David Lee Roth used to say there was a little Van Halen in everybody. Well, there’s plenty of “Jim Dandy” Mangrum in Diamond Dave. Long before Roth hit MTV with his blond mane, white spandex and flippant macho raps, Mangrum was fronting the hillbilly metal sextet Black Oak Arkansas with the identical pose.
“He’s done me proud,” Mangrum, 38, says in his deep Ozark drawl. “I told him, ‘Don’t ever feel bad about doin’ my stuff. When I started scooting across the stage with my scrub board, it was because I saw Chuck Berry do it with his guitar.’ “
BOA put Black Oak, Arkansas (population 272), on the map in 1973 with their Number One remake of the old LaVern Baker hit “Jim Dandy.” But Mangrum, the son of a cotton farmer, claims despotic management and the claustrophobia of living together drove the other band members away. In 1979, with BOA defunct, Mangrum moved to Oklahoma, and for a year, he says, “I sat in the house and did cocaine and marijuana and watched HBO.” After the band’s million-dollar Arkansas mountaintop retreat burned down, he sold the land to pay off debts. In 1983 he resettled in Black Oak with his third wife, Nancy, and his three children.
Mangrum’s old friends needled him at first. “They were really sarcastic,” he says. ” ‘You let it slip right through your fingers, didn’t ya?’ ” The local kids, though, pestered him for tales of the big time. “I was their monitor to the rest of the world. I could sit right down now and be old Pops Dandy if I wanted to.”
Instead, Mangrum, with original BOA guitarist Rick Reynolds, has formed a new version of the band and released The Black Attack Is Back. Although BOA used to average $60,000 a show, Mangrum is happy to make $2,000 a night now. “People ask how It felt when all the money was gone. Shoot, I was raised by a family that had no money. I went from having none to having plenty to having none again. Big deal. I still got the power — the power of personality.”