One Hit Wonders: Ram Jam (1977)

Black Betty
Single: Ram Jam
Album: Ram Jam
B-side: I Should Have Known
Released: June 1977
Genre: Hard rock/blues. rock
Songwriter: Traditional, Huddie Ledbetter

Ram Jam were a short-lived band from New York City. "Black Betty" was their only hit. The song is pretty standard folk/blues material about a black woman from Alabama who has a "wild" child. A powerful beat and aggressive tempo drives  Ram Jam's version. It's played at sporting events to pump up the crowd. 

Black Betty of the song was a woman, 
possibly also a prison whip,
and may later have become the prison wagon.
The BS Historian
Lead Belly

Steve Roud, a retired librarian in London, created an index of folk songs from all over the world. They're catalogued by number, noting the singer and publisher or recorded source.


Hosted on the website of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, the database now contains over 240,000 entries.  The song "Black Betty" is Roud 11668. Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, is the artist credited. He recorded a lot of traditional folk songs, including "Goodnight Irene" and "Midnight Special." Laborers sing Leadbelly's a cappella version of "Black Betty" to pass the time while working.


Ram Jam

The Cincinnati band Starstruck released a hard driving version of "Black Betty" on the Truckstar label. Bill Barlett, former lead guitarist of the Lemon Pipers ("Green Tambourine"), was a member of the group at the time. He later formed Ram Jam.  In 1977, Ram Jam released a re-edited recording of Starstruck's version of the song. Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz produced it. Architects of the Bubble Gum Sound, their former clients included The Ohio Express ("Yummy Yummy Yummy") and the 1910 Fruitgum Company ("Simon Says").

Ram Jam
Ram Jam

The civil rights' groups N.A.A.C.P. and C.O.R.E. called for a boycott of Ram Jam's song, claiming it insulted black women. Despite the controversy, the song reached number 18 on Billboard's pop chart. In the early '90s, the producers remixed "Black Betty." It was an international hit. In 2006, the University of New Hampshire banned Ram Jam's "Black Betty" at UNH hockey games. Students launched a "Save Black Betty" campaign. They sang "Black Betty" at the games and wore T-shirts with "Save Black Betty" on the front and "Bam-A-Lam" on the back. After seven years, the Ram Jam version played at a UNH–UMaine hockey game on January 24, 2013.


Spiderbait

Australian alternative rock band Spiderbait released a version of "Black Betty" in 2004.  It reached number 1 on the Australian Recording Industry Association Charts. It also hit number 32 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs chart. 

Spiderbait
Spiderbait

Spiderbait's "Black Betty" was used in the films Without a Paddle (2004), Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005), Guess Who (2005), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), The Condemned (2007), Death Race 2 (2011), The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017), and Birds of Prey (2020). It was also used in episodes of Malcolm in the Middle and My Name Is Earl, and the games Need for Speed: Underground 2 and Gran Turismo 6.

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