even talk to play with us. But he’s new. Arthur plays with his brother Larry in a band called Judge Parker, but he was like a Black Oak groupie fan before we really had a lot of groupie fans. He knew all of our songs on guitar because we might need a guitarist for a concert or a tour. He had to know the songs and he could play like 4 sets and stuff like that. It has been a great adventure. There are other people to see besides me. That’s all about. I think people should try when they are on stage to do the best they can for all our fans. We are lucky that we have great fans.
I can’t believe it considering where we come from. Nobody could imagine a rock band from Black Oak. It was next to nothing. We didn’t have any encouragement. They were all keen in country and we weren’t that good when we first started. We were just kids in the country and we magnified all things and had a desire. The first time I saw Elvis Presley on TV was behind my grandma’s chair. I think it was the most cosmic fun that I had ever seen. From that day, that was all I wanted to do, although my dream as a kid was to be a star car driver for a while, if I remember well. My cousin won 4th place in the Indianapolis 500 with a stock car. But I love to play. I was kicked out of every public school in the state of Arkansas, and when you kick somebody out of all public schools, then you are satisfied that you have ruined his life. The local residents didn’t like people with long hair –I was the first person with long hair in Arkansas- and we started to do some things. Where you could find musical equipment in those days: P.A’s, microphones? In schools, churches and clubs. We had nothing against them, personally (laughs). You give a lot of hope to kids when you do gigs and travel, which I did for a long time. But when you get back, your wife wants to give you a divorce. She is wanna divorce. I think the divorce is the hardest course I ever took. I would tell my ma but my ma is passed, my dad is passed.
We are proud of this album, “Underdog Heroes”, and that’s also the title of a song. The Black Oak DNA is in those songs. Another is called “Don’t Let It Show”, some Jesus at Last Supper type of thing. We are very excited about that. We are hungry to do something. But young kids, whether they have older brothers or sisters or not, want us to keep doing “Jim Dandy to the Rescue”, “Hot and Nasty” and we have to do them. It’s like living in a mountain’s shadow. But I am very proud of all the songs we wrote back then and I’m proud of our past. We came out of nowhere. We all came from Black Oak, Arkansas, there were less than 300 people. Back in the time I was 21, it was a miracle. I don’t know how it happened. People were impressed by our enthusiasm. That was a dream that came true. A little group that started out in the country somewhere and we are still doing that, right now. I love to do what I do. I love to play. I miss going over there. We were always big in Europe. There are a lot of things that happened and we saw when we did three or four European tours, but there are places that we never got to go. I’ve been to Spain, England, France, Belgium and Germany. We can’t go right now, but Sammy is fine. She’s not just another singer, she’s like the female me. She really takes charge of the stage. She’s natural and beautiful. She dances, swings and moves all over the stage. We hang out and we do a lot of good things together. We have a sweet partnership, but we save the best for last.
There is one song that Sammy sings on the album that is called “The Devil’s Daughter” and I love it. When she first did “The Devil’s Daughter” I said: “Oh God!” It’s a great song. We had “Lord Have Mercy on My Soul” (1971) and there is (ed: its introduction) the “Halls of Karma”, a person’s anguish to redeem himself. This is how presumptuous I was being. It was a dead song until the year we recorded it. It’s almost like gospel. It was rock ‘n’ roll music. We also have a song in the album called “When Rock Was Young”, it’s about a person who starts to think that some people that have been perceived as demons fall on his chest, which is just not true. Because I’ll take notice if demons run into my chest. One of the chief evangelists –what’s his name?- anyway, he was in an Easter sermon and he said that there are demons who jump into his chest and they all kept saying stuff like that. This is gonna be ready in a year. We have a good time already, while other people have a hard time, and we hope the best for everybody. It’s time for everybody being able to have a good time. We have talked with too many people who are ready to produce us. Actually, we haven’t produced our albums for a long time, for which we are still getting credit for, but we will make sure if we get to do what we want to do. From the whole of our career, I believe that “Lord Have Mercy on My Soul” with “Halls of Karma” sound so good. It’s the best way to start, it’s on our first album. I’m also so proud of the others. I don’t want to sound pretentious but it was like me talking with my soul. “When Rock Was Young” is just like a lot of other things of that era. We have one song in the new album, it is called “Hard Times”. It was about the hard times we had trying to get a manager to bring us in the business. I’m too proud of all what we have done. The song does not have any verse or chorus. When we were writing the song on a paper, I didn’t write down the words and Rickie wrote the song. I loved it. All of our love songs have very much the darker side, like spirituals. They would have been gospel. I like gospel and all the black. It didn’t have any verses. It didn’t have any choruses. It’s just music and it has words. I don’t know what others would assume about that, Theo.
