Song of the Day

Ball and Chain
Big Brother and the Holding Company
Monterey Pop Festival
Sunday, June 18th, 1967

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If you are reading these pages you already know that the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, held at the Monterey Fair Grounds in – you guessed it – Monterey, California, was one of the first of the big, multi-act rock festivals of the late 1960s. Held a full two years before Woodstock, Monterey Pop has since become known for historic, show-stopping by The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Right here we have to point out that in saying Big Brother and the Holding Company we really mean Janis Joplin, who fronted the band before she became a household name. Although Janis had been performing and recording for a number of years, Monterey was her debut on the national scene. It was her “coming out party” and introduced her as a tour-de-force among rock vocalists.

At the time of Monterey Janis was simply the vocalist for Big Brother, a San Francisco band riding the wave of psychedelic music emanating from that city. The band had not yet released its debut album and was still more than a year away from releasing its breakthrough album, Cheap Thrills, but had developed a solid West Coast following.

Janis was from Texas and migrated to San Francisco where she lived in Haight-Ashbury and played and sang in local clubs. She joined Big Brother in June 1966 and had been performing with the band one year when they hit the stage at Monterey.

The rest of the Big Brother lineup consisted of band leader Sam Houston Andrew and James Gurley on guitars, Peter S. Albin on bass and Dave Getz on drums. On studio and live recordings it is apparent that this was not one of the musically-great bands in the history of rock. Without Janis they almost certainly would never have been heard on a national scale. James Gurley is often credited as one of the early pioneers of the psychedelic guitar, and rightly so – but at times his experimentation pushed through the limits of listenability, as it did on Ball and Chain at Monterey.

The band’s original slot at Monterey was as the second act of the day and following Canned Heat. The festival was being filmed by D.A. Pennebaker’s crew for the making of a possible movie but Big Brother refused to be filmed without being paid for it. So with the camera’s turned off the band delivered a dynamic five-song set with the climax being Janis’ astounding rendition of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball and Chain. Their set was so powerful that the festival organizers persuaded Big Brother to return the following evening to be filmed performing. They did, but played only two songs: Combination of the Two and Ball and Chain. But that was enough for history.

With established rock stars and other celebrities sitting in the front rows near the stage, Janis Joplin took her place at the forefront of rock singers with her performance of Ball & Chain. The song begins with a glass-shattering, eardrum-puncturing, gut-wrenching solo by Gurley in a previously unknown key. Albin, on bass, seems to be searching the skies for UFOs while wearing the snazziest outfit at the festival. Janis, decked out in a tasteful suit and flats, steps to the microphone for the first stanza which is delivered low and slow as the band thumps along in a bluesy riff. At 1:43 Janis and the band rev up and then at 1:50 Janis stomps on the accelerator. With one piercing scream she serves notice to all that it is she to whom all must now bow down.

Richard Goldstein, writing for Vogue in 1968, said that Janis was, “the most staggering leading woman in rock … clutching the knees of a final stanza … begging it not to leave.” There is no more better description of her performance of Ball and Chain at Monterey.

At the end of the clip, Mama Cass Elliott, sitting in the audience, speaks for all in attendance when she simply says, “Wow …”

 

Black Oak Arkansas

 

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Light my fire!!!

In 1971 a sound came roaring out of rural Arkansas, of all places, that featured soaring guitars, flashy drum and bass work and, above all, howling, roaring, guttural vocals. The band was Black Oak Arkansas, named for the hometown of its members, and its lineup was a collection of good-old-boys who could absolutely get down and dirty onstage, in the studio and … everywhere else.

Black Oak Arkansas was led by one of the premier front-men of his day, James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum. With long blond hair flowing nearly to his waist and wearing stretch pants made seemingly of latex, Jim Dandy preened and strutted around the stage like a peacock on acid, using (and often abusing) an old-fashioned washboard to keep rhythm with. His voice was inimitable, as if his vocal chords were made of high-grade sandpaper. Jim Dandy looked possessed, grinning widely and with eyes ablaze. Dude had an athletic build, and those pants … well, they held no secrets. Tight? If Jim Dandy had found a dime onstage he would have had to hand it to one of his bandmates to hold for him. With Jim Dandy out front Black Oak Arkansas was one of the most entertaining live acts of its time.

