Black Oak Arkansas Founding Guitarist Rickie Lee Reynolds Has Died

photo: Ward Boult

Rickie Lee Reynolds—founding member and longtime guitarist for the wild Southern rock/country rock band Black Oak Arkansas—passed away on Sunday, September 5th at the age of 72. He had been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and though his condition had said to be improving from the infection, he suffered kidney failure and eventually multiple episodes of cardiac arrest.

One of the pillars of a band that helped define the cutting edge and craziness of the country rock scene starting in the mid 60’s, Rickie Lee Reynolds continued to play and perform in the band all the way up to his death. Sometimes nicknamed “Risky” or “Ricochet” Reynolds, he started the band in 1963 with fellow high school friends Ronny Smith, Stanley Knight, Pat Daugherty, and Wayne Evans, all of whom lived around the town of Black Oak, Arkansas.

Originally called The Nobody Else, the band’s first PA system was stolen from Monette High School. Members of the band were charged with grand larceny, which meant they had to retreat to the hills of Arkansas to evade arrest and imprisonment (the sentence was later commuted). They eventually signed to Stax records for a stint, but ended up in Los Angeles in 1970, officially changed their named to Black Oak Arkansas, installed the wild James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum as the frontman, and released their now legendary self-titled album in 1971.

Black Oak Arkansas eventually earned three Certified Gold records and toured extensively, with the antics of the band, especially of frontman “Jim Dandy” Mangrum, going on to influence many bands and frontmen in the years to come. The band was also one of numerous outfits admonished by Christian organizations for potentially embedding Satanic lyrics into certain songs.

Rickie Lee Reynolds was part of the great purge from the band in 1977 when “Jim Dandy” Mangrum decided to release all the other members and hire new players, shorten the name to Black Oak, and tried to answer critics by trying to appear less Southern, and more serious. It didn’t really work, and the band released a couple of poor-selling records before Reynolds rejoined the band in 1984, now called Jim Dandy’s Black Oak Arkansas, and began recording for Atlantic Records.

Eventually the Black Oak Arkansas name was adopted in full again, and with Rickie Lee Reynolds and Jim Dandy making up the nucleus of the band. They continued to tour and release albums regularly, including their most recent album, Underdog Heroes, released in 2019. Jim Dandy is now the only Black Oak Arkansas member from the original early 70’s lineup.

The daughter of Rickie Lee Reynolds announced the guitarist’s death on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, this morning he suffered another cardiac arrest, which they were unable to resuscitate him from,” said daughter Amber Lee. “We are all heartbroken by this massive loss, and the whole world feels colder and more empty without his presence among us. Please take a moment of silence today to remember all of the love he gave to the world, and take some time to give back some of those wonderful feelings that he gave us all in our times of need.”

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