Black Oak Arkansas: High On The Hog - Album Of The Week Club review

Black Oak Arkansas: perhaps more famous for introducing the world to frontman Jim ‘Dandy’ Mangrum than for their own albums, like 1973's High On The Hog

Black Oak Arkansas: High On The Hog cover
(Image: © Atco)

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Black Oak Arkansas: High On The Hog

Black Oak Arkansas: High On The Hog album cover

(Image credit: Atco)

Swimmin' in Quicksand
Back to the Land
Happy Hooker
Red Hot Lovin'
Jim Dandy
Moonshine Sonata
Why Shouldn't I Smile
High 'n' Dry
Mad Man

Afforded little respect outside of the States, Black Oak Arkansas were a joyous fusion of fleshpot feeding frenzy and hedonistically driven music, providing the soundtrack to much bra-strap fumbling in the back of daddy’s Cadillac. 

They started in the mid-60s, but found their niche with this album, boasting a standout cover of the LaVern Baker classic Jim Dandy, plus the Funkadelic-inspired Swimmin’ In Quicksand and the nifty instrumental Moonshine Sonata

They also had frontman Jim ‘Dandy’ Mangrum, the hillbilly hot rod who was David Lee Roth before the Van Halen man had worked his way into spandex.

"As teenagers we were listening to Elton John and Bowie and Queen," Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx told us, "but one day I remember my friend came over with this Black Oak Arkansas album and it seemed like a whole new world. I was living in Seattle at the time, and we were so into British rock, and then this opened our eyes to American bands. 

"What a great band. I don’t think Black Oak Arkansas get the credit they deserve, and you mainly hear about them because David Lee Roth was so influenced by [BOA vocalist] Jim Dandy, who was one of the coolest vocalists of the 70s." 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in September 1973

  • Over-Nite Sensation - Frank Zappa
  • Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert - Eric Clapton
  • The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle - Bruce Springsteen
  • Crazy Eyes - Poco
  • Faust IV - Faust
  • In a Glass House - Gentle Giant
  • Vagabonds of the Western World - Thin Lizzy
  • Bang - James Gang
  • Hello! - Status Quo
  • It's Only a Movie - Family
  • Nice 'n' Greasy - Atomic Rooster
  • Sweet Freedom - Uriah Heep
  • Ten Years Are Gone - John Mayall


What they said...

"The band also gets a solid showcase for their chops on Moonshine Sonata, a tasty little instrumental that starts off as sprightly country-rock rave-up before shifting into a down-home ballad tempo for a surprisingly lovely and mellow finale. In the end, High On The Hog probably won't appeal to anyone who isn't already a Southern rock fan, but anyone who enjoys this genre will find plenty to like on this album." (AllMusic)

"There is little to be said in favour of this band. Its stage presence is obnoxiously groin-oriented and its music has consistently proven to be needless racket. Hopefully, the gas shortage will curtail its constant “on the road” status. Black Oak’s fifth album, High on the Hog, is typically unnecessary." (Cameron Crowe, LA Times

"High on the Hog is redeemed by the inclusion of nasty southern-livin’ rockers like the funky opener Swimmin’ in Quicksand, the churning Red Hot Lovin’, and Mad Man, while Moonshine Sonata is a vintage guitarmony laced instrumental. Possessing neither the sophistication of an Allmans or attitude of Skynrd, High On The Hog is yer basic roll in the mud through a set of lowbrow rube-rock, worth checking out for fans of the genre." (Jive Time Records)


What you said...

Mike Canoe: The album with the song that made the band and made the man. But is there more to High On The Hog and Black Oak Arkansas than the song Jim Dandy?

As other club members have written, a lot of it depends on how much you can handle the voice of lead singer Jim "Dandy" Mangrum and his good ol' country boy persona. For me, it turns out to be less than I thought. It's what I imagine Captain Beefheart would sound like if he had commercial aspirations rather than being the point guard of the avant-garde.

I have watched YouTube clips of BOA live and Mangrum is definitely more in his element as a showman than a singer. On record, his voice rarely rises above a shtick that has more in common with the old country variety show Hee Haw than Southern Rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Blackfoot. Aside from that song, I like his voice when he sounds menacing as on opener, Swimmin' In Quicksand or Why Shouldn't I Smile. That menace gets overused on Mad Man though, which appears to repeat the chorus once for every citizen of Black Oak, Arkansas.

Fortune is fickle for musicians whose biggest hit is a cover song. Jim Dandy is a randy dandy of a song that sticks out like one of two good thumbs on two handfuls of otherwise sore fingers. The other song is Moonshine Sonata, which outside of one shout of "MOONSHINE!" is Mangrum-free.

The other songs might have fared better with a better singer, like, say, Ruby Starr, who just about steals Jim Dandy away from Mangrum with her brassy, sassy holler. It makes me ponder what the chooglin' Movin' or gentle High 'N' Dry" might sound like with Starr as the star. Of course, they'd probably have to rework the lyrics to Happy Hooker off the album. Another plus in my book.

Black Oak Arkansas is a band I've always been curious about. When I'd flip through the record bins as a teen in the '80s, they would have four or five different albums in the bin, but I would never hear them on rock radio. I am sure they were a totally different experience if you saw them live, but I'm more likely to find what I can of the late Ruby Starr's back catalog before I check out another Black Oak Arkansas album.

