Monday, July 18, 2011

BALLS OF FIRE! My Interview with JIM DANDY MANGRUM of BLACK OAK ARKANSAS!

This interview originally appeared in issue 23 of Carbon 14 magazine back around 2002.  I think they still have a few stray physical copies for sale.  If you're interested, you can try your luck HERE.  My chat with Jim was done in conjunction with the band celebrating thirty years of rockin'.  As they're hitting forty, I thought it only fitting to share this conversation with those that might have missed it on the first go-round.  It's kinda long, so strap yourself in.  When Jim starts to open up, he goes full-tilt boogie; I was thrilled to have the opportunity to try to hang on for the ride.  The interview was transcribed by C-14 in such a way as to hopefully capture Jim's unique cadence; it's partly revved-up backwoods mystic, partly laid-back drawl, and completely rock and fucking roll.  So without further ado, I give you:

YOU CAN'T STAND TALL IF YOU'RE AFRAID TO FALL
A Conversation with Black Oak Arkansas' Jim Dandy Mangrum


It was in the late 1960s that there came a mighty rumblin' way back in them Arkansas hills.  It was fueled by moonshine and wanderlust and came to manifest itself in a group of backwoods rebel rousers with long hair and electric guitars.  This cosmic boogie outfit dubbed itself the Knowbody Else and hit New Orleans like a hurricane in late 1969/early 1970.  There, on the gritty streets of the French Quarter, the group paid its dues and honed its chops until the earth shook and God clapped along.  By 1971 the group had changed its name to Black Oak Arkansas and was on the fast track to taking over the world with their cocksure attitude and blistering live stage shows.  At the center of it all was the band's leader, Jim Dandy Mangrum.  With his long blond hair and skin tight pants, washboard in hand, he stood out like a latter day hedonistic deity conjured up by some hillbilly mojo man.  Some thought of him as heaven-sent, while others railed against him as a demon.  

Black Oak Arkansas charted ten albums between 1971 and 1976 and found a top 30 hit in their cover of Laverne Baker's R & B classic, "Jim Dandy."  While many uneducated rock-critic type folks would tell you that BOA fell off the radar in the late 1970s, Jim and various line-ups kept the torch aloft via independent releases and self-supported touring.  Be it a roadhouse juke-joint or Anaheim Stadium, Jim Dandy and Black Oak Arkansas have always delivered to the highest degree and continue to rock harder, longer, and nastier than nearly all so-called "cutting edge" bands half their age.  Rhino Records has recently released a superb DVD retrospective on the band, entitled Black Oak Arkansas - The First 30 Years, that I can't recommend strongly enough.  A week before the DVD hit the stores, Jim was kind enough to take an hour out of his day and shoot the breeze.  I've gotta go on record and say that I've conducted countless interviews over the years and no one has ever been as gracious or enthusiastic as Jim was.  KEEP THE FAITH.

I wanted to ask you about the DVD, The First 30 Years - is that a totally different thing from the home video you guys released a while back?

It was part of it, but that was released before it was actually OK'd to be released.  There's bits and pieces in there, which we've found, that I've really enjoyed.  This is a retrospective, so the first thing you wanna do is start at the beginning, and start to fill everybody in.  Everybody's been wanting me to do this - VH1, we had a little, let's say disagreement.  I believe the viewers are as bored, or even more bored, than I am about seeing how managers rip you off and stuff like that.  Everybody in the '70s and '80s got ripped off by their managers;  there's nothing unique about that.  I just wanted to talk about the good things.  'Cause no matter how much you rip me off, I'm still gonna have more friends, more fun, and more lovin' than the man who took my money.  Some people's character shows - or it shows they don't have character - when they get money and they have something to lose.  They asked me if I was in it for the money, and I said, 'No,' and they took the money - that wasn't funny.  My parents and my children weren't uplifted at all by all the things I did.  I generated a lot of money.  I'm tired of hearing about it but they say 4.4 million dollars or something like that.  I don't know.  It's nothing compared to a lot of people.  I mean when I met John Fogerty at Peabody's here in Memphis, he told me, 'Well, Dandy, it could have been worse.  It was fourteen million for me!  If you'd had more, they'd have taken more.'  I said, 'Well, that's probably right.'  Anyway, regardless of popular belief, I'm still alive and well.  In fact, I'm better than I ever was, much to the dismay of my fourth wife who told me not to ever change and that she loved me the way I was, the way they oughta do.  And you know, they still don't understand when you get married when they're twenty-two and you're forty-four and ten years later at fifty-four, you love more than you ever did and you're doin' more than you ever did and they just don't - somehow they just didn't picture that.  Look at the Rolling Stones, you know.


