During my conversation with the great bassist and songwriter Guthrie Kennard, he mentioned touring with a band whose name brought back intriguing memories from my junior high school days: Black Oak Arkansas. Few of us were actually listening to BOA at the time, but some long-haired older kids from the smoking circle (yep, rugrats, they let kids smoke at school back then) wore concert jerseys with Jim “Dandy” Mangrum’s maniacal face on them. I recall hearing his shrieky, pre-death metal jabber from someone’s car cassette player. The unsubstantiated rumor gleefully embraced by all of us: Black Oak Arkansas was a band of acid-dropping Satan worshippers with hidden messages on their albums. They were sort of a hillbilly Black Sabbath – which, when you think about it, is kinda terrifying.
I laughingly told this to Kennard. To my surprise, he didn’t want to talk too much about his experiences with BOA. This is what he said:
“I would never want to badmouth Jim (Mangrum). He encouraged my songwriting. They performed a song I wrote called ‘Baby Shakes’ at a few shows. I remember someone came backstage one night and said there was a Vietnam vet with no legs who’d come to the show. He told people he never would’ve survived the war without Black Oak’s music. Jim brought him back, signed his albums, and posed for a picture with him.”
And about those silly rumors…? “Oh, man, I don’t want to say too much. I was there for the music, and there were a lot of extracurricular activities going on that I didn’t want to be involved with. Jim was professional. He kept it away from me. But this was the only band I ever played with where my wife told me: ‘You’ve got to quit. You don’t want to be around that stuff.’” He laughed. “So you can just say my wife made me quit.” Had Kennard been stunned into discretion by what he saw, or was he just fucking with my inner junior high schooler’s mind? I’ll never know.