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Black Oak Arkansas is an American Southern rock band named after the band's hometown of Black Oak, Arkansas. The band reached the height of its fame in the 1970s with ten charting albums released in that decade. Their style is punctuated by multiple guitar players and the raspy voice and on-stage antics of vocalist Jim "Dandy" Mangrum.
After several trips to Los Angeles, California, in 1970, the band was signed by Atco Records (whose parent label Atlantic Records once had a partnership with Stax) and rechristened "Black Oak Arkansas". Their self-titled debut album Black Oak Arkansas was released in 1971. The record featured enduring BOA classics such ase "Hot And Nasty", "Lord Have Mercy On My Soul", "Uncle Lijiah" (written in pseudo-tribute to Harvey Jett's real-life great uncle) and "When Electricity Came To Arkansas", which was accused by fundamentalist religious groups of containing backward-masked "Satanic messages" (possibly from a live performance of the song in which Mangrum utters "dog si eh" and "natas" three times). The band toured extensively, gaining a reputation as a premier live act throughout the early 1970s all across America, and later even in Europe. Keep the Faith followed in 1972, featuring the manic concert staple "Fever In My Mind". Drummer Wayne Evans left the band and was replaced by journeyman skinsman Tommy Aldridge on BOA's next release If an Angel Came to See You, Would You Make Her Feel at Home?, which featured another enduring BOA concert favorite, "Mutants Of The Monster" and expanded on the group's eclectic musical style.
In 1973, Black Oak Arkansas released their fourth LP Raunch 'N' Roll Live, and took the rather unorthodox tack of including previously unreleased new songs on their first live concert album like "Gigolo", "Gettin' Kinda Cocky", as well as two more BOA classics: "Hot Rod", which features Dandy's sly double-entendre lyrics, and "Up", which spotlights Aldridge's marathon drum solo, a portion of which he played with his bare hands. The four new songs were originally recorded and intended to be included on the follow-up studio album to If an Angel Came to See You..., but when Atco Records realized the band's true strong suit was their concert act, the live album resulted. Raunch 'N' Roll Live was re-issued in 2007 by Rhino Records as a 2-CD set containing both concerts that the original vinyl album was culled from. The band's fifth album, High on the Hog, also released in 1973, ended up being the high point of BOA's career, peaking at number 52 on the Billboard albums chart. Ruby Starr (future vocalist of Grey Ghost) also toured intermittently with Black Oak during this period, and her raspy voice can be heard on the group's remake of LaVern Baker's 1957 hit "Jim Dandy (To The Rescue)", which reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Baker's song was recorded at the suggestion of Elvis Presley, when he invited BOA to Graceland.
The band was riding high on the concert trail as well by this time, headlining large venues like Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium and Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. Black Oak Arkansas also played at the California Jam festival in Ontario, California on April 6, 1974. The concert attracted over 200,000 fans, and BOA appeared alongside Black Sabbath, Eagles, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple, Earth, Wind & Fire, Seals and Crofts and Rare Earth, and portions of the show were telecast on ABC Television in the US, exposing the band to a wider audience.
The follow-up to High On The Hog, 1974's, Street Party (featuring "Son Of A Gun", "Hey Ya'll" and "Dixie", as well as a cover of the Motown classic "Dancing In The Street"), may have failed to maintain the momentum, but another 1974 release entitled Early Times, a shelved Stax recording by 'The Knowbody Else' (now released on the back of their success and under the BOA banner), made up for lost time. Guitarist Harvey Jett left the band after Street Party and was replaced by Jimmy "Soybean" Henderson in 1975 and he debuted on the band's final studio album for Atco Records, Ain't Life Grand. This album included a snarly remake of George Harrison's Beatles classic "Taxman", as well as new originals like "Fancy Nancy", "Rebel", "Good Stuff", "Cryin' Shame" and "Let Life Be Good To You". The band signed a contract with MCA and promptly released X-Rated later in 1975, which marked the beginning of Black Oak Arkansas' decline. In 1976, they released two fairly nondescript and unsuccessful albums for MCA, Balls of Fire and 10 Yr Overnight Success, the latter of which as a five-piece band with the departure of Rickie Reynolds, who was more or less replaced on tour by keyboardist Marius Penczner during this period. Also in 1976, Atco released a final BOA contractual obligation album, the poorly-recorded, but high-spirited Live! Mutha, recorded on Mother's Day, 1975 in Long Beach, California. This recording saw a reappearance of Ruby Starr.
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