Black Oak Arkansas, the southern hillbilly psycho-boogie band with over 40 years of history returns with a new release from Atlantic/Atco Records, Back Thar N' Over Yonder, out October 15. The album is a goldmine of new and undiscovered Black Oak, containing five new songs from a 2013 reunion and 10 previously unreleased 1970's tracks produced by the legendary Tom Dowd (Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers).
The band met Dowd after Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, signed the band to the label in 1970. Between 1972-75, the band found themselves in and out of Criteria Studios in Miami. "In those days, we was doing over 250 shows a year, every year," says lead singer and washboardist Jim "Dandy" Mangrum in his speed-rap drawl, "On top of that, we was giving Atlantic 2 albums a year, every year. So, anytime we would get a few days off, we'd hightail it to Miami and lay down a few tracks with Dowd. After a while, we couldn't keep up with which songs was going on which albums. So, when these songs showed up, it took me and Rickie awhile to even remember cutting them."
The album marks a new start for a band with an unbelievable streak of bad luck. Aside from divorces, drugs and near-death car wrecks, members of BOA faced jail time and homelessness. The band went through years of lawsuits with former management. Accusations flew everywhere. Millions of dollars disappeared. When their band compound burned to the ground, Jim Dandy was investigated on suspicion of arson and fraud. Early in their career, members formed a corporation, giving away power of attorney, with the aim of sharing their gains equally. Business and brotherhood were great for years.
However, in the late 70's when members tried to leave, problems arose. Drummer Tommy Aldridge had tried to leave BOA, but was not allowed. He finally snuck out of the band compound in the middle of the night and ended up suing band and management for his release. Bassist Daugherty was arrested and served time in prison for drug possession after he left the band. Guitarist Jett, who wanted to leave to begin a ministry upon finding Christianity, settled in a court to give up his land, home and royalties in exchange for his freedom. Legal battles continued, with both sides unable to make peace.
For Mangrum and Reynolds, the final straw came when they helplessly watched as, in an unprecedented move, the entire BOA publishing catalog was sold on Ebay. Reynolds reflects, "when we wanted to begin enjoying life, we were left high & dry. We all lost our homes, cars, publishing and almost lost our band name. It got blamed on bad investments. All I know is some of us had to pawn our Gold albums to feed our families." It was a sad fall for a band of brothers who had spent a decade building Black Oak Arkansas into a superstar act.
And rock superstars, they were! Headlining arenas in the 70's with opening acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and The Eagles, BOA destroyed over 1000 stages from 72-76. They became one of the Top 5 touring acts in rock, earned 3 Gold albums, sold close to 5 million records, and became the largest private landowners in Arkansas. They gave millions to Arkansas charities and gave then-Attorney General Bill Clinton and wife Hillary their first limo ride.
Boasting the first-ever 3 guitar lineup, Black Oak were an explosion of sex, sweat, scrubboards, bare-handed drum solos with a guitar-destroying ritual as their live climax. David Lee Roth, Vince Neil and Axl Rose all took pages from (some say stole) Jim Dandy's onstage persona. However, in the 21st century, it's been punk and metal bands that have discovered and embraced BOA. Black Flag, Supersuckers, Butthole Surfers and Pantera can be counted as fans.
Even after all the chaos, the band members all kept in touch over the years. "We were like abused children who all shared the same experience," says Daugherty. The new songs feature a line-up of original and current members. Reunited originals Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Pat "Dirty" Daugherty, and Jimmy "Soybean" Henderson, were joined by current drummer Johnnie Bolin, bassist George Hughen, guitarist Hal McCormack and guitarist Buddy Church. Original guitarist Stanley "Goober Grin" Knight planned to participate, but passed away just weeks prior to recording.
Through triumphs and tragedies, the Oak has stood strong. Bad luck, lawsuits and women couldn't keep a fighter like Jim Dandy down. In the mid-90's, Mangrum, Reynolds and Daugherty reformed the band and they've been on the road since. Oh, it's not like it was back in the day: no planes, buses, or road crews. 2013 finds the guys driving their own truck, loading their gear and playing to anyone who wants them. "That's what this last 40 years have been about, pleasing the people," Mangrum reflects. "No matter if it's smoke or shine, there ain't no buzz like the one you get walkin' on that stage!"
"Plugged In And Wired", a new song that kicks off 'Back Thar N' Over Yonder', sums it up best:
What the heck did you expect,
I love to fly without a net.
Get up and go once got up and went,
It almost retired.
Then get up and go came back tenfold,
Plugged In And Wired!
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