by Fred Mills
Charlotte, N.C., August 1974: It’s hot enough on the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield to cook grits on a brick. Along with 149,999 other sun-charred music fans, I’ve shoehorned myself into the racetrack in order to be part of one of the South’s biggest-ever rock festivals, the August Jam. Front and center for this midday broil: the raunchin’ ‘n’ rollin’ Black Oak Arkansas.
Fronted by the priapically Jaggeresque, platinum-maned, washboard-wielding singer Jim “Dandy” Mangrum (whose foghorn-and-gravel vocal blare would influence the lesser likes of Vince Neil, Sebastian Bach and W. Axl Rose), BOA is all triple-ax boogie and bluster, low on virtuosity and finesse but high on octane and — judging by the jug that Dandy periodically brandishes — moonshine. And the crowd eats it up, from early fave “Hot and Nasty” to the previous year’s huge radio hit, a Southern rock-a-fried version of the old LaVern Baker R&B chestnut “Jim Dandy.” Never mind critics’ accusations of low-class and high-crass; in the mid-’70s, BOA could elicit a rebel yell from pretty much any teenage rock fan.
The BOA home DVD, The First 30 Years, revisits the group in its mega-selling heyday. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, it’s heavy on concert footage, most of it from a professionally shot ‘74 show at London’s Royal Albert Hall, with highlights including, of course, “Jim Dandy” and a so-bizarre-it’s-great cover of the Beatles’ “Taxman.” Even better are a pair of electrifying tunes from the August Jam and two so-so cuts (due to poor lighting and murky sound) filmed in ‘73 in Little Rock, Ark.
In one sense the DVD would have been stronger filled out with additional documentary content. We do get an opening montage of tour bus/backstage home movies as well as a fascinating mid-disc segment: Mangrum inciting an audience to do some righteous toking-up is followed by a scripture-citing holy roller righteously condemning BOA and its followers to hell. There’s also a brief tour of the band’s communal compound in Black Oak, Ark. (pop. 272), plus interview snippets. (A VHS-only release, the Jim Dandy To The Rescue Rocumentary, exists — perhaps that’s due soon on DVD.) So as the DVD does capture BOA in its party-hearty prime, a certain time-capsule charm does hover, like sticky-sweet ‘boo smoke.
And the group, in fact, is still alive and kicking, having resumed touring last year with original members Mangrum, Ricky Lee Reynolds and Pat Daugherty plus new guys Johnnie Bolin (Tommy Bolin’s brother) and Terry Powers. On Reynolds’ Web site (www.geocities.com/blackoak444/index.html) Mangrum himself has penned a colorful screed that sums up the BOA manifesto: “With our hair to our waist, smashing icons, and breaking taboos from state to state,” writes Mangrum, “when you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose. We fight for the right to be free to choose. We were the ones your mamas warned you about, the radical non-conformists of our time.”
E-mail Fred Mills at email@example.com.