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Dandyism today

The sexagenarian rocker and voice behind Black Oak Arkansas is still kickin'.



This March marked the 40th anniversary of Black Oak Arkansas's eponymous debut, which injected the relatively tame Southern rock landscape at the time with snarling horniness, gun-toting hedonism and backwoods mysticism.

Fronted by Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, a libidinous vocalist and one of the most colorful musical exports to ever come from our state, the band spent the better part of the '70s bringing incendiary "raunch 'n' roll" to the national stage. The collective's brash sexuality and taboo-flaunting act predated 2 Live Crew's antics by decades and can still manage to get a rise out of onlookers.

John Lennon called him "years beyond his time." On the Tonight Show, Mick Jagger didn't hesitate calling Dandy his favorite front man. Not bad for a guy who only saw six concerts before he started playing them. Now a 63-year-old grandfather of three, he's still a dedicated road warrior. He and his retooled Black Oak Arkansas lineup still gig prolifically, albeit to much smaller crowds than he drew in his heyday.

The wiry frame you see above is long gone: now, at least in photos, Dandy bears more of a resemblance to Rip Torn, but the stringy sun-bleached locks, white spandex pants and ammo shell belts are still in service. However, after talking to him — rather, having him talk at me in non-stop, stream-of-consciousness — for an hour, I'm prepared to say that the body may have changed, but the manic Dandy brain is still the same.

When we spoke, the first thing he mentioned was that he's at work on a "novelty song," which takes "Homeward Strut," a heavy guitar track by the late guitar legend Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple, James Gang), and adds vocals from Dandy himself. Electronic vocals.

Has the small-town boy taken a cue from, of all people, T-Pain?

"I got the idea from that 'K-9' movie with Jim Belushi, where the German Shephard's gettin' the standard poodle in the limo and he's goin' 'oh yeaaah, ohhhh yeah.' "

It takes me a couple of days to figure out he's talking about "Oh Yeah," the 1985 single by Yello, but before I get the chance to digest all this or ask if he's taking me for a snipe hunt, he's moved on. To dismissing Christian rock; comparing the Eastern "halls of karma" (mentioned in BOA's "Lord Have Mercy on My Soul") to the Western "halls of judgment;" explaining why peaking on LSD is too much for him unless he's in Hawaii, Malibu, Big Sur, in the desert or having sex; and what it's like to be on acid during a 7.0 earthquake while on the toilet and listening to Screaming Jay Hawkins' "Constipation Blues" on the Dr. Demento show.

A conversation with Dandy is like a Black Oak Arkansas album itself: rapid-fire, equal parts thrilling and exhausting, rugged with thick accents and oozing with R-rated jokes sitting right next to wild musings about hillbilly philosophy, mysticism and, especially, suspicion towards politicians and the music industry.

It's that very industry that left Black Oak Arkansas behind while propping up the band's peers: Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, the Marshall Tucker Band. But Dandyism, the self-described "cliché, bourgeoisie, bullshit" name he jokingly gives to his set of tenets, doesn't allow for envy.

"When I saw Elvis on Ed Sullivan when I was young, it looked like he was having more fun than any human I ever saw in my life," he recalls. "Cosmic fuckin' fun. I didn't want to be as big as Elvis or as rich or popular: I just wanted to have as much fun as he was having.

"Even if 'they' won't let me be as big again in the public eye, I still have gigantic fun with the people I love and the people I know. You play for the people, it's not about us!"

"Dandyism" does, however, have room for a little post-apocalyptic fantasy.

"[Concerts] are a gathering — a sacred gathering. Someday they'll outlaw 'em. We'll have to sneak around to do it and I'll be wearin' my sidearms and watching for snipers in the trees," he cackles. "It'll be very exciting."

And he may just see the day. With parents still kicking at 88 and 84 years, he concedes that he was born with the longevity gene. Dandy jokes, "they're gonna have to shoot me to get rid of me."

As for now, the aging rocker shares a spread with Ricky "Ricochet" Reynolds, another original member of the band and only other Black Oak Arkansas lifer.

"He's a great cook," he says, with Reynolds in the background. "After our second world tour, he went to culinary school for two and a half years. And he's written about three, four books. These books are great. Fantasy books, like 'Lord of the Rings.' "

Dandy's working with a pen, as well, putting the final touches on an upcoming biography, about which he's uncharacteristically demure: "I'm not an icon: I stand on the shoulders of greatness. I ain't no good for nothin': I don't save nothin', got no pension, no retirement, no dental, don't have nothin' except I get to be Jim Dandy, y'know?"

Black Oak Arkansas headlines "A Dandy Day at the Park," Saturday at Riverfront Park. For more information, turn to our To-Do List on pages 24-25.

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