Ram Jam – “Black Betty” (1977)
In 1939 the Musicraft Recording Label released a record which included the track, “Black Betty” by William Huddie Leadbetter better known as “Lead Belly.” “Black Betty” had been said to be originated as far back as the 18th century or the early 1930’s. Lead Belly was the first one to ever commercially record it however, giving him most of the credit for the song. Lead Belly was an iconic American folk and blues musician, notable for his strong vocals, twelve-string guitar, and the songbook of folk standards he introduced. It was recorded acapella with just Lead Belly singing and clapping on the 4th beat in the 12 bar blues style song. The form is kind of AABCDEAA, where each verse begins and ends with “Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-Ba-Lam).” At the end of each line Lead Belly also repeats the phrase “Bam-Ba-Lam.” Although this song did gain some popularity in the early 1940’s because of Lead Belly, it really gained the world’s attention in 1977 when a band by the name of Ram Jam recorded it.
Ram Jam was an east coast band formed in the mid 70’s. Its members consisted of Bill Bartlett (guitar), Howie Blauvelt (bass), Peter Charles (drums), Myke Scavone (lead vocals, guitar), and Jimmy Santoro (guitar). The song was released on their self-titled debut album Ram Jam in 1977. It reached the #7 position in the UK singles chart in September 1977. The single also reached #18 on the singles chart in the US. The album reached #34 in the Billboard Pop Albums chart in the US. Even though “Black Betty” shot Ram Jam to stardom overnight, it also brought along much controversy because of its lyrical meanings.
Since this song has been said to have been originated back in the 18th century, the lyrics’ meaning has changed numerous amount of times. The origin and meaning of the lyrics are subject to debate. Some sources claim the song is derived from an 18th century marching cadence about a flint-lock rifle with a black head-stock; the...
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