In spite of all the bumps in the road, what keeps you going after thirty years?

It ain't what's keeping me going, it's what's out there that's keeping me from it.  It ain't big or little; it ain't the career.  Forget that word, that's an ambitious word.  All I'm talking about is if you love it or not, and if you love it, why should you stop doing what you love?

Very good.

I mean, you know, if somebody tried to stop me from doing what I love, I'm gonna have to kill 'em.  I'm sorry.  No, I'm not sorry.  I'd rather shoot them than a deer.  I mean it's always season on me, ain't it?

When you guys started out, thirty years ago, you were way ahead of your time.  Nobody was doing what you guys were doing.  

Well, it was an accident if it was.  It wasn't anything planned.  We were from Arkansas, we didn't know what they were doing out there.  If we'd known what they were doing out there in California or up there in New York, we'd have been doing it too.  But we just had no way of knowing.  Back then they weren't even playing country music around Black Oak, Arkansas; it was a dry county.  There's no people around there at all hardly.  I left at fifteen and there were two hundred and seventy-two people there.  I'll be a double nickel pickle by the end of this month.  I'll be fifty-five years old.   But of course my father will be eighty years old four days later and my mother was just seventy-six a couple weeks ago.  I did a benefit for the Ronald McDonald House at the Hard Rock here in Memphis.  I messed up too, my sister set me up.


What'd she do? 

She set me up.  On the radio, I told my mama happy birthday, and that she's seventy-seven years old.  I broke my back like eleven or twelve years ago on her birthday, which is why I never forget her birthday anymore.  I fell asleep at the wheel and hit an oak tree, which wasn't very funny.  But anyway, my parents are sharper than I am, they're still alive, and I'm a very fortunate man just for having them as parents.   And having the adventure I've had and being taught I could do whatever I wanted to do.  There's a lot of things I could have done.  It fascinates me, the world, and I wonder about people.  If these policemen like me or if these policemen don't like me because they imagine what they would have done in my position.  You know the world judges the world by their own standards.  That's why a lot of people are very worried and paranoid, because they've been doing people wrong and they don't think that's anything but normal.  So they think everybody's out to get them.  But I've had a very, very, very fortunate life, great parents, great friendships that have gone for decades and decades; friendship is the greatest value in the world.  I would have liked to have ended up with the money too, that way I could have said that I made money, but I just generated it.  It didn't really bring my family's lifestyle up much.  My children don't really have...my daddy says don't leave 'em nothing, it'll ruin 'em anyhow.  But that was no problem with me because I didn't have nothing, except for what I've got.  What you see is what you get.  I'm there when I'm there and I ain't when I ain't.  I don't write many letters 'cause I'm busy writing songs.  I love to do what I do, there's nothing better than what I do.  I'm truly the happiest in my life when I'm on stage or when I'm getting to create with somebody.  It's not that I don't really want to just do it by myself but whoever's there with me, the interplay and being able to write with somebody is fascinating to me a lot of the time.  All of the time, if it's somebody good.


How do you approach songwriting?  Are you always writing lyrics or do you and Rick get together?