We really love fans in the entire universe. We have a large number of young people and I am so inspired by that in these days. We are so satisfied with the fact that they are our fans and we want to make sure that we will keep them happy. This is what we are doing right now, we have a good time. When I think of those days and the way we wrote songs, we didn’t know that we will be still in the studios and we will send a message somehow. There was a change in a lot of the universe and so much of the change has been stopped. After the change of the world stopped, people don’t have to be true. Every time, it’s a chance. Since we were able to make our way for the first time, after that I knew that I would be doing this ‘till the day I die, I swear. Don’t be sad when I’ll die, there are a lot of people kicking off. We were just a vehicle, one way or another. Now, I begin to realize that I feel pain in my spine a little bit (laughs). When you have to do 12 shows, towards the end I say: “I am worn out”. If I am worn out, I don’t have to be in a club. All I can do is just to play enough. There are fans out there who believe in you so much. You don’t want to let them down and I won’t let myself down. I love to do what I get to do: Rock’n’ roll, man. Are you living in Greece?
My mama was going to a college for teaching to schools and stuff and she had to study Greek history and Greek Mythology, so in fact she did all my homework until I was in 9th grade in high school. I did good in History. I was reading Homer. I liked the way he wrote. He was touched by all the interesting things involved. It’s great: The Trojan War with the Horse and all that stuff that they had made as a statue. It was a fascinating read. It has a one-eyed Cyclops and it took him a long time to get home. They call him Ulysses in American version, but it’s Odysseus. I used to ride horses. They helped us to do our job too. I am very proud of that. I haven’t played in Greece. It seems that I should have been over there already. I haven’t played in Australia either. I’ve been around the world about three times during touring, although we missed Japan, Australia, Greece and China. I’ve never been to China, but hey, we will get there, one way or another. We haven’t got yet. We are working on playing in China right now.
What’s the connection between the BOA version of “Jim Dandy” (1973) and Elvis Presley?
Ahmet Ertegun, who was the boss of Atlantic Records, signed only 5 or 6 people in his whole life personally and we were among them. We had a legendary producer (ed: Tom Dowd -Eric Clapton, Ray Charles). We were at Wally Heider Studios recording “High on the Hog” album. A mutual friend of ours -God bless him- George Klein, the disc jockey, went to school with Elvis and he is his best man, he said. I was talking to his friend, he was playing at the Coliseum across the street. I was staying in a hotel just across from the Coliseum and we were working on the album, down the street, next to George. He told me that Elvis was gonna call me in two hours. Elvis told me that song (ed: “Jim Dandy to the Rescue”) and asked me if I had heard it and I said: “No, never”. He wanted me to do that song and I said: “You can’t say “no” to the King of rock ‘n’ roll”. I will never forget what he said: “Rock ‘n’ roll was created by a disc jockey for his own pocketbook. They call my music rock ’n’ roll but I play rhythm and blues, gospel and country”. It was a great experience. My daddy started to call me “Jim Dandy” since I was 9 years old and I hated back then. But I don’t mind it now, I love it because now I have grandkids. I am a granddaddy and they love it. When my grandchildren call my name, I am very animated. I enjoyed it.