Black Oak Arkansas Perform Live In New York

Jim Dandy Mangrum and Pat “Dirty” Daugherty

Their story began in a tiny hamlet in the flatlands of Northeast Arkansas. The community of Black Oak is small and poor. A look at Google Maps/Street View reveals only a handful of commercial buildings, empty now and boarded up. Modest frame homes on the back streets are tidy, the abode of those working on surrounding farms and nearby industry. It was from this speck on the map that some high school buddies got together to form a rock group, The Knowbody Else. The group included most of the lineup that would later become famous as Black Oak Arkansas: guitarists Ricky “Ricochet” Reynolds, Stanley “Goober Grin” Knight and Harvey “Burley” Jett and bassist Pat “Dirty” Daugherty. The key piece fell into place when original vocalist Ronnie “Chicky Hawk” Smith decided he preferred the technical work of stage management and recommended his pal James Mangrum as the group’s front man.

The band gained regional notoriety of the wrong kind when someone noticed the band’s PA system looked a lot like the one missing from Monette High School. For that the members were charged with grand larceny and received a sentence, soon suspended, of 26 years in prison! Having worn out their welcome locally, The Knowbody Else moved to a compound in North Central Arkansas, became self-sustaining (no doubt growing more than food in the rich soil) and spent lots of time practicing.

After a short period on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast the band moved to the musical hotbed of Memphis in 1969 and signed a record deal with a small label. A larger record deal came about after gigging on the West Coast at which time the band changed its name to Black Oak Arkansas. Black Oak released its self-titled first album in 1971, and it was a killer. The band’s sound and spirit was perfectly captured in anthems such as Lord Have Mercy on my Soul (written by Jim Dandy after a particularly vivid acid trip), Hot and Nasty and When Electricity Came to Arkansas (with its groove based on the Woodstock rain chant), songs that would form the backbone of the band’s set list for the rest of the its career.

Listeners had never heard anything closely resembling Jim Dandy’s vocals. Raspy, searing and scary, Jim Dandy’s voice blistered its way through the instrumental track and established the wild-eyed singer as a force to be reckoned with. Of course few of the band’s songs – especially Hot and Nasty – were worthy of airplay on conventional AM stations, but the band got plenty of run on late night “underground” stations, particularly the legendary KAAY in Little Rock which had a large listenership from South Louisiana up into Illinois.

The album launched Black Oak as a live act and the band toured across America, sometimes as a support act and sometimes as the headliner. In an era of limited media nobody seeing Black Oak for the first time could have guessed what they were in for. The band was very solid, musically, even exceptional – especially after adding now-legendary heavy metal drummer Tommy Aldridge in 1972. Jim Dandy was a tour de force onstage, a massive presence commanding everyone’s attention. His booming voice carried the arenas, but it was nothing compared to his onstage personality. Leering demonically with eyes aglow, Jim Dandy engaged the audience with a knowing nod and a wink and one felt somehow that Jim Dandy was kind of a buddy … a crazy, drug-possessed buddy and one to be kept at arm’s length but a buddy nonetheless.

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Jim Dandy with the world’s most defiled washboard

Jim Dandy’s main instrument was an old fashioned washboard played in the traditional way with thimbles on the fingers. One can argue without fear of contradiction that James Mangrum was the finest washboard player in the history of rock and roll music. Name me anyone else who comes remotely close! He also subjected the washboard to unmentionable indignities, particularly on the song Hot Rod, and even smashed the poor thing to bits at the end of the show.

Though their sound was tight, the rest of the band presented an appearance that left no doubt as to their roots. Pat Daugherty often wore a coonskin cap onstage while Stanley Knight sported bib overalls. Had their hair been cut the band could easily have passed as Confederate soldiers after hard campaigning.

