Jim Dandy to the Rescue!
In September of 2008 I was playing in a band that opened for Black Oak Arkansas in Platte City, Missouri. The event was a motorcycle rally.
“This could be cool!” I thought.
I was never a big Black Oak fan but I was very aware of their history and influence, and was briefly acquainted with one of their original guitar players, Harvey Jett, back in the nineties.
In the seventies Black Oak Arkansas had a string of hits and sold out stadiums all over North America and Europe.
The frontman for Black Oak is James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum. He was literally THE prototype for the eighties hair-metal frontman/singer. Take any eighties frontman, David Lee Roth, Bon Jovi, Axl Rose - Jim Dandy predated them all by at least ten years. David Lee Roth has cited Jim Dandy as an "inspiration."
My main memory of Jim Dandy from the ‘70’s is that he was the only guy I knew of who could turn a washboard into a phallic symbol. Go Jim Dandy!
I called my brother, Kevin, who is a pro photographer (White River Productions), among other things, because I remembered him being a BOA fan back in the day. I thought he might be into the chance to get backstage and close to Jim Dandy. The photos below from that evening are a few of the many he took.
I figured Black Oak wouldn't be what they once were; after all, here they were playing a gig in a little town north of Kansas City for a couple hundred bikers. That's a long way from selling out Arrowhead Stadium some 30 years before.
However, I figured there would at least be a decent tour bus. I figured wrong. They drove in from a gig in Denver in a hodge-podge caravan; a van with a trailer and a couple of cars. They had no roadies. They piled the drums and amps behind the stage and waited for us to finish our set before setting up.
The drummer was late and the drums remained in a pile on the stage even after the other gear was set up.
At the time, Jim Dandy was about sixty, with bleached-blond long hair, but was somewhat overweight with a pronounced beer gut. Even so, he was dressed in skin-tight black pants, black shirt with a knee-length leather vest and huge, high-heeled platform boots (he's a pretty short guy). A little raggedy-looking for his age but not too bad, especially considering the mileage!
Time passes and still no drummer. After about 45 minutes the crowd is getting restless and the promoter is starting to get nervous. Everything is set up but the drums are still in a pile on the stage. The rest of the band is just lounging around like nothing's wrong and this is par for the course.
Sensing the restless crowd and also, perhaps, the promoter's discomfort, Jim Dandy grabs an acoustic guitar and says, "Don't worry, I'll stall."
He proceeds to get up in front of the crowd and does a solo set of covers. I remember a couple of Rolling Stones tunes, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and other Folk songs along with chatter, stories, jokes and whatnot. I was somewhat impressed; I hadn't conceived of Jim Dandy as anything other than an over-the-hill frontman for a 70’s era Southern Rock band.
While Jim Dandy is "stalling" a beat-up station wagon pulls up with the drummer (Johnnie Bolin) in the passenger seat. The driver (a woman) gets out and the first thing she says is,
"Where's the beer? We need beer!”
Johnnie looks very strung out; massive bed-head, plaid shorts with a long-sleeved jacket, unlaced tennis shoes. The time it took for him to set up his drums was a painful thing to watch. He was confused. He would sit and stare, and then slowly put a cymbal on the stand. He dropped a wing nut (more than once) and stared at the floor for a while; slowly reached down to get it. It took forever. It was a question in my mind whether the guy was even functional enough to play.
I was standing backstage next to a drummer friend and I said,
"Man, get up there and help the poor guy!"
"No way, man, that's Johnnie Bolin! I'm not gettin' up there!"
All this time Jim Dandy is playing and singing, doing his solo acoustic guitar/singer thing.
Finally, Johnnie gets everything set up, sits down behind his kit and does a fill; Ba-da-boom!
Jim Dandy turns around and says,
"Ah, I see our drummer has finally arrived. Let me tell you folks, it'll be worth the wait!"
The rest of the band ambles up onstage and Johnnie counts off the first tune.
