COVID-19 claims Rickie Lee Reynolds of Black Oak Arkansas fame

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Tailored from the forthcoming “Sittin’ On A Mountaintop: The Rise and Fall of Black Oak Arkansas”

Summer time 1979. A small boy is doing his every day bicycle inspections of the ditches in his rural Arkansas neighborhood. Within the shimmering warmth, he spies a gem glistening within the muck and weeds: a pink eight-track tape with muddy piping, all wrapped in a black bow of errant quarter-inch magnetic tape. “Pussy pink,” the singer of the band on the tape would describe it to the boy years later. However such vulgarities can be misplaced on the kid now as he pries the item from the ditch’s depths. Knocking away the delta filth, the worn cartridge reads “BL  Ok O Ok  RK NSAS.” 

An artifact from a way back tribe, clearly. However what have been their beliefs and rituals? A passing motorist had apparently tossed it out in frustration way back. The boy wouldn’t make the identical mistake. He hops again on his bicycle and pedals furiously house, holding on to the small plastic field tightly. His life would by no means be the identical once more.

Rickie Lee “Ricochet” Reynolds, 73, guitarist and “The Wizard of Oak” within the band Black Oak Arkansas, died of kidney failure and cardiac arrest on Sept. 4, 2021, whereas being handled for COVID-19 in Memphis, the place he had lived for years. 

Reynolds was born Oct. 28, 1948, in Manila, Arkansas, 15 miles east of Black Oak, in west Mississippi County. The guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and writer grew up in California from age 5 by way of junior excessive. Then he returned once more to northeast Arkansas with a West Coast angle and a hirsute look. He met his lifelong buddy and accomplice Jim “Dandy” Mangrum in ninth grade. “We have been the one longhairs in Arkansas in 1963,” Reynolds later stated. 

Rickie Lee Reynolds

“I had 5 fights every week on the similar barn every single day after college,” Dandy recalled. “They didn’t perceive me. I didn’t make them really feel good. For some motive, I didn’t look proper. I advised Rick in the future, ‘Don’t three chords?’ He stated, ‘I do know 4.’ I stated, ‘Nicely, let’s simply have a band. I can’t struggle these motherfuckers separately.” 

Initially, Dandy performed drums with Reynolds singing and taking part in guitar. Later, they rehearsed with native gamers J.R. Brewer and Keith McCain in a Black Oak grain elevator. “The primary notes we ever performed collectively have been in Black Oak, Arkansas, in order that’s what we named ourselves after,” Reynolds stated. 

The isolation helped forge the group’s singular type. “If we’d recognized what they have been doing on the market in California or up in New York, we’d have been doing it, too,” Dandy stated. “However we had no approach of understanding. Again then, they weren’t even taking part in nation music round Black Oak, Arkansas — it was a dry county.” 

Future supervisor Butch Stone was a scholar at close by Arkansas State when he heard about Reynolds and Dandy’s band. With lengthy hair on males in Arkansas nonetheless a rarity even because the Nineteen Sixties wore on, Stone “saved listening to about these long-haired hippies that performed some Byrds, some Yardbirds, and once in a while had a track of their very own,” Stone stated. “I do know a star after I see it, and I noticed that in Jim. They have been simply so totally different than the whole lot else. That they had a lightweight present. That they had their shit occurring.” 

The band was recognized then as Knowbody Else, taking part in Bootheel-area Legion Huts and the like. “Knowbody Else was probably the most distinctive band I had ever heard,” Glennray Tutor wrote in a 2012 launch on Arf! Arf! Data of the band’s early demos. “Each member had a microphone, and sang stunning harmonies. The band assimilated a number of the music that was occurring round them, but got here up with a really distinct type. There’s a sturdy folk-rock really feel to among the materials, whereas different tracks recall a mod psychedelic sound.” Certainly, the tracks, recorded in 1967 by famed Little Rock-born producer Jim Dickinson, thread the needle between The Byrds, The Stooges and Jane’s Dependancy: “In efficiency, they performed so loudly that your ears would nonetheless be ringing the subsequent day.”

