Monday, June 27, 2011

Black Oak Arkansas (Live, June 24, 2011. Beverly Arts Center, Chicago)

(Guest Review by Gentleman John Battles) I'm shooting from the hip, all you unhip hipster kiddies. Back in the early 70's Black Oak Arkansas' big hits "Jim Dandy (To The Rescue),” and "Hot 'n' Nasty” (which even hit the jukeboxes, years after it's release), were some of the finest slabs of REAL Rock'n'Roll this side of Brownsville Station. Definitely disliked and misunderstood in their day, they still briefly hit the big time with a slew of appearances on In Concert and The Midnight Special. Future President, and fellow Arkansas native, Bill Clinton, was known to attend their early shows, and even said he aspired to be like their frontman, Jim Dandy, and, in retrospect, he was. 
Well, it's 2011. The turnaway crowds are gone (Hell, the VERY intimate Beverly Arts Center was only about half-full, but, that's the power of non-promotion), and while The Dandy no longer has a stallion's mane down to his ass, he still has an impressive, gleaming Charlie Rich-platinum do', easily halfway, or more, down his ass. One friend dared to ask me if he still had the impressive package that is now the "Stuff " of legend. Well, I didn’t look at it too much, but the Brother was packin', OK ? Apart from an understandable paunch (I think he said he's now 63, so, that's really not a big deal. I see guys my age, or less, with major beer guts pulling beautiful, classy looking women all the time. Especially near Wrigley Field), he's actually in pretty decent shape, and, besides, the man still displayed the sexual bravado of yore by letting his shirt unbutton almost completely during the first song. And his voice cried to the heavens, and invoked demons. The non-contradictory melding of sex and spirituality that has always been their stock in trade was always within reach, and used for the good of mankind.
Was it some heavy shit? What the Hell do you think? It was everything Early 70s Hard Rock used to be. From first LP cuts like "Uncle Lijah,” "Lord Have Mercy on My Soul,” "When Electricity Came To Arkansas,” and, of course, "Hot n’ Nasty" (better known today for its break beat) to later nuggets like "Happy Hooker,” and, of course, "Jim Dandy" (Jim Dandy Mangrum  affirmed that Georgie Klein arranged to have Elvis phone him. Elvis reportedly told Jim that he HAD to cover LaVern Baker's hit, "Jim Dandy,” because he was now on Atlantic Records, and besides, the song is really about him, when you think about it. Dandy heeded the King's Call, and their version was a monster smash!). Original Guitarist, Rick Reynolds, and a younger cat who did a LOT of showboating (tho' Dandy still works the stage like a man in the desert with no shoes), even spilling half his beer on the stage while using the bottle as a slide, while holding his axe upside-down. But, one of the real show-stoppers was Dandy's tribute to his fallen friend, Ruby Starr, the only woman to tour as an official member of Black Oak Arkansas, and the combustible screamer on the song, "Jim Dandy." She had sexual chutzpah to match Dandy's, but, of course, the latter spoke more of the spirit world when recalling the former. Dandy let loose with a devastating take on Grand Funk's Downer Rock classic, "Heartbreaker" (which I think my brother's first band Ear Lick, used to do. You're fascinated, right?). Anybody who doesn’t think The Dandy could really sing should have heard this very sincere, call to the angels. If you could imagine, it was like one of Tom Jones' more emotionally wrought moments ("Delilah" or "Without Love,” for starters), but, overall, we were promised a good time, and, that's ALL we got.
Drummer, Johnny Bolin (Tommy Bolin's younger Brother) let loose with a battery comparable to (more or less) original member (and sole Yankee of the group, but, who cares?), Tommy Aldridge, but with his own personal kind of attack. The Bass player stayed in the underappreciated funky - by way of Stax -  Southern Rock groove that is more or less the sole province of BOA, and set them apart from most of their peers. He also had on the same damn customized western shirt that I was wearing!  At some point, a Boston Terrier pup made her way to the stage, and was running all over the place, though, never tripping on guitar chords or being in anyone’s way, so they let her stay. People soon cheered for the dog as much as the band. She WAS cute with a capital "K" (turns out, she belonged to one of Bolin's friends, but talk about surreal!). While Jim Dandy rambled at a rapid clip (all good stuff) between songs, Black Oak Arkansas laid down a thick and heavy sound, the kind that never goes out of style. Now, my good friend, Jeffrey Evans (whom Jack White and Jon Spencer should probably be sending checks to), told me he once at a Blues jam in Memphis he saw Dandy perform a spectacular version of "All Along The Watchtower” which made him forget all other versions he'd heard in the past. On this occasion he did it again. But, Jim Dandy does it all. THE BEAT! THE BEAT! THE BEAT! After the show, most of the band came out, signed stuff, hung out with the fans, and told great stories. There was no division between the artists and their followers, and that's the way it was meant to be. If you're STILL too cool for Black Oak Arkansas, especially if you lean toward Southern Culture on The Skids, Nashville Pussy, Reverend Horton Heat, or even Antiseen, you're missing the whole point. This is music that's way too fun, played by professionals, who like to have as good a time as their audience. And, that, too, is where the whole thing's at. Want to see a really good Rock n’' Roll show? Go see BOA at a dive near you (or in this case, a truly beautiful venue).

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