My jaw dropped. Johnnie Bolin kicked ass! Holy crap! It was like a switch flipped. He was no longer strung out, no longer confused, no longer hung over. He was driving this train!
I was surprised by how good the band sounded - there was a sense of power and at least a modicum of what they were in their prime. I think the word is, "authority." They played with authority. For context, check out this TV performance from 1977.
Now I have to get a little critical.
I thought they sounded good - as long as I kept my eyes closed. It wasn't the band; they were simply long-haired old hippie rednecks in jeans and work shirts just throwin’ down. No pretense - no problem. It was Jim Dandy.
Jim Dandy is a quintessential rock-&-roll frontman. Extreme self-confidence and the ability (if not the need) to be the center of attention comes with the territory. That's putting it in the best possible light. If you're familiar with Black Oak's repertoire, you'll know that it's laden with sexual innuendo and good old southern boy macho bravado.
Case-in-point: One of their biggest hits was "Hot and Nasty."
Some of these old rock guys need to figure out how to keep doing what they do with some dignity - if there was ever any dignity in the first place, that is.
The first thing I would say is don’t tuck in your shirt. Jim Dandy was wearing an oversized silver belt buckle that in the old days would draw attention to his “package.” Now it draws attention to his belly, which hangs over half of it.
The band was great, but Jim Dandy, at age 60 with a double chin and a beer belly strutting back-and-forth crowing 'bout how hot and nasty he is...well…the nasty's still there!
Still...there's something endearing about the guy, even though I'm convinced that when he looks in the mirror he doesn't see himself the way he looks now; he sees himself the way he looked 40 years ago.
Having said that, he was not a Prima Donna. He got up and did a 30 or 40-minute set all by himself just to cover for Johnnie Bolin. He didn’t have to do that. It wasn’t in the contract. Then he fronted the band for another hour-and-a-half.
Why does he still do it? I mean, drive from Denver to Kansas City to play an hour and a half to maybe two or three hundred people? I know what Black Oak was paid. Let's just say I made 350 bucks and slept in my own bed that night and I'm thinking that after Black Oak’s food, gas and motel bill I might have come out better than Jim Dandy.
If you do any digging, the various estimates of his net worth are anywhere from 3 million to $152 million, so who knows why he still does it?
The only answer I can think of is, he just loves it. I think they all do, and that's all they've ever done. Whether it’s to 200 people or 300,000.
At some point after the show, or maybe it was between shows while we were waiting for Johnnie Bolin to show up, I'm sitting with the promoter, another band member or two and Jim Dandy in the van, passing a bottle of Jack back and forth.
He is wired 220 and crazy-talking nonstop!
"We got a new record, new tunes. The band is hot, man! O yeah! We're coming back, man! WE'RE GONNA BE BIGGER THAN EVER!!!"
- said with absolute sincerity and conviction.
Now, it is true they were doing some new music, along with all the old hits that everyone came to hear. I respect the fact that Jim Dandy was still pushing, writing new stuff and so on. But c'mon! "BIGGER THAN EVER!!!"???
First of all, you can’t get any bigger than they were in the seventies.
Second of all, in today’s music business?
I remember thinking this dude is not in reality!
It was at that point that the promoter looked at me and said with a smile,
"I think I've had just about as much of Jim Dandy as I can stand!" and got out of the van.
Didn't phase Jim Dandy one bit. I don't think he even heard it. He kept talking,
"Man, you guys gotta come on down to Memphis! That's where I live. You can stay at my place - I gotta recording studio in my basement, man. You can stay with me, we'll party and record and have a good ole' time!"
Finally, the wife of our bass player corralled us out of the van for a photo op. Jim Dandy was all about that!
I’m thinking Jim Dandy should go solo, there was some dignity to his impromptu acoustic set. It’ll never happen though. For one thing, he’s now 74 and hasn’t done it that I know of. Besides that, it was apparent that Black Oak Arkansas isn’t just a band; they’re a family, they’re loyal, they cover for each other and they’re all in it together. Even Jim Dandy.
Jim Dandy to the Rescue
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