What Would Arkansas Be Like Without Jim Dandy? Less Rich and Randy
Unlike other rock stars, lead singer Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas professes to be into the music neither for artistic satisfaction nor for gold records (the group has three) but to impart “sex education.” “Lotta kee-ids,” he psychologizes, “are twisted about and feel nasty for makin’ love—even if they been goin’ steady for three years and couldn’t stand it no more. If there’s any answer to any problem, gettin’ it off is the best I know of.” By way of dramatizing his message, Dandy prances onstage in a leather harness, rawhide boots and circulation-constricting tights. “I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout culture,” he continues, “but I tell ya, if these tight britches is good enough for Nureyev, or whatever his name is, they’re good enough for Jim Dandy.”
To his fans, that sartorial and social philosophy has made Jim Dandy, 27, rock’s hottest stallion during the group’s tireless 200-gig-a-year tours. But what do the folks back home think? Like, say, around the Bible-and-Bingo-Belt hamlet of Black Oak, Ark., where Dandy and two of the six band members first met and borrowed their name?
Last time around, in their teens, a couple of the boys had to clear out of town after stealing amplifiers and mikes from the local school. Dandy (Jim’s legal and police-record surname is Mangrum) got an eight-year suspended sentence. And as recently as last spring, when the band scheduled a benefit concert in Harrison, Ark., the Rev. J. D. Tedder appeared at a town meeting to proscribe BOA as “a mongrel group of satanic origins that is promoting drugs, sex and revolution.” Tedder left the hall dramatically declaiming: “We’ll pray for rain, and if we are right with God, He’ll answer our prayers.” Skies turned out azure, and the band pulled 5,000 in a town of 8,000.
The Black Oak boys are now relocated, and rehabilitated, on a 1,500-acre communal spread cross state in Oakland. What’s more, they are generally thought of as the most munificent Arkansas travelers since the departure of late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. Jim Dandy has emerged as the rockin’ Robin Hood who takes from the rich (BOA has a $2.5 million deal with MCA Records, plus $10,000-$25,000 live performance guarantees) and gives to the poor.
BOA plays numerous fundraisers around the state, plowing proceeds back into local communities. With $35,000 from one show the band supplied all the materials to build a three-room schoolhouse in Oakland, replacing the last one-room school in Arkansas. BOA money has also helped to construct and operate two health centers and two day-care facilities for retarded children.
“Bein’ civic-minded,” says Jim Dandy, “is our way of thankin’ all the people who fed us and kept us from havin’ to take straight jobs when we didn’t have nuthin’.” BOA’s good works have earned them a number of plaques, and Gov. David Pryor, who has two BOA gold LPs hung in the Executive Mansion, will consider granting a full pardon to Dandy this spring.
At home in Oakland, relations with the natives are especially copacetic because BOA provides work for about one-fifth of the population of 340. A ten-foot-high oak wall around the BOA residential compound makes for even better neighbors. Residing inside are some 25 members of the BOA extended family of wives, offspring and old ladies. BOA’s six musicians, manager and road manager “cohabulate” (in Dandy’s term) in separate cottages but dine collectively in a central building called The Lodge. Their sole luxury is the largest private swimming pool in Arkansas.
The manager of the band and all eight full-time security guards are deputy sheriffs of the county (which is dry). Manager Butch Stone even racks an AR-15 automatic rifle across the rear window of his four-wheel drive. “We ain’t militant,” says Dandy, twice divorced, who lives with his son, Jimmy, 8, and current old lady, Nancy, “and I strongly believe in God. But I tell ya, if a man come through my door with evil in his eyes and a gun or knife or somethin’ on him, and he starts to reach for it and grabbin’ at my kid or woman, you won’t see me hesitatin’ to blow his head right off his shoulders. That’s a demon-possessed entity and I wouldn’t even lose no sleep over it.”
Dandy’s speech is full of quaint Biblical allusions (“We can have the Garden, we fell from above, just to fall in love”) but they aren’t merely ornamental. His deeply religious mother always wanted him to be a Southern Baptist preacher when he was growing up in Black Oak. He began singing above the roar of his father’s tractor, which he drove after school over the family’s 370 acres of cotton. There were few diversions in the rigid community of “200 and some.” He was once even forbidden to watch an Ed Sullivan Show—”the night Elvis sang Hound Dog,” he recalls, “when they wouldn’t show nuthin’ from the waist down. But I snuck back and watched from behind my parents’ chairs. They said, ‘Lord have mercy, ain’t that sinful?’ That wasn’t sinful—that became my dream.” Absorbed by rock’s more sexily cadenced Golden Rule (You can do anything but stay off-a my blue suede shoes), Jim and three high school buddies decided to make music. “But we had no money, and we wasn’t workin’ ’cause no redneck would give hippie longhairs no jobs then. So we hit the system.”
After being collared for ripping off their school, Jim recalls, “everybody told us not to play for a year or hang out together—anywhere. But we did. We plugged in wherever guys would let us at proms, hid out in caves, lived off heads of cabbage. We could never use the same name for the band twice, we was so hot. They was tryin’ to pin everythin’ in all northeast Arkansas on us.” Finally the group split for L.A. in 1969, played the clubs and started to build their grass roots constituency. But they yearned to come back to the simple life. “There are just too many court jesters, faggos, and guys pukin’ blood onstage in this industry,” says ponytailed backwoodsman Dandy, standing behind his house, looking north across 40 miles of the inebriating stillness of the Ozarks.
Still he defends the fixated caricatured message of his own music. “It’s just that sex is the one thing everybody hungers for. Even the folks who ain’t into it. We got a song, Flesh Needs Flesh. Now that may sound crude comin’ out of my mouth, but it was in the Bible and it didn’t sound too bad there.”