Black Oak 06   Though their studio albums had been, to that point, sharp and well produced, Black Oak’s strength was its live performances. Thus, in 1973, Black Oak released Raunch & Roll Live, which perfectly captured the band’s onstage energy and sound. The album cover featured a much-too-close-up photo of a semi-toothless Jim Dandy, cross-eyed and leering maniacally into the camera, his hair matted and sweaty. Another 1973 release, High on the Hog, reached #52 on the Billboard album charts and was joined by Black Oak’s only big hit single, Jim Dandy to the Rescue, a remake of a 1950s classic. Vocalist Ruby Starr, who often toured with Black Oak, lent her talents to the song, egging Jim Dandy on with her “Go, Jim Dandy!” Jim Dandy to the Rescue peaked at #25 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and has been a staple on Clear Channel classic rock playlists for the past three decades. If casual music fans know anything at all about Black Oak Arkansas, it is that song.

The success of 1973’s recordings was enough to push Black Oak another notch higher as an in-demand touring band. By 1974 the band was headlining stadium concerts across America and even appeared on the legendary California Jam rock festival that drew more than 250,000 people and featured Deep Purple, The Eagles, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Earth Wind and Fire as well as Black Oak Arkansas. Parts of the festival even found their way to network television, placing Black Oak in front of millions of viewers who had seen little, if anything, of the band onstage in its native environment.

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Black Oak Arkansas at California Jam, 1974

After the 1974 album Street Party (which featured a lovely version of Dixie) band members began to slowly peel away. Harvey “Burley” Jett became a born-again Christian and left the band to travel and preach. He was replaced by Jimmy “Soybean” Henderson. In 1976 Tommy Aldridge, fed up with the band’s heavy drug-use, decided he wanted to leave the group but found it wasn’t easy – or safe! Contractually, Aldridge had played with Black Oak long enough to become an “equal partner” in the band’s finances, which were substantial, complex and sophisticated. When he let the band’s manager know he wanted out Aldridge says he was threatened and in order to escape had to literally steal away from the band’s Arkansas compound in the middle of the night. He ended up a sort of refugee in Chicago, hiding his identity until a thug pinned Aldridge against a wall and threatened him with bodily harm. Aldridge was able to eventually legally separate his ties from Black Oak and lived to tell about his adventure.

Subsequent mid-‘70s albums failed to perform. Sales plummeted and Black Oak went into a tailspin. Jim Dandy eventually dropped Arkansas from the band’s name, replaced all original members with new musicians and changed his own vocal style to try to gain a more mainstream audience. It didn’t work. Jim Dandy himself eventually left the band in the early 1980s for health reasons, returning in 1984.  By that time original guitarist Ricky Lee Reynolds had rejoined the lineup.

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Jim Dandy to the Rest Room!

Black Oak Arkansas has intermittently sputtered along ever since with periods of inactivity and changing personnel. A revival of sorts came about in 2013 when Pat Daugherty and Jimmy Henderson returned to join Ricky Reynolds, Jim Dandy and the current Black Oak lineup to record a new album featuring unreleased songs from Black Oak’s glory days and a selection of new material. The resulting album, Back Thar N’ Over Yonder, is a solid effort and has received support from the band’s loyal core of fans. The lineup has toured in support of the album and has dug its way up out of smaller club venues to surface at small festivals.

Like all bands Black Oak has left some parts along the way of its path. Ruby Starr, beloved by Jim Dandy and the rest of the band, passed away from cancer in 1995. Stanley “Goober Grin” Knight, a founding member of the band, succumbed to cancer in 2013.

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Rickey Reynolds and Jim Dandy

Harvey Jett continues his work in Christian ministry including working in prison outreach as well as contemporary Christian music. Tommy Aldridge, once free of the band’s clutches, went on to a career of note, playing drums for the Pat Travers Band, Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy and, most recently, Whitesnake. With backing by longtime sponsor Yamaha drums, Aldridge gives drum clinics and is much in demand as a sessions drummer. Pat Daughtrey got busted, badly, and spent time in prison before reuniting with his former bandmates for the 2013 album and tour. Ricky Reynolds continues as Black Oak Arkansas’ guitarist and aside from Jim Dandy is the band’s longest-tenured member.