It's not always anything.  You can't generalize it at all.  Sometimes it's like necessity is the mother of invention, there are times when no on can be there with me - see, I'm the only one that really never has had a real job.  Even after we got famous, after we came back down to the Earth as they say.  I don't know.  I never really did.  Touched one toe maybe.  But they say, even Ricky and Dirty say, 'Hey, when are you gonna grow up, man?  Every now and then you've gotta have a real job, something to fall back on,' and I don't understand that because I'm not falling back.  If I fall, I'll fall up, and if I ain't dead, I'll get back up and brush my pants off.  Nobody would hire me for a real job anyway.  The only thing anybody ever paid me for was what I do.  I never knew how to drive a nail, made sure of that.  And I don't know how to work on cars, I ain't no yard mechanic.  I ain't no good for fixin' things around the house, like carpenter work and plumbing and all that shit.  In fact, I'm worthless as a useful mate.  I want everybody to know that and give up on that right now.  The domestication of the Dandy has been a total failure.  In fact, I'm hardly domesticated at all.  One thing all my kids have in common with all four wives is they all end up asking my wife at the time, their mother, 'Dad ain't like other dads, is he?' [laughter] Well, maybe I'm not.  I'm not telling the other dads to be like me at all.  I think stability is the main thing...we're here to have children and to be able to relate to your god as a father, and I hope I haven't really pissed him off by keeping my vows and my oath in my blood that I did when I was a kid.  'Cause I haven't been sorry about it at all.  I do miss my children, all of 'em, because you never end up keeping 'em.  I'm probably a bad influence anyway.  I don't know why, except that I'm not like other dads. [laughter] So they won't know how to be a dad if they stay around me very long.


Like you said, it's people measuring by their own standards.

True.  But you know, I do believe in the Good Lord.  I do believe in Christ but I'm not a holy roller; I ain't been born again 'cause being born once with my mama, Elsie Rose, is enough.  I mean she's song leader in church, that's why every now and then I go and play my guitar and sing with my sister.  She sang with me once, we did "I Shall be Released" by Bob Dylan, but they didn't know it.  I mean the congregation didn't know where it came from.  They thought it was a spiritual song.  They didn't know he was in a drunk tank for a weekend - and he sounds like he's in there for life.  But that's 'cause he's a great songwriter.  After we were done, my son Blue, and this really hit my heart - he's the only one I really spent any time with when he was young - he said, 'Dad, Aunt Nancy sounds like an angel and you sound like a real singer.'  I said, 'Well, Blue, I am a real singer,' and he goes, 'Dad, you know what I mean.  Not rock and roll, you know, like real songs.'  But I'm just glad 'cause he sat there by himself while his grandma was up there being song leader and his aunt was up there singing with his dad and everything; he was sittin' by himself in the pew being good.  But you know, life is a wonderful thing, and I can't wait to get to the second grade...'cause I hear the girls there are even better and the fuel is even better, and that the transportation is unbelievable - you don't even need wheels.  I'm just an optimistic person.  I feel like after you pass to the next life you'll be wondering about why you held on so tight to the one before.  We had this old song called "Everybody Wants To See Heaven But Nobody Wants To Die."  It was number one in Boston - figure that out, [laughs] that's the only place we ever got played - but it's a jug band kind of country song:  "Man made seconds, man made minutes, man made hours, days, months, and years.  Man believes there's a hereafter but running out of time he fears."  Now how much faith does that show.


Not a lot.

Well, you know, I don't believe they're much different than me.  They ain't seen much smaller than a bread crumb; they don't really know whether to believe in amoebas and any kind of...I don't even know if I've got a brain.  They say I've got one but I've never seen it.  I don't know if it's been lost or misplaced, maybe it wasn't even ever there.  Maybe I'm now just talking like a butterfly in random.



You spoke about your children, and on a different kind of level you've definitely spawned other children like David Lee Roth, Vince Neil, and Jesse James Dupree.  There are a lot of people who've heavily borrowed from Jim Dandy; how does that make you feel?

Well, they don't have to borrow it.  I always told everybody there ain't no stealin' what I got, 'cause I got it for nothing.  Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll, you know what he told me when he told me to do "Jim Dandy To The Rescue" on the telephone?

