Black Oak Arkansas’ Jim “Dandy” Mangrum is the Ryne Duren of rock. Duren was the journeyman pitcher who could throw the ball like 167 mph. His only problem? He was legally blind. Not even Coke-bottle-thick glasses helped. From 1954-65 batters suffered nervous breakdowns at his appearance, because as famed Yankee manager Casey Stengel noted, “If he hit you in the head you might be in the past tense.” It didn’t improve batters’ nerves that Duren’s first pitch generally zoomed 20 feet over the catcher’s head. You never knew if Duren was going to hit the strike zone, the third base coach, or some poor kid in the bleacher seats.
Jim Dandy’s voice, same deal. I’d call it a wild pitch, but Mangrum has no pitch, and no control of his amazing instrument whatsoever. He might hit a note, or he might hit some stoned head in the 43rd row. But that’s what I like about Black Oak Arkansas; it managed to become one of the premier live acts of the seventies with a tone-deaf singer with mighty pipes, while playing a lascivious acid-fried hillbilly boogie you have to hear to believe.
Unlike its Southern Rock brethren, BOA was a band of bona fide freaks, LSD-soaked long-hair rednecks who lived off the land commune style (to avoid a felony warrant, basically) in the hills of rural north-central Arkansas. Black Oak played a whoop-ass psycho-boogie that might include Mangrum soloing on the washboard and drummer Tommy Aldridge playing the drums with his hands on such cosmic cornpone as “Mutants of the Monster” or “Lord Have Mercy on My Soul,” with its monologue by Jim “Aldous Huxley in bib overalls” Dandy about the Halls of Karma and how we can all be as one if we only do enough bong hits, like the one the boys do at the beginning of unreleased 1972 studio cut “UP, UP, UP.”