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Lord, have mercy on my soul!

As for Jim Dandy Mangrum … the spandex tights are gone. In their place is a black leather vest which to a degree hides a considerable paunch. During the heyday of Black Oak Arkansas I don’t know that anyone could have envisioned what Jim Dandy might look like in his 60s, but all things considered he’s standing on his own, still has most of his voice and seems to enjoy himself on stage. With his bleached-blonde hair, Jim Dandy looks somehow like he should be involved with professional wrestling, perhaps as a manager.

Check out BOA’s current web site for current news and tour dates. And for goodness sakes, don’t miss the eight webisodes that share a very personal and up-close look at the band’s roots, history and new album with current interviews and vintage footage.

Farewell Jimmy Greenspoon

OBITGREENSPOON-blog427Longtime – and I mean longtime – Three Dog Night keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon passed away on March 11th at age 67 from cancer. His trademark organ and electric piano styles were an integral part of the group’s sound. After the breakup of The Beatles Three Dog Night became the top-selling group in the world. The band broke up in the mid-’70s and then reunited a few years later. To my knowledge Greenspoon was always a member of the lineup and continued up until October 2014 when he took a leave of absence to deal with his illness. Bass player Joe Schermie died of a heart attack in 2002 but the rest of the original lineup is still alive and well. Guitarist Mike Allsup continues to play with the band, which for years now has featured two of the three lead singers, Cory Wells and Danny Hutton. Chuck Negron, after kicking the heroin addiction that nearly killed him, continues to tour and record as a solo act. Original drummer Floyd Sneed soldiers on after losing his wife and daughter to cancer.

Jimmy Greenspoon’s name can be heard on the Frank Zappa/Mother’s of Invention 1971 Live at the Fillmore album. Singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan engage in a dialogue/argument, with Howard playing a “rock star” and Mark playing a “groupie.” Mark wants to know which other big stars Howard has met and Howard says, “Jimmy Greenspoon, once.” Mark is thrilled, gasping that Three Dog Night is his “favorite band.”

Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show

Hello, Mrs. Avery. May we speak to Sylvia?

Hello, Mrs. Avery. May we speak to Sylvia?

Never was there a more aptly named group than Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show. In all my years of concert-going, Dr. Hook stands out head and shoulders as the most stoned group I ever saw on stage. The band was ripped, but not so badly as to affect their music. In fact, I was impressed by the band’s musicianship and delivery of songs.

Dr. Hook’s pathway to stardom was a long, strange trip. The band itself was a mixture of Southern boys and New Jersey guys. Iconic front-man Ray Sawyer, with his eye patch and mangled hat, was from Chickasaw, Alabama. After losing his right eye in a car accident in 1967 he fronted a band called The Chocolate Papers. They were the house band at Gus Stevens’ Supper Club on Highway 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi (trivia: Jayne Mansfield played her last club date at Gus Stevens’ before perishing in an auto accident on the way to New Orleans).

The Chocolate Papers. Four of these guys would be in the original Dr. Hook lineup.

The Chocolate Papers. Four of these guys would be in the original Dr. Hook lineup.

The Chocolate Papers eventually folded (baddump bump) with guitarist George Cummings making his way to New Jersey where he formed another band. Cummings invited former bandmates Ray Sawyer and keyboardist Billy Francis to join up and then added a key piece – 19-year-old Dennis Locorriere. Cummings and Sawyer were already in their 30s, ancient by rock standards, but they found a musical kindred spirit in the talented Locorriere who was 10 years their junior. Locorriere was a gifted singer and could play guitar and he and Sawyer had a natural chemistry together.