What?

George Klein told me he'd call exactly at two o'clock, the same time you're calling me.  I was at Wally Heider Studio and I was scared to death.  I said, 'What have I done, George?  Is it something I've done?'  'Cause I thought I was in trouble.  Elvis always kept up with the bands from around the locale, around Memphis, which is where I live now.  And he says, 'No, it's not what you have done, it's what you haven't done.  He'll talk to you about it.'  And exactly at two o'clock, bingo, there he was callin' on the phone.  I could hardly talk.  He wanted me to do this song called "Jim Dandy To The Rescue."  I'd never heard of it and I've been Jim Dandy since I was nine years old - 'cause my daddy started calling me that.  It's kind of a hard life to be Jim Dandy in Arkansas, and the only longhair.  I had five fights a week behind the same barn and I didn't even want to fight.  But that's sort of what shapes you and makes you what you are.  Being Jim Dandy, I was sort of like a seed squeezed out of a grape.  To me, all I know is what he told me at the time:  Elvis said, 'You know, a disc jockey created rock and roll for his own pocketbook, and I'm kinda proud to see that the kids have taken it under their wing and are making it their own thing, not his thing, you know.'  I'm looking at Elvis right now as I speak; I keep my pens in a can that says "The Sun Never Sets On A Legend," and it's got Elvis on it.  I've got a big ol' portrait that was painted of him up here too, and one of The Beatles, even David Allan Coe and Steve Cropper - I've got people all over the wall that are friends of mine.  



I'm very fortunate for the life I've had.  But Elvis liked me, and he treated me good when he didn't have to.  I finally got to meet him about ten months before he passed away, at the Macon Hilton in Macon, Georgia.  He said, 'It comes through us, not from us.  We're just in the best seat in the house.'  And I think that's the most wonderful thing that was ever said to me because it's true.  In a sense, it's like channeling.  I ain't trying to be Shirley MacLaine or nothin', there ain't nothin' wrong with her, but it's true, we can't own anything like this.  David didn't steal nothing from me, in fact, I love David; I always thought he was the Shecky Greene of rock and roll.  At least Van Halen had a sense of humor when he was with 'em.  Or at least he did, so the band did.  But it seems that they maybe didn't have enough of one.  I believe that if David had a wife of his own, which is doubtful, I'll bet he would have been making jokes about her too - just as much as he was Eddie's wife.  Eddie picked a woman that looks just like him, what the hell does that say?  I love 'em all.  I love the way Eddie plays guitar.  I love the way the band was.  Hell, I love Bob Dylan.  I love everything.  I'm a person who's been able to enjoy my life to the utmost.  I came from outta nowhere, and I took my time to reach there.  It ain't over yet, and it ain't got nothin' to do with no fat lady.  It's got to do with the person that's livin'.  You can't stand tall if you're afraid to fall, and if you're always trying to keep up and count your stuff more than the bank does, then give it up.  Because their whole life is counting your stuff.


Has there ever been a point in your performance history where you've thought, 'This is it, I've made it.  I'm at the top.'  Are you ever gonna reach a pinnacle or is it something you continuously strive for?

No.  I don't continuously strive for it.  I never even worried about top or bottom or out or in.  [laughs]


You just wanna play music.

Let me tell you something.  You're on the top of your game when you're not worried about the top.  That's ambition, and I'm not down-rapping ambition, it's good to have some goals and it's good to have a will.  Because will means more than anything in this ambitious world, because this is not really the music business.  In the music business, you get the business.  And it's a personality personification of truth, that's what the real truth is.  What sets Muhammad Ali and Elvis Presley apart from the others is personality.  That shine you can feel when you're not even looking at 'em, when you got your face at the front desk of a hotel and all of a sudden you can feel it; somebody just walked in there behind you and everybody takes notice to it.  That's when Muhammad Ali or Elvis walks in.  Fuck the President! [laughs]




So you mentioned a new song.  Are you guys working on a new album?