Rickie Lee Reynolds as depicted on album cowl artwork in 1974.

Stone subsequently helped Knowbody Else get a take care of Stax Data of Memphis. However the album tanked, with band members and Stone alleging the R&B-oriented label didn’t know how one can market a white hippie band — and even nixed the concept of a band picture on the entrance cowl. After the group’s core achieved fame as Black Oak Arkansas a number of years later, nevertheless, Stax reissued its previous Knowbody Else tracks. 

“We modified the identify of the band [to Black Oak Arkansas] really simply earlier than we signed to Atlantic, most likely six months or so earlier than we signed with Atlantic. That was the concept of an lawyer named Jerry Cohen,” as supervisor Stone recalled. “… I feel he had some concept to tie BOA in to British Abroad Airways or one thing like that. That by no means took place.”

The Atlantic Data roster included everybody from Ray Charles to Led Zeppelin, and the label’s president, Turkish-American Ahmet Ertegun, was practically as well-known as a few of its acts. “[Ahmet] flew out to Hollywood to see us at Topanga Canyon; we have been taking part in at a spot known as The Corral,” Reynolds stated of the legendary venue. Stone remembers The Corral crowd parting for Ertegun to get a more in-depth take a look at the band “like Moses parting the Purple Sea.”

“Ahmet confirmed up and it was completely packed. And we ended up getting signed as a result of he appreciated our guitar work,” Reynolds stated. “He thought Jim’s voice was form of unusual, however he appreciated the guitar work, the three-interplay on the guitar.”

Black Oak Arkansas’s eponymous debut — with the tiny city of Black Oak circled on a state map on the entrance cowl — was launched on Atlantic’s Atco subsidiary in March 1971. It solely reached a peak of #127 on the U.S. charts, however stays the inventive excessive water mark of the band’s recorded output. It spawned underground radio hits like “Scorching and Nasty,” “When Electrical energy Got here To Arkansas” and “Lord Have Mercy On My Soul,” aided by airplay on KAAY’s “Beaker Avenue” in a single day rock program in Little Rock, touting an AM sign that reached from Cuba to Canada. 

Rickie Lee Reynolds at heart, with Harvey “Burley” Jett at left.

On the debut, the band leavened its heavy triple-guitar assault — and Dandy’s apocalyptic squall — with a stunning country-folk facet in “Recollections At The Window,” “The Hills of Arkansas,” and “Uncle Elijah,” helped by Pat “Soiled” Daugherty’s melodic bass, Stanley “Goober” Knight’s organ and metal guitar, and Harvey “Burley” Jett’s banjo. The band even lined Man Mitchell’s mid-Fifties country-pop hit “Singing The Blues” (written by fellow Arkansawyer Melvin Endsley of Drasco). Add in Dandy’s washboard and a jug band session appeared practically as more likely to escape as a doom guitar riff. 

“Black Oak Arkansas might grow to be the brand new Rolling Stones!” concluded Rolling Stone journal in its document evaluation. 

Beginning with 1972’s sophomore effort, “Preserve The Religion” — which charted greater than BOA’s debut and featured a gatefold sleeve opening to a photograph courtesy of the Arkansas Recreation and Fish Fee —  critics turned more and more unimpressed. Robert Christgau wrote, “This group isn’t even hawking revival — snake oil, that’s all.”  

Heroic rock critic Lester Bangs, who “made the error of listening to [BOA’s debut] one time and writing a fulsomely imagistic evaluation whereas underneath the affect of amphetamines, praising it to the skies,” didn’t make the identical mistake reviewing “Preserve the Religion” and Dandy’s “juju-hosanna riff:” “I noticed them on tour with Grand Funk, and whereas I felt that the lead singer’s twerpy makes an attempt at Dr. John-ish mumbo jumbo in a wretched pseudo-Captain Beefheart voice have been godawful, the three guitarists and rhythm part have been full, thrilling, dense and driving all the way in which. By the point this album got here out, nevertheless, I had grow to be so sick of this wimp dubbed Dandy’s growly pullulations that I might hardly stand to hearken to it.” 