Paul Hutchings: It's an album I have hugely fond memories of. Picked it up in the 80s when getting into all types of rock a metal. Jim's voice was so distinct. You either loved it or hated it. I was in the former camp and just loved the whole vibe of the band. They blended country with hard southern rock and were just brilliant fun. And skilled musicians to boot. This album in particular wins points for the incredible cover as well as the musical content.

Fred Varcoe: BOA were a bit of a one trick pony, that pony being Jim Dandy. But Jim and the boys were brilliant supporting Black Sabbath on the Master of Reality tour. Appropriate? No, but lots of fun. The sort of band you'd see live but leave off the turntable.

Evan Sanders: A nice Southern Rock album! Listening to this brought back memories of early Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, or harder-edged Allman Brothers Band. Black Oak Arkansas just seemed to be missing a monster breakout hit, ala Free Bird, Flirtin' With Disaster, or Ramblin' Man. 7/10

John Davidson: Sounding somewhat like the Soggy Bottom Boys from O Brother Where Art Thou? updated to 70s electric guitar boogie.

It's fine for what it is but it definitely isn't for me. Hillbilly country rather than southern rock (although it has its moments). Standout track for me is Moonshine Sonata. 6/10

Philip Qvist: Well I have heard of BOA, and of their singer Jim Dandy Mangrum, but this is the first time that I have actually listened to one of their records from start to finish.

Verdict? Well (as somebody has already mentioned) Jim Dandy may have influenced DLR of Van Halen, but his voice is certainly an acquired taste - and he was starting to grate on me well before the 33 plus minutes was up.

Yes, he was the focal point of the band, but the fact that the instrumental Moonshine Sonata is the strongest track on High On The Hog says a lot. Swimmin' In Quicksand and Why Shouldn't I Smile were other highlights, and I have to say the rest of the band are near the top of their game.

The early 70s was a time when bands from the Southern States of the US were beginning to put their mark on the music scene, but, as pleasant as High On The Hog was, BOA were no match against the heavyweights that were Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers Band and, if you are inclined to include them, ZZ Top.

A decent 6/10 for me - a better sounding singer would have improved the score.

Brian Carr: The best move Black Oak Arkansas made on High On The Hog was putting the best tune from the album, Swimmin’ In Quicksand, first. On this holiday week, I didn’t think I’d get a chance to listen, but driving solo for a few hours today decided to give it a spin. Quicksand’s down and dirty groove surprised me and made me wonder if I had the wrong idea about BOA.

Unfortunately, the rest of the record was about spot on what I expected. They followed the best tune with the worst, Back To The Land. The remainder of High On The Hog failed to get back to its promising beginning. Ho-hum boogie and irritating vocals filled the album for me, and their best known tune, Jim Dandy, only proves to me that hits aren’t always good.

Greg Schwepe: First BOA album I have ever listened to...ever. And made it all the way through. So, my immediate album rating thoughts?

Typical early 70s boogie rock with not bad musicianship. I wouldn’t lump them in with the Southern Rock bands though, even though their namesake state is in the South.

While the groove and songs aren’t that bad... I can’t handle more than 1-2 songs with Jim Dandy’s twang. I know that was kind of their “thing”...but after an entire album, well, that was enough for me.

And of course after the first Van Halen album came out and I spied Jim Dandy on an album cover while sorting through the “B” rack at the local record store; “ that’s where DLR got the idea for his look...” So I will give him credit for his influence!

BOA seemed to be one of those bands where you either got them...or not! Album is not unlistenable by any means, but I won’t be checking out the rest of their catalogue in Spotify. 5 out of 10.

Richard Cardenas: Great record. I think for listeners, it’s a timing thing. When I first heard this I was a kid in the 70’s and this was fun. Still love the record, still love the band. I’ve even seen BOA as recently as three four years ago.

Jim is not as svelte as he once was and takes the chugging of whiskey on stage too seriously but, still a great live act. Album rating a solid seven.

Alex Hayes: The first thing I felt compelled to do this week was actually look Black Oak, Arkansas up on the map, or to be more precise Google Maps. I ended up taking a bit of a virtual tour around the place. Wow. Real bumblefuck country. Particularly compared to the cosmopolitan paradise that I reside in. *Sniff*.

Then, I gave High On The Hog a couple of listens, and it sounds exactly like Black Oak, Arkansas looks on Google Maps. I mean that in a positive way too, as I really quite dug this. In fact, I gave the group's debut album a spin too. Same thing, rustic, but charmingly so.

I did find Jim 'Dandy' Mangnum's voice a bit of an acquired taste. It wasn't a deal-breaker, but I do remember thinking 'Hey, it wasn't just the image and on-stage persona that Diamond Dave took inspiration from here, it was making the most of a limited vocal range'.

I genuinely enjoyed both Black Oak Arkansas albums though. I actually plan on giving them another spin later this evening. Good quality early 70s southern country/rock with plenty of character.

Uli Hassinger: Without the first and last songs, which are quite funky, this group sounds like Grateful Dead wannabes. They all master their instruments. I especially like their twin guitar leads, the extreme rhythmic and driving drummer and the funky keyboards. 

The main problem is the singing, which is slightly annoying. The best song on the album therefore is the instrumental Moonshine Sonata. The worst song is Jim Dandy on which the vocals are just awful. Probably I would dig the album more when it were fully instrumental. 6/10.


Final Score: 5.46 (50 votes cast, with a total score of 273)

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