Yes.  It's kind of a Memphis album in a way, but you wouldn't know it.  If you're a fan of Jim Dandy, you know nothing can be normal.  It's always Abby Normal.  Let's say it's a little Memphomania.  Jim Memphomania Dandy; yeah, that's it.  I'm gonna do at least one more Tommy Bolin song.  Every album, I've gotta do at least one or two.  I used to love Tommy.  I met him before I met Johnny, my drummer.  I finally met Mac, Doctor John, and he said, 'Tommy's a special person, not just a musician but a person,' and he was.  When I met Tommy we were in a place no other musician ever found themselves being at all.  We weren't afraid at all, since we were probably the only two people in a room of about a hundred or so who hadn't killed anybody that week.  It was odd they loved us like they did but - and I'm not saying these are bad people.  I mean they're killing people over in Baghdad right now but they're doing it in an impersonal way over lines that are drawn by people - not by god - and fighting over things that were given to us all.  I'm not like what the Mafia says - if you're gonna fight, fight for your own family; I'm not like that either.  I don't think anybody should fight at all, I think we should let go of things we're trying to keep.  It's like letting go of your kids, they come back like boomerangs.  All this worry about possession, possession, possession, property, property, property.  They're doin' that and they end up going to the same places, and clog up the streams like cloggin' up blood clots in the veins of a body.  It's Mother Nature's veins being clogged up.  There's plenty of room here, there ain't no population explosion.  The sky ain't gonna fall.  If there ain't no such thing as money, we'd all be rich and everybody would do what they know how to do and everybody's virtues and talents and attributes would be apparent.  No man would be more of a man than another because they had more money.  The smallest things don't mean as much as the biggest things.  But...this will never happen because this was never supposed to be no paradise or no utopia.  There's a lesson that's supposed to be learned and we're gonna have to learn it one way or another.  I don't care how redundant it's gonna have to be.  But like I say, I just wanna go on to the second grade at least, I don't wanna stay in the first grade forever.  I mean I've already outlived dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse. [laughs]    


It just still don't seem to hurt my sex appeal none.  It's a wonderful life, and I don't mean Jimmy Stewart either.  It's been a thrill and an adventure.  My mama still asks me, 'Jim, are you still cursed with the wanderlust?'  And I have to tell her, 'Mama, I love you but I guess I still am because I can't stay here.'  So now it's two hundred and seventy-seven people and I'm fifty-five and it's grown five people since I left.  But it's a dry county, there ain't no place to go there.  There ain't no girls - not that I need girls anymore, I mean, really.  It's nice;  need ain't the word though.  I've had a full life and I'm tired of trying to deal with multiple personalities; in the sense of having a band like I've had.  I didn't realize there was no real Three Musketeers or no real Robin Hood and his Merry Men.  I didn't realize The Beatles didn't really like each other as much as they acted like they did, and that most bands out there are traveling on different buses and in different planes!  At least we're a real band and we loved each other and we went through hell together.  We went through making an adventure together that can't even be put into words.  We had only seen three concerts before we were playing 'em, and we were scared to death.  Most people said we didn't look scared, but that's because we were in motion the whole time.  They say I started off the movement on stage for a lot of people because I was doing the catwalk.  I was running in place.  I was going on a forty-foot stage side to side while I'm singing', and then in between songs I wasn't even sounding like I was out of breath.  I don't understand how I did it either.  It's just something that comes over you when you get out there if you it as much as I do, and I LOOOOOVE IT.  God, I love what I do.  I love to perform for people.  I love to take them up to another level, to where they walk out feeling like they've had some kind of revelation or some kind of uplifting thing and they can't put their finger on what it is. 