Starting in mid-1972 with its third studio album, “If An Angel Got here to See You, Would You Make Her Really feel at Dwelling?” — a title so laborious it stretches round all 4 corners of the album jacket — famend producer Tom Dowd would information the group by way of its business peak. The band additionally dialed down the mysticism and dialed up the intercourse and added bombastic Tommy Aldridge to exchange Wayne “Squeezebox” Evans on drums. 

The band’s standing as street warriors anchored by Dandy’s demented messianic stage patter, in addition to the rejection of the studio tracks for its subsequent album, was acknowledged in 1973’s stay set, “Raunch ’N’ Roll.” In shrewd advertising and marketing on par with instructing followers to ship mail to P.O. Field 1 in Black Oak, the album included a deed holding “honorary possession to 1 sq. inch of heaven on earth with the compliments of the authorized house owners, Black Oak Arkansas.”  

One in every of 6.3 million  square-inch parcels have been subdivided inside an acre in Boone County “for the expressed and particular function of sharing with everybody who believes within the universality of man.” The deed went on, acknowledging “that no man owns the land, however merely occupies house on it, and that it’s the obligation of all mankind, now and tomorrow, to really feel duty and respect for these with whom he shares possession.” 

With its hit top-25 cowl model of “Jim Dandy (To The Rescue),” the band’s 1973 album “Excessive On The Hog” was its greatest vendor. Essential counterpoint: “There’s little to be stated in favor of this band,” Cameron Crowe wrote within the April 7, 1974, situation of Los Angeles Instances. “Its stage presence is obnoxiously groin-oriented and its music has persistently confirmed to be unnecessary racket. Hopefully, the fuel scarcity will curtail its fixed ‘on the street’ standing. Black Oak’s fifth album, ‘Excessive On the Hog,’ is often pointless.” 

Famed album illustrator Joe Petagno, higher recognized for fantasy and sci-fi, did the Li’l Abner-inspired “Hog” album cowl depicting the band astride a big sow, suckling piglets beneath her, in a Dogpatch-like tableau. Though some Black Oak residents have traditionally not appreciated the affiliation with the band, at the moment, that picture is now a mural in Black Oak Arkansas’s namesake city in Craighead County.

In the meantime, Black Oak Arkansas had gotten its personal land deed for sharing with everybody who believes within the universality of man when it purchased property on Bull Shoals Lake though the band erected a tall privateness fence. The compound was a former resort with cabins for everybody, stated to be strategically situated on the Marion-Baxter county line in order that the sheriffs with jurisdiction might solely strategy by boat. It was one thing the band had needed to do for a very long time, with Dandy mentioning the concept to a Rolling Stone reporter as early as 1971. 

“It was greater than only a band. It was a hippie household. It was a commune,” Stone stated. Ruby Starr, co-vocalist on “Jim Dandy To The Rescue,” turned a part of the material of the band throughout this time. She lived throughout the street from the band’s compound in Cabin One in every of a resort known as Persimmon Level the place spillover from the band stayed. It was Starr who gave Reynolds the nickname “the Wizard of Oak.”  

Regardless of the promise of rest on the band’s land, Black Oak Arkansas maintained its punishing touring schedule and too-prolific recording schedule, releasing “Ain’t Life Grand” on Atco in April 1975, and “X-Rated” that September on new label MCA. The latter scraped the U.S. prime 100 bouyed by an anomalous balled, “Robust Sufficient to Be Light,” which hit the highest 90. It was the band’s final  track to chart.

The primary half of 1976 noticed two extra album releases. There was one other stay album (“Stay! Mutha,” as a result of it was recorded on Mom’s Day, duh) and a brand new studio album, “Balls of Fireplace,” which — however for a wrestling champion-style belt, some jewellery, and airbrushing — depicts a nude Jim Dandy on the duvet. 

