A Jim Dandy Tale From a Reporter’s Notebook

Now Playing: Night Flight, by Led Zeppelin (a really underappreciated song). “I received a message from my brother across the water. He sat laughin’ as he wrote the end’s in sight. So I said goodbye to all my friends, And packed my hopes inside a matchbox, ‘Cause I know it’s time to fly.”

Once again, this one stems from my days in Jacksonville, where I started as a reporter and soon became the No. 2 guy in the newsroom, way before I was probably ready for it. It was sometime in 1980, as best I can place it, though it could have been in 1981.

Anyway, the co-conspirator in this one is my old friend, Carole. A little background. Carole had red hair – in every sense of the word. She was really nice for the most part, but she could explode at a second’s notice. I mostly escaped this wrath. Anyway, she decided it would be fun to be a reporter, and she hit the ground running as a damn good one. She was fearless. She later left the newspaper biz for TV, and damned if she wasn’t good at that, too. She was weekend anchor, and I went once or twice with her to watch her do the 11 o’clock broadcast. It’s an experience, seeing how they do live TV. If I wore a hat, it would be off to them.

After a few years in that biz, she made another career change. She’d always liked crime stories the best, both in print and on TV. Sure enough, she dropped the TV gig to become a cop, and she spent many years on the force after that, later marrying a fellow cop. Through it all, we remained good friends – which happens more than you might think between cops and journalists. These days, she’s writing books, she’s got one called The Last Place You’d Look: True Stories of Missing Persons and the People Who Search for Them in March, and I’ll bet anything it’ll be a great read.

All this is to let you know is that Carole is no shrinking violet. She is tough as nails.

Which is why it was kinda funny that she asked me to accompany her on one of her assignments. She’d landed an interview with the guys from Black Oak Arkansas, a rock band that had experienced some fame in the early 1970s. They’d had two songs I’d heard of, Hot and Nasty (about what you’d think) and Jim Dandy (which as it turns out was a remake of a song from 1957, though I didn’t know it at the time). Anyway the group’s singer had taken the name Jim Dandy (his real name was James Mangrum), probably in part because of the song. Like I said, the band was popular for a short while. It played the famous California Jam in Ontario, Calif., in 1974. About 200,000 people attended to hear Black Oak and such major stars as the Eagles, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Earth, Wind and Fire, among others.

Here’s what they had come to in 1980 (or 1981). They were playing in a small music hall/bar, next door to a laundromat, in front of a shopping center in Jacksonville, N.C. It held maybe 200 people in addition to the band.

Anyway, she’d asked me to come along, for company and cover, from the probably 195 or so Marines in the audience. So I did. The show was fun. Jim Dandy sounded liked Ronnie Van Zant, acted like a redneck David Lee Roth and, frankly, was pretty damn entertaining.  There really was no reason to talk to anyone in the band but Jim Dandy.

So we went backstage while the roadies were packing up. The guys offered us beers and food – they’d been supplied a cold cut and cheese tray from the local Big Star (defunct).

Jim Dandy never really abandoned his onstage persona for the interview, despite Carole’s efforts. Of course, she spent much of the interview fending him off. He was a rock star, after all. Again, I was there to provide some cover for her, but she was probably tougher than me in the first place. Anyway, we got out of there, having had a good time but with a marginal story – it wasn’t easy to quote somebody who spoke mostly in expletives.

But the lasting impression was of a band that had tasted the champagne but never would again. Kinda like Brett Favre. They’d moved way down on the rock-band life cycle, all the way to beer – Pabst Blue Ribbon, even. Black Oak is still playing, and Jim Dandy, at 62, is still fronting the band, probably still making love to his washboard on stage. I’m not sure where they moved down from bar next door to the laundromat – a county fair, maybe? Whatever, it’s the equivalent of 20-ounce bottles of The Bull. Don’t know that there’s any further to fall.

But I’ll bet old Jim Dandy still puts on a good show. Go Jim Dandy, go Jim Dandy!

“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little.” _ Lord Byron

“Fame is a bee. It has a song. It has a sting. Ah, too, it has a wing.” _ Emily Dickinson


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