But still, it's like in the beginning, when I first started going out front.  I started on drums.  But like I said, I was fighting behind the same barn five days a week because they said they didn't like what I stood for, whatever the hell that was.  One of these fights I had was over forty-five minutes long and I couldn't hold my hands tight long enough anymore; I broke every finger on both hands except for one thumb.  I couldn't hold the drumsticks so I went out front, that's the last time I played drums.  I realized I had some kind of talent - not so much for singing - I learned how to sing and talk between songs just because I love to communicate with the audience.  I love to agitate change.  I love to say the things that they're afraid to say, and that's what they love about me the most.  Ricky said, way back when, 'Don't you think that could end up being a little bit dangerous, Jim?'  I said, 'If it ain't dangerous, Ricky, I don't wanna do it because there ain't nothin' dangerous around Black Oak.'  I mean that to me is a little bit exciting.  I ain't afraid to die at all.  Dying well is like...knowing how to live is one thing, knowing how to die is everything.  It gets down to a point of faith and whether you believe or not.  Some people have spiritual conviction and strength and confidence and know where they're going.  Like John Lennon said, I'll never forget this.  Paul McCartney said, after Brian Epstein died, 'We've gotta have leader of the band, now more than ever.  John, you picked us all, do you wanna be the leader of the band?"  And John says, 'Look, don't call me no leader.  I know where I'm going, and if you wanna follow me you can.'  [laughs]  I thought that was the most beautiful thing I ever heard.  I met him, too.  He put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Can we go talk?'  And I was worryin', thinkin' 'I hope my tongue'll work...I hope I can talk.'  He told me never change, and he wasn't really talkin' about my music.  He was talkin' more about the Bob Marley and John Lennon side of me.


Do you think that side of you is what has inspired such a devout following?  'Cause you have such a devout following of fans that get off on what you do, do you think that plays into it?  That spirituality?  

I don't try to figure out what it does, I'm just happy to have it.  If you really have the truth inside your heart, if you're a real world true heart, then you know they can't stop what you are and they cannot do anything.  They cannot even get as far as you're gonna get.  People ought to take the smaller realities and the smaller goals - they accept the here-now thing and they forget about the hereafter.  They don't worry about generations to follow them even.  Some of these ambitious people are even fucking up the atmosphere for their own generations that follow them in their own family.  They don't believe, and it's obvious they don't believe in the hereafter.  The here-now is all they know; bird in hand.  That shows very little optimism and very little strength of soul.  I've got a rubber soul that keeps bouncin' back.  I guess that's good.  I love being here, and that's well and good, but I don't wanna get so old to where I'm having to be a burden to everybody.  Cause I will do what I do until I die.  I mean, I don't care if I have to you out there on a stretcher or in a wheelchair, I just love what I do.  And it don't matter - until they stop my mouth, I can do what I do.  

Well, I hope you continue to do it for a long time.

Thank you, brother,  I appreciate that.



7 comments:

  1. Jim Dandy ~Black Oak Arkansas~ #1 Southeren Rock Band for 40 years It maked my heart Happy to see that Their still ROCKING in 2011

    Keep The Faith
    Long Live BOA

    Jackie Evans ~AKA~Jas~

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  2. I was turned on to boa when i was 7 years old by my older siblings. I am now 47 years old an finally saw BOA in concert in nashville in 2011 for the first time. Jim was outside the venue when we arrived and he walked up to me and my husband and hugged me like he has known me forever. He stood around and was joking with me and my girlfriends also. I was so impressed with how open and honestly real he is. He is a wonderful and beautiful soul, an hope are paths cross again in the next reincarnation. I Love you James Mangrum. Keep the Faith! Pamela and flip jones!

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  3. I was brought up in a small town in Mn. and went to every concert BOA played in LaCrosse Wi. They were a major part in my life and still are. I think I have every CD they ever put out. They are by far, my favorite band. I would love to meet them in person someday.

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  4. A band I never missed every time they came to town. A Rockin Roll Party from Jim Dandy and Band.

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  5. This was very interesting to read. I wish more journalists would issue interviews like this, instead of the usual inane stuff.

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  6. Jim Dandy is a brother of my soul !!!! See ya in the next life JDM , I'll bring the guitar , you bring the wash board . Yer bro van

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  7. i named my daughter Dandy, after Jim Dandy

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