Thursday, March 5, 2015

BLACK OAK ARKANSAS: Rock's Original Hell Raisers Invade Florida's Space Coast

Rock's Original Hell Raisers
Invade Florida's Space Coast

What does Bad Company,
Bruce Springsteen and
KISS have in common?

They've ALL been 
opening acts for 
Black Oak Arkansas.

Through the choppy waters of a bottomless sea filled with southern-fried contemporaries, sailed a bunch of brash, young, long-haired hillbillies from a small backwoods town located up yonder from Little Rock. Their music was louder, their hair was longer, their jeans were tighter and their boots were taller than just about any other's of the day. And the timing was perfect, as this crazed collective was just too authentic, too hot, too nasty and too gosh darn dangerous for the Osmond-dominated early '70s. However, the band's musical ripple effect would influence an array of chart-busting artists for decades to come. 40+ years later, the legend of Black Oak Arkansas lives on.

The secret ingredient to Black Oak's rock and roll recipe was (and is) authenticity. The songs featured on their self-titled 1971 debut record sounded honest and pure. "Uncle Lijiah" and "When Electricity Came to Arkansas" reflected the band's real life, down home roots and were clearly without pretense. When raspy-throat frontman, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, recounted shaking hands with both the devil and God in the lyrics of "Lord Have Mercy On My Soul," you had to believe it — or at least believe that he believed it. Mangrum's unique brand of psychotic storytelling propped against a wall of blistering boogie guitar riffs and pulsating bass and drum grooves would prove to be a winning combination for the next several years.

Black Oak Arkansas - circa '75
Onstage, Black Oak Arkansas was a ferocious, untamed force — smashing guitars and bashing drums with reckless abandon. Oozing true blue, cock rock swagger, and possessing gloriously chiseled abs, the charismatic Mangrum was like no other. When the typically shirtless, spandex-clad frontman took the stage with moonshine jug and washboard in-hand, his presentation was, in a word, authentic. And when David Lee Roth arrived on the scene during the late '70s, sporting his often shirtless physique, flowing blond mane and assortment of skin-tight britches, the uncanny similarity to Mangrum was noticed quickly. In fact, I'd be willing to wager a bet that had it not been for Mangrum's blueprint, Roth would likely still be merely a "little dreamer," working nights at IHOP.

In the late '80s, Mangrum's influence could be detected distinctly in the vocal stylings of Guns N' Roses frontman, Axl Rose. And during the the ill-fated grunge era of the early '90s, the Georgia-based combo, Jackyl, saw its Black Oak-flavored brand of southern-style hard rock achieve platinum-selling results. Even frontman Jesse James Dupree's chainsaw routine as heard on the signature Jackyl single, "The Lumberjack," seemed derivative of Mangrum.

Told ya so!
From 1971-1976, Black Oak Arkansas filled the largest concert arenas and appeared at some of the most prestigious music festivals in the country. During this heyday, the band also ran up an impressive string of ten consecutive Top 200 albums, including such vinyl treasures as Raunch 'N' Roll Live (1973), High on the Hog (1973) and Street Party (1974). Black Oak remains known additionally for its host of such high-octane album tracks as "Hot & Nasty," "Hot Rod" and "Happy Hooker."

Even the cover tunes recorded and released by Black Oak Arkansas have been super-charged, hi-fi gems, including Marvin Gaye's "Dancing in the Streets," McGuinn / Hillman's "So You Wanna be a Rock and Roll Star," George Harrison's "Taxman" and the group's all-time biggest hit, the Lincoln Chase-penned standard, "Jim Dandy to the Rescue" — a bona fide classic rock staple that was accented beautifully by the late Ruby Starr's iconic companion vocals.

Rickie Reynolds (L) and Jim "Dandy" Mangrum (R)
with Black Oak Arkansas - circa '75.
With Mangrum and original guitarist Rickie Reynolds still leading the charge, Black Oak Arkansas forges on in 2015 with a healthy touring schedule — nearly 45 years following the release of it's first LP. And this month, the band returns to Florida's warm and sunny Space Space for a special concert appearance at the legendary Lou's Blues in Indialantic on Sunday, March 8th. Produced by Brevard Music Group, the show is set to launch at 7pm. The venue is located (practically) just inches from my house, and I'm pretty darn pumped about seeing this show. FYI, I'll be the fancy old hillbilly perched up front with the fabulous Hannah Montana backpack and hollerin' for "Keep the Faith."

For additional concert-related info, contact Lou's @ (321) 779-2299 or BMG @ (321) 783-9004. 

-Christopher Long
(March 2015)

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