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James Leslie “Jim Dandy” Mangrum is the flamboyant frontman for the southern rock group Black Oak Arkansas, which reached its height of fame in the 1970s, charting ten albums and a hit single. According to author Ron Hall, “Jim Mangrum claims to be the first long-haired rock ’n’ roller in Arkansas, and he may well have been.” His often raunchy onstage antics and froggy, raspy voice have been cited as an influence on rock stars such as David Lee Roth and Axl Rose. After health problems and many incarnations of the band, Mangrum continues to record and perform with a group called Jim Dandy’s Black Oak Arkansas.
James Leslie Mangrum was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, on March 30, 1948, to J. C. and Elsie Mangrum, who were cotton farmers. He has two younger sisters. Mangrum attended high school in Monette (Craighead County), where Black Oak (Craighead County) children went to school before Monette’s consolidation with Leachville (Mississippi County). Beginning around 1963—with boyhood friends Rickie Lee Reynolds, J. R. Brewer, and Keith McCann—Mangrum formed a rock and roll band, which, in his words, was “self-taught, loud and raw.” After acquiring their sound equipment from Monette High School, where Mangrum was a sophomore in 1964, they were charged with eight area burglaries and sentenced in absentia to eight eight-year terms at Tucker Prison Farm, with the sentence later suspended. Mangrum left school, and he and the group headed for Craighead County’s back woods.
According to Mangrum, the first place they rehearsed was in a bean elevator at a cotton gin near Black Oak. They called themselves the Knowbody Else at that time, winning a devoted local following by performing at nearby venues such as Reynolds Park in Paragould (Greene County). They moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where they recorded an album for Stax called The Knowbody Else, but the recording did not sell well. They then moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, and finally California. In Los Angeles in 1968, they changed their name to Black Oak Arkansas, heralding the rise of southern rock bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. At Atco Records in Los Angeles, they were one of the last acts signed personally by legendary music producer Ahmet Ertegun.
Ertegun saw potential in Mangrum’s waist-length blond hair, raucous onstage antics, and white spandex pants (dubbed by rock critic Jay Sosnicki as “The Tightest Pants in Dixie”). Their first album for Atco, titled Black Oak Arkansas, was released in 1971. The year 1973 was the band’s peak commercial year with the release of an album in March (Raunch ‘N’ Roll Live) and another in November (High on the Hog); both charted in the Top 100. That same year, their remake of the 1957 hit “Jim Dandy (to the Rescue)” featuring Mangrum with female vocalist Ruby Starr reached Number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single. That song established Mangrum’s niche and enhanced the persona of “Jim Dandy.”
During the 1970s, Mangrum and the band toured constantly, with musicians coming and going. Their extensive touring schedule included opening for the hit group Iron Butterfly. Soon, however, Black Oak became the main attraction. The band, with Mangrum as one of its few consistent performers, recorded fifteen albums from 1971 through 1978, plus one collection and a re-release of their early album on Stax. The album Ready as Hell was released in 1984, though there is no evidence of a tour. But by the 1980s, the band’s success had faded, most of the musicians had gone their separate ways, and no albums had been released other than The Black Attack is Back in 1986. Live on the King Biscuit Flower Hour 1976 was released in 1998, followed the next year by The Wild Bunch, on Capricorn and Cleopatra records, respectively.
Mangrum has been married three times and has several children. He currently resides outside Memphis. Despite reported health problems, including heart attacks, Mangrum still performs whenever possible.
Hutson, Cecil. An Analysis of the Southern Rock and Roll Band Black Oak Arkansas. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996.
Nancy HendricksArkansas State University
Last Updated 9/5/2013
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