What the band did not have at that point was a name. Just before an early gig the club impresario asked what the band’s name was and Cummings hastily scrawled “Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, Straight from the South, serving up Soul Music.” Over the years many have thought that Ray Sawyer was “Dr. Hook,” but in fact there was no “Dr. Hook” except in the name of the band.

The unique Ray Sawyer

The unique Ray Sawyer

The band’s big break came in 1970 when their demo tape was heard by the musical director for the upcoming movie Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? The movie’s songs were all written by the immortal Shel Silverstein, a man of talents as a cartoonist, writer of children’s books and as a songwriter. Two of the band’s songs were included in the movie soundtrack and though Harry Kellerman was only a modest success as a movie the songs Dr. Hook recorded were enough to secure the band its first recording contract.

Dr. Hook’s eponymous first album was released in 1971 and contained the Silverstein number Sylvia’s Mother, which rose to #5 on the US charts. The song sounded like a send-up, which increased its appeal and which also gave the group an identity as something a bit different, which they were. Dr. Hook’s act, certainly onstage, WAS a sendup. Nothing they did seemed to be serious, perhaps with a little help from their friends.

Dr. Hook in Amsterdam. Can you even begin to imagine ... ?

Dr. Hook in Amsterdam. Can you even begin to imagine … ?

Dr. Hook hit the big time in 1972 with another Silverstein-composed song, The Cover of the Rolling Stone. The song peaked at #6 and the band indeed ended up on the cover of Rolling Stone in caricature. The song became the band’s signature number. Dr. Hook toured the world (and elsewhere), bringing its ribald show to stages throughout Europe and the US.

It was circa 1972-73 when I saw Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show live for the one and only time. This was in Mobile, Alabama, and at that time the city got a very surprising number of top concerts. The Mobile Municipal Auditorium seated 10,000 and was a great place to see a show. The usual setup was “festival seating” meaning no chairs on the ground floor, and that allowed my pals and me to get there early and get close to the stage.

The local promoter often packaged together three or four bands in one show – sometimes seemingly without regard to whether or not the bands complemented each other. They might grab whoever seemed to be coming through the area and book them into one big card.

I cannot remember who the headliner was this particular night but one of the supporting acts was supposed to be Frampton’s Camel, Peter Frampton’s band after he left Humble Pie and before he became … Peter Frampton. After the first act finished their set a considerable pause ensued before the MC finally announced that Frampton’s Camel would not be performing. Minor grumbling from the crowd was quickly erased when the MC shouted that we would instead get Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. The band practically stumbled out onto the stage and put on one of the most raucous and wildly entertaining shows I saw in that venue.

Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere traded barbs and jokes throughout the set and the band was in mild hysterics throughout – but nothing topped their performance of Sylvia’s Mother. The song is about a girl, Sylvia Avery, who is leaving home, moving away from her parents’ house, to go marry a man in Galveston. The singer is Sylvia’s previous boyfriend who calls the house and ends up on the phone with “Sylvia’s mother.” He begs to speak with Sylvia because he just wants to tell her goodbye but Mom tells the guy, nicely, to get lost.

Onstage in Mobile the song started innocently enough but then took an abrupt detour when Dennis got off the leash, lyrically, and improvised the second stanza. The second verse, as it was originally written by Shel Silverstein, goes:

Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s packin’ she’s gonna be leavin’ today
Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s marryin’ a fella down Galveston way
Sylvia’s mother says please don’t say nothin’ to make her start cryin’ and stay
And the operator says forty cents more for the next … three … minutes

But that night Dennis decided that Dad also needed to speak to the caller and bring up a certain issue that was obviously bugging him:

Sylvia’s father says Sylvia’s packin’, she’s gonna be leavin’ today
Sylvia’s father says Sylvia’s pregnant and you’re the one who made her that way
And Sylvia’s father says, “You mother f__ker! When I catch you you’re gonna pay!”

