Flashback: Rock Star Jim Dandy – Macho Imagery and Down-home Religion
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Don Wilcock and originally appeared in the Troy Record on October 19, 1975.
Four guitars flash and clash in a cacophony punctuated by the steady drum beat. In the center of it all prances a figure exuding the cocky pride of a conquering lion. His long golden mane sweeps the air in broad strokes. His muscular body bulges from his skin tight suit in an obscene sexual parody of the super hero. He swirls, hunkers down, looks his screaming teen audience in the eye and growls:
I know what’s on your mind
Don’t you think it’s about time
For a little bump and grind?
I wasn’t looking forward to meeting Black Oak Arkansas’s lead signer Jim Dandy. I’ve met a lot of ignorant rock musicians, and I thought certainly that this figure, the most outrageous example of exaggerated macho imagery, must certainly be the most ignorant and crudest of all.
“I believe this world cannot be perfect. It would be the ultimate source of creation if it was and it’s not. People are vain if they think it is. It is one of the chosen words because the Only Begotten Son was chosen to come here.”
Huh? Can this be THE Jim Dandy that caused Chevrolet to cancel sponsorship of The Midnight Special when the camera showed him dancing to “Hot and Nasty” from the waist down? How does he reconcile this attitude with his stage image?
“We’re just living by example. The things we’ve done are good. We’re tight with our maker. We know what our goals are and what our limits are.”
The story is a familiar one among black musicians, but this is the first time I’d hear it from a hard rock white musician since Jerry Lee Lewis. Jim Dandy and his fellow band members grew up in Arkansas. His father lost the family farm to large corporate interests giving the young musician a healthy disrespect for the American big business class system, and his mother held things together with large doses of Southern Baptist religion. Bit it was music as much as Christ that freed Jim Dandy’s soul.
“We were shoved up against the wall, and we were also pushed past the breaking point, and that’s what this explosion of freedom is to us. ‘You can do anything you want to do. Just don’t step on my blues suede shoes.’ That’s the way Carl Perkins said it 20 years ago. It saved us from getting in jail and things like that. We’ve had a hell of a background, a hell of a story.”
Jim compares his rise to stardom with that of Elvis Presley, another southerner that TV was afraid to photograph from the waist down. He compares Black Oak Arkansas’ move from the Atlantic label to MCA with that of Elvis from Sam Phillips’ Sun label to RCA. “That’s the way MCA likes to think of us,” he chuckles. “Remember that Sam gave Elvis to RCA for $60,000 and thought he made a killing.”
Millions have watched Elvis and Jim Dandy go through their exciting stage acts, but few can know what it’s like to be on the other side of the footlights looking out. Why is he so outrageous?
“When you’re standing in the middle of a thunderstorm you can’t sing mellow and be heard. My psyche is personified in thousands. That’s our explosion – the common man pushed past the breaking point. We try to give them (the audience) an outlet. We try to give them a release – a release from aggression and anxieties. Freedom’s been outlawed. The established families in this country have tried to do in two centuries what it took 14 to 20 centuries in Europe to do – erase the middle class and keep the poor in their place. Once a sharecropper, always a sharecropper. Once a butler, always a butler. The rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.”
Jim speaks in mini-sermons. Four of his cousins are preachers.
This summer “Christians and citizens of all denominations” in Marion County, Arkansas, Black Oak’s home, came to the group for a donation towards a medical wing. The band had already helped with the post office and school. Now, they decided a benefit concert would raise the needed money and satisfy local youngsters who had never seen their famous neighbors perform.
Five days before the concert, J.D. Teddar, “a free lance open door Baptist preacher and former policeman – a native boy, formed a delegation of a group dedicated to (stopping) sex, drugs, revolution, heroin and all this stuff.
“These preachers, right there on the spot, five days before the concert, said, ‘Look, we’re going to try to pray for rain. If The Lord is with us, it’s going to rain on those people.’
“I mean that’s sticking your neck out,” says Jim Dandy, throwing his arms open. “I mean you can’t cry wolf anyway. You don’t pray unless it’s necessary, and that’s not one of the priorities of prayer.
“It (the day of the concert) came up, and there was not one fluffy cloud in the sky. I made the point to tell the people, ‘Just remember the good Lord has given us this day.’ And that’s all I had to say. The next day when they were not in the park talking against us, it rained.”
Maybe I just spent a half hour with someone who just looked like Jim Dandy.