What memories do you have of California Jam festival (1974) with Deep Purple, ELP, Black Sabbath and Eagles?
We got on well with all those people and with Black Sabbath of course. Me and Ozzy are the same age. We had the same album cover company with Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper Group. They hadn’t only to sing a song but had to put colour on what they meant. I liked it when I was there. It was unbelievable to be part of all that. I think it was great for the fans. I was always laughing because of the fun that gives you the smoke. Yes, we smoked a lot back then. When I smoked with somebody else, I always thought he was a nicer person. If I had to share a smoke with somebody I had never met before, he made a better impression on me, because it made him really sociable and personable. Yes, I did smoke with a person who later became President: Bill Clinton, who is from Arkansas, we are the same age too. We are old friends. He was a rock star in college. When he was President he said that when he was in Arkansas, he smoked with us. We smoked all kinds of illegal and very special pot (laughs). It was funny. I remember those days. To be in a band and have these adventures with somebody is the most important part, I say to young musicians. Today, my brothers, the original members of BOA like Pat “Dirty” Daugherty (ed: bass), who is not with us for years, but it’s like a fraternity, like in college or something. Just because they get older and they don’t want to be on the road, they are still in the same fraternity. They are fraternity brothers and they will always be.
How did it happen to meet John Lennon and what did he tell you?
John Lennon was one of my great heroes. He came to me one night, he put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Can we go talk?” I couldn’t believe what was happening. During the whole time, he wasn’t talking about music, he talked about talking to people through playing songs. He said: “The Beatles were the dream and the dream is over. The Rolling Stones are the real band”. Because The Beatles made great albums. Artistically they were phenomenal, like “Sgt. Pepper’s” and different things, but back then touring wasn’t that easy. The P.A’s weren’t that good and there were no monitors. The bands went out there and did tours for one year or two with the worst conditions. But look at the Stones: They stayed together, even though they had some wild times with the band. They could even play with a bad P.A, when there was just chaos. John said: “This isn’t what we want to have, but all I can do is to do what I want to do”. The Stones are still together, they still get on stage and do a great show. I love the Rolling Stones. I love The Beatles. Back then, I was a Lennon guy and then I was a Paul McCartney guy, they both wrote great songs and were great singers. And the Rolling Stones, man, they were in the same kind of league from 1970 until 1975. A long time ago, we didn’t know that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger met each other because they were –and still are- big record collectors. Now all the record stores can connect a collector from Nashville with Louisiana, but in the old times, people didn’t have collections. The Stones were really good at make it simple, there is simplicity in some of their songs. Elvis also told me in the phone call: “It comes through us, not from us. We just get the best seat in the house”. But both bands wrote a lot of great stuff.
Another of my heroes: Frank Zappa. The only time I met him we were at the same festival. We were staying at the same hotel and there was a big Chinese restaurant. He was in the middle of it, he was standing over his table, he stared at where I was standing and said: “Jim Dandy!” We never had met yet. “Jim Dandy, come to my table!” He was one of my heroes and he was talking to me and I was really happy. I went over there and he said that he liked the music that we had put out, especially “Hot ‘n’ Nasty” and I thought it was weird (laughs). It has been great to meet with Frank.
I’ve been very fortunate to meet people that I always wanted to meet. I ‘ve always been in awe, because these people were my heroes. They were really nice, they were geniuses: Elvis, John Lennon. Bob Dylan shook my hand when we were in a restaurant and I just took it as applause. He came to my table and he was the one who wanted to meet me. Bob Dylan comes around me, pokes me on my left shoulder, I turn right and he starts to shake hands with me. He was now one of us. I have shaken hands with Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Bob. What a man?! Only God knows. He (ed: Bob Dylan) told me that he’s a salesman and also a chemist and that the CIA made LSD as truth serum for interrogation purposes and all that stuff tore down a lot of the mid class America. He was a poet of our times. He is a lyricist. They say that he did for us more than Elvis Presley (laughs). Or that’s what I read. He was out for a long time (ed: after his motorcycle accident). Then, he did a lot of magazines, he got big articles, he wrote poppier stuff in the songs. No matter what he did, I don’t want to judge others. All I am saying is that he has written some different songs. I really do believe that he and John Lennon knowingly wrote songs in code, when people wouldn’t know what they are about. There was a time where it wasn’t easy to talk about some subjects. Does this sound crazy?