With that the band, and the song, broke down. Ray Sawyer collapsed and rolled on the stage floor and the rest of the band fell all over each other in hysterics. The crowd howled with delight. My pal Wayne and I had tears running down our cheeks. Dennis lurched toward the microphone and stammered, “I’m sorry. I – I just had to put that in there!” Once sufficiently composed the band finished the song and its set and retreated from the stage to a great ovation from the crowd.

That performance was very similar to this one, recorded in 1974 for television in Germany. The condition of the band is obvious, and in a lengthier version of this video Dennis actually throws up onstage. We were fortunately spared that in Mobile in 1972.

Dr. Hook cleaned up real nice

Dr. Hook cleaned up real nice

The band continued to commit endearing abominations on tour, performing at least one show in Scandinavia in the nude (ecch!). But nothing prepared Dr. Hook’s fans for what was to come next. In an incomprehensibly outrageous act, the band shocked the universe in the mid-1970s by … going mainstream. Individually and collectively, the band spruced itself up visually, trading in its stoner rags for tasteful clothing and getting its hair cut or coiffed, especially drummer John Wolters who went with the full bouffant du disceau.

With a mainstream appearance came a mainstream sound – and a stream of chart-busting hit songs. A Little Bit More hit the charts in 1976 and peaked at #11 US. It was followed closely by “Only Sixteen,” a remake of the Same Cooke tune, which shot up to #6 with a bullet!

The band charted again in 1978 with Sharing the NightTogether, another #6, and the following year with When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman at (you guessed it) #6. Sexy Eyes followed and at #5 was their highest-charting song since Sylvia’s Mother. Their final foray into the Top 40 was in 1982 with Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk – (in an early rock video starring a lovely pair of jeans).

From the Cover of the Rolling Stone to the cover of ... Tiger Beat? REALLY, DENNIS!

From the Cover of the Rolling Stone to the cover of … Tiger Beat? REALLY, DENNIS!

The commercial success of the band post-1975 came with compromise, something some members of the band found distasteful. Dennis Locorriere was quoted as saying the band felt like it had sold out and despite the success hated their sound. Ray Sawyer was disgusted at becoming a “product with a patch and a hat.”

All good things must come to an end and so it was with Dr. Hook. Ray Sawyer’s departure in 1983 to pursue a solo career was the beginning of the end. Locorriere and a revolving cast of band members carried on until hanging it up for good in 1985.

Since its demise the band members have seen their share of successes and failures. Ray’s solo career was barely noticeable, though he sometimes opened for his friend Mel Tillis in Las Vegas. In the mid-80s I saw Ray on the Nashville Network singing “You Make My Pants Want To Get Up and Dance.” Animated pants seem to have been a theme with Ray.

Ray today

Ray today

Ray eventually recognized that his “hook” was Dr. Hook and begun touring under various incarnations of that name including “Dr. Hook featuring Ray ‘Eye Patch’ Sawyer.” Ray leases the name from Dennis, who owns the rights to it. Though now 78 years old and with a voice reduced to a growl , Ray continues to tour, with dates scheduled through England in Spring 2015.

Dennis all spruced up and presentable

Dennis all spruced up and presentable

Dennis Locorriere moved to Nashville after the band’s breakup and wrote songs for other artists. In 2007 he was oddly included in an all-star tribute to former Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi which featured Steve Winwood, Pete Townshend, Bill Wyman, Joe Walsh and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens). The gig proved beneficial, for Wyman brought Dennis on the following year as a touring member of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings in 2008. His most recent solo album, Post Cool, was released in 2010. In 2015 he’ll be on the road touring the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Denmark. For all the wear and tear, Dennis, at 65, looks and sounds pretty darn good.

Guitarist Rik Elswit has returned to his bluegrass and folk roots and now teaches guitar in San Rafael, CA.  The latest thing I can find on George Cummings is this interview done in 2010. Three members of the Dr. Hook lineup in its heyday have passed on: drummer John Wolters in 1997, bassist Jance Garfat in 2006 and keyboardist and original member Billy Francis in 2010.

Rik Elswit

Rik Elswit

George Cummings

George Cummings