The band additionally sued Harrison, Arkansas-based preacher J.D. Tedder that yr after he known as them a “mongrel group of satanic origins selling medication, intercourse, revolution.” Black Oak Arkansas received, though it was solely awarded a symbolic $1 in damages. “The group appears to draw prices like that,” the Arkansas Gazette famous in 1977 earlier than defending the band for its many charitable acts and recording public service bulletins towards onerous medication. Particularly in its house state, the band was recognized for being a smooth contact for charity, gifting away hundreds to everybody from politicians to Arkansas Kids’s Hospital. “We have been concerned,” Stone stated.

“I noticed [the band] initially as a pressure for good. Which is why we acquired concerned in politics, as a result of we needed to have an effect on change. We stood up towards issues we didn’t like. And again in these days, there was a number of shit occurring that we didn’t like. Preachers speaking about backwards masking. All that crap occurring. Lots of people with lengthy hair getting killed simply because they’d lengthy hair. Vietnam, all that stuff. Nixon. … Each time I got here alongside and I requested [the band] for cash to help a politician, they by no means stated no.” 

Reynolds left in late 1976 and settled into married life in Memphis, not showing on “10 Yr In a single day Success,” the band’s eleventh album in 5 years. Subsequently, and in addition with out Reynolds, the group shortened its identify to merely “Black Oak,” and entered an typically missed interval of softening the band’s picture as sex-crazed hillbillies, with added keyboards and a smoothed out sound. Dandy toned down his wolfman howl in favor of a extra conventional strategy and diversified his lyrical subject material considerably past copulation. Dandy was even billed as “J.D. Mangrum” on November 1977’s “Race With the Satan,” launched on the quintessential Southern Rock label Capricorn. Nonetheless, as supervisor Stone assessed, “the MCA albums didn’t promote, and the Capricorn albums did even worse.”

However Reynolds rejoined, and the band reemerged, releasing two albums within the mid-Nineteen Eighties. Though billed throughout this time as Jim Dandy’s Black Oak Arkansas, Reynolds remained the group’s rock for the remainder of his life, even fronting the band when Dandy was sidelined. The Nineteen Eighties noticed the rise of the brand new wave of British heavy metallic and hair metallic, the 2 rock subgenres that borrowed probably the most from Black Oak Arkansas — from the heavy a number of guitar assault all the way down to the spandex. Bands from Van Halen to Weapons N’ Roses have been clearly influenced by the band. In the meantime, hip-hop has sampled the crisp drum breaks of Evans and Aldridge at the least since The Beastie Boys’ landmark “Paul’s Boutique” album in 1989. However ardor for the once-hot and nasty group had largely cooled, and the last decade additionally noticed lawsuits between the band and former supervisor Stone over funds and the rights to the Black Oak Arkansas identify. As members got here and went through the years, Reynolds and Dandy remained the band’s stalwarts.

At the same time as recording alternatives dwindled, the band saved up its full touring schedule properly into the twenty first century,  showing typically in its house state with each Reynolds and Dandy primarily based in Memphis. In 2013, an assemblage of some new songs and the previously-rejected Nineteen Seventies-era tracks known as “Again Thar N’ Over Yonder” have been launched on the band’s previous label. Touring upfront of the album’s launch, the band performed Los Angeles’ Whisky A Go-Go for the primary time since 1971, performed in New York Metropolis for the primary time in 32 years, and carried out in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for an estimated 1.2 million followers. In 2019, Black Oak Arkansas launched its first album of latest materials in years, “Underdog Heroes,” though newer tour dates in 2020 and 2021 have been hampered by the pandemic.

Along with his work because the anchor in Black Oak Arkansas, Reynolds dabbled in fantasy writing (“Evil Thingies,” revealed in 2016), wrote a set of rock ’n’ roll street tales for Nightflying journal and an internet collection known as “Rambling with Rickie Lee,” and wrote a cookbook. He additionally recorded his non-Black Oak Arkansas songs for a solo mission known as Rickie Lee and the Mutts, being particularly pleased with his vacation track, “Christmas In all places.” 

“Now we have generations proper now who come and see us. … It’s kinda bizarre, we get a number of youngsters,” Reynolds stated of performing in Black Oak Arkansas for six many years. “They arrive as much as us and say ‘Y’all actually sound good! You must put out a document.’ ” 

 

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