Do you remember the show at the Hollywood Palladium in 1972 when Chuck Berry opened for BOA? You brought a surprise backing band for Chuck Berry: the Rolling Stones.
What a night! It was a magical night. Remember, Keith – I don’t want to offend Keith- did a lot of abuse at those days and Chuck was my friend. I met him a lot of times, while I briefly met the Stones just a couple of times. It was sold out. Chuck Berry was there with his guitar and he waited for the four sidemen who supposed to know his songs. He was also a lot like me, because he was from a rural state like Arkansas (ed: Missouri). We wanted to make the audience a participant of our whole life. He wanted to know what was going on and he kept asking about his band. This one particular time, it was the most successful band in the world. After the first song he turned to Keith and said: “There is only one guitar in my band and I’m holding it”. He sent Keith off stage. Keith was really cool because he respected him. He hid his pain in the cigarette, I guess. It was too chaotic. He stayed until we got on stage and we saw that it was so dangerous that we almost got off again. We had to follow Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry. The audience was so crazy and frantic. It was so exciting. They would tear the place down. Some guy jumped off the balcony onto the curtain upstage and tore it down and fell into the arms of a policeman. The crowd was teasing us with their hands. Since the time we got on stage somebody could have been killed. We were still playing and I was still singing, even though during the whole set of ours we had problems with Rickie’s guitar. So, it was one of those nights. Yeah, one of the unforgettable nights.
You are a great person to talk with. Do you enjoy doing interviews?
Thank you for saying it. Unlike my mom, she was unsociable conversationalist. I’m a conversationalist because I have people that I can talk to. But before I left Arkansas I could only talk about cotton, beans and farming which are what people bring up when you are on a farm road. We were in bad times when we lived in Black Oak. We all couldn’t get a job, we were laughed. Terrible things did happen. You can just laugh about that now. I’m so proud of all the things that we have done. Not only we ever had a chance to do it, but we did it. We had a chance while other people don’t even have a chance. We were able to make a name in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Our intentions had not been lowly. We drew a lot of attention too, we really loved what we do and we made many people to be able to enjoy their time. We were so fortunate and so lucky. We were lucky to do all these. The mathematical odds were very scarce. If I were still in Black Oak, -I talk to myself- I don’t know how I would spend the time. Of course, I would have somebody with me. You know, Rickie writes books. We would be doing talking. That’s true, we do a lot of talking. I ‘ve been together with Rickie since 9th grade, he is among the oldest friends of mine. We write songs together and we perform for many years. I love Rickie’s guitar and he also writes some lyric lines that he gives to me to finish them. On “Back Thar N’ Over Yonder” we had all those sessions that we were doing at the same time. I wanted just people to come in and interview everybody in the band except me. I don’t want to be noticed. I ‘m not the only one. Just because I’m the spokesman and I’m in front, I do a lot of things, but things we all believe in. Pat “Dirty” Daugherty, the best bass player we had by now, was really pressed. None of the guys ever wanted to do interviews, they weren’t conversationalists like me. There are guys in other bands that they can like me but they say: “We should keep this little of a timer in our hotel room”. “Don’t try to keep it over me on interviews” I said. I am very kind with interview guys. I am just enjoying being a great conversationalist with people who talk about some interesting subjects. “Don’t try to keep it over me if I have already been questioned 40 times” (laughs). They drive me crazy. It’s a very short tribe.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Jim “Dandy” Mangrum for his time. I should also thank Sammy B. Seauphine and Rickie Lee Reynolds for their valuable help.
Official Black Oak Arkansas website: http://www.blackoakarkansas.net
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