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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Black Oak Arkansas - "High on the Hog" (ATCO Records, 1973) [key tracks: Happy Hooker, Jim Dandy, Moonshine Sonata]

Okay so I am finally back in business. School and work conspired against me, then I went through a short spell where production of posts was halted by a missing memory card (digital cameras...). In better news, I have a new dream girl. Have you seen the new Gap commercial, with the "I can do better" song? W - O - W. That is probably the hottest commercial ever, if you measure in Carl Standard Thermal Units (CSTUs). On with the show...

There is a "unified theory of everything" when it comes to rock and roll. You can't undo it and you are helpless to disagree with it. I'll share it with you so you will be a wiser modern human; to reach epic rock status you have to hail from one of two places... the American South or Great Britain. That's it. Anyone else who achieves any success beyond the chains of their geographical conscription is an anomaly and should be celebrated as such. Black Oak Arkansas is one of these southern rock bands, epic in every way... in sound, in legend, and in personality. Led by the raunchy pre-Ronnie Dobbs hillbilly rocker Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, these boys languish in relative obscurity. In my life, I have seen the so-called "resurgence" of Southern Rock at least 3 times... and yet BOA fails to get any props or revitalization.

The story behind BOA is as epic as the music... the story is told that as a young rock band (known then as the Knowbody Else) they needed PA equipment to start gigging (as we all know, it is useless to be in a band if you aren't going to gig... that's how chicks know you are a rock god!). To get their equipment, the boys decided, in true Dukes of Hazard (or Cops) fashion to steal it from a local high school. They got away with the goods, and began gigging... but the law found out. They were found guilty of the theft, although not present at the hearing, and a warrant was issued for their arrest. In fear of the be-clubbed arm of the southern law, they withdrew to a mountain compound, where they honed their chops and lived off the land. During this time they cultivated both a more mature (musically) sound and a godlike mastery of marijuana farming. They experimented with the popular drugs of the day, as well as the moonshine that was a staple of rebellion in the south, and explored the music of the times; psychedelic rock bands playing with Eastern mysticism. They adapted these new worlds with the very real (to them) world of the simple God-fearing south. When the 26 year prison sentence was suspended, they emerged from their rock and roll Eden, moved to Nashville, and hit the scene and never looked back, releasing one album as The Knowbody Else (which failed to gain any attention), then launched into their dirty, loud, circus-like career as Black Oak Arkansas.

This LP was their opus, their fourth full length album, and the breaking point where they gave up entirely on trying to be another Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd and just gave their stoner-billy fans what they wanted... dirty rock and roll with a nod to their mountain dwelling, God-fearing, southern charm. All of the typical southern themes are here, God, cheating, highways, the beauty of the country unspoiled by tar and concrete, and sex. Some tracks, such as "Happy Hooker" sound as if they could have been lifted from an AC/DC sound check, while others sound much more structured and serious (such as the toe tapping instrumental "Moonshine Sonata"). This LP came with a rather tasty extra... a huge fold out poster of tour snapshots and backstage antics. As always, Kanesville came through and my copy was bought with the poster perfectly preserved, intact, and never hung. If you like your rock with soul, a southern twang, and a little boogie, check out Black Oak Arkansas and help the industry finally do them justice.

Horns up! See you soon!

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