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Black Betty by Ram Jam

Album: Ram JamReleased: 1977Charted:
18
7
  • This is a traditional song that folk singer Leadbelly popularized before his death in 1949. He recorded a lot of songs that otherwise might have been lost, including "Goodnight Irene" and "Midnight Special." Leadbelly's version is a cappella and commonly sung by laborers to pass the time while working.
  • Ram Jam were a short-lived band from New York City, and this was their only hit. While the lyrical content is pretty standard folk/blues material - about a black woman from Alabama who has a "wild" child, Ram Jam took some heat because some civil rights groups felt the lyrics were disrespectful to black women. While the lyrics can be deconstructed, Ram Jam's version is driven by the powerful beat and aggressive tempo, making it one of those songs that gets your heart beating faster. The song is commonly played at sporting events to pump up the crowd.
  • This was produced by Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, who were architects of the Bubblegum Sound, producing groups like The Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruitgum Company.
  • The Australian band Spiderbait recorded this in 2004. It was their first single to reach #1 on the Australian charts. (thanks, Lynne - Sydney, Australia)
  • A remixed version of this song is used in the 2002 movie Kung Pow: Enter The Fist when the main character fights the villain. (thanks, Frankie - Sarch, IN)
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Comments: 39

On June 5th 1977, "Black Betty" by Ram Jam entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #92; and on August 28th it peaked at #18 (for 1 week) and spent 17 weeks on the Top 100...
It was the quartet's only Top 100 record...
As already stated, Spiderbait's covered version reached #1 in Australia, and that was for three weeks on May 23rd, 2004.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
This song sounds like it was influenced by Dave Brubeck's Unsquare Dance, which makes sense since it was adapted from early blues songs.Meister - California, Ca
Ian Kinsler of the Texas Ranger's baseball team uses this song as he steps up to bat.Joseph - Fort Worth, Tx
I remember when that movie starring Johnny Depp "Blow" first came out I had no interest in seeing it. It was only after an advertisement for the movie showing a scene with him walking to this song did I want to see it. I love this song!Laura - El Paso, Tx
This song means whatever you want it to mean. That's the beauty of music. Only the writers know what it meant to them when they wrote it. Anyone who claims they know the writer's original meaning to any song they didn't write themselves (unless told by the writer) is ignorant.James - Chicago, Il
Tom Jones turned this into a hip hop song back in 2003. As Tommy from New York says above, it's awful. Video is available on Youtube.Michael - Cincinnati, Oh
I got fired from a small southern radion station in 1977 for playing this song. The program director said it was too "hard core" and could cause some "tension" in the town. What a load of B.S. Now, I'm alive and succesful and he is in the penitentary.Thomas - Somerville, Al
This song is also the background music of a Spider-Man Flash player game my brother plays on the computer. I don't know what it has to do with Spiderman but whatever works.Marissa - Akron, Oh
it's just a really good 70's rock classic saw their tour bus on the interstate one time closest i ever got to themNora - Orlando, Fl
Actually, I'm not really a huge Tom Jones aficionado, but I heard his version of Black Betty and thought he did a great job with it. He's 67 and he can still belt it out.Dominick - New York, Ny
ACTUALLY, The song is Definitely not about drugs at all.It can be interpreted that the song is about a woman, as is was in the Leadbelly version, And subsequently the Ram Jam version. "Black Betty" however was originally a work/marching song that reffers to a flint-lock musket with a black painted stock; the "bam-ba-lam" lyric referring to the sound of the gunfire.Mr.fact - New York, Ny
Rumored to appear this fall in Guitar Hero III on PS3.Robert - Chicago, Il
lynard skynard sung black bettyAnthony - Nashville, Vt
In 1977 I was driving around with my boyfriend in my VW listing to the radio. When it came on (Black Betty) we just looked at each other and headed straight to the record shop where we bought the 8 track. We couldn't wait to listen to it. Our excitment soon turned to be a disapointment we could not belive that a band that had such a hit,such great sound could not have another song that was even worth listing to. But it still remains one of my favorite songs and brings back wonderful memories of the 70s.Donna - Russell Springs, Ky
The earliest known recording of 'Black Betty' was made by he Lomaxes in Sugarland Prison (TX) in 1933. Not by Leadbelly but a fellow convict named James 'Ironhead' Baker & Group. A sample can be heard here: http://www.amazon.com/Popular-Songbook-Alan-Lomax-Collection/dp/B0000AUHREWalter - Antwerp, Belgium
My girlfriend and every single friend of hers (they are all young enough to be my daughters) all think that this song is by Black Oak Arkansas. It is by Ram Jam, and anyone who thinks that Black Oak Arkansas did "Black Betty" will know who really sang the song by reading my comment and all of the rest.Darrell - Eugene
I remember reading the sleevenotes to a Leadbelly album and "Black Betty" was a work song and the Betty in question was the whip used to keep the workers in line. Makes sense, when I was at school we had names for all the canes and other weapons of "class Instruction", humanise it and make it less scary, simple!Ian - Whitby, England
I think this song goes good in the movie blow but i dont think its about drugs someone once told me it was about a white man fallng in love with a black womenAshley - Beaver Falls, Pa
It's actually about a rifle, and the "original" marching song (not as we know it today) comes from the 19th Century.Tank! - Wellington, New Zealand
The Spiderbait cover of this song is one of the tracks in the video game "Need for Speed: Underground 2".Wade - Katy, Tx
also features in the John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson movie 'Basic'Arun - Chennai, India
The comment that was made about the song sounding choped up is very true. in fact it is choped up. the song was recorded in a number of diffrent studios. one of them being Fame Racording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Rick Hall tries to say it was all recorded there but it wasnt. my dad worked at Fame in the 70's and is playing rytheme in this song.they took all the recordings that they did in diffrent studios and mixed them all together....why they did this i dont know.J.p - Hamilton, Al
the aussie band spiderbait did a excellent version of this which featured on a couple of movies 'the dukes of hazzard' and 'without a paddle'Marlow - Perth
If you watch the movie BLOW and actually listen to the lyrics its about cocaine and other drugs derrived from cocaine hense black betty had a child=crack and spiderbait's version isn't half as good.Jack - Jacksonville, Fl
Ram Jam was a one hit wonder who hit it big with the Leadbelly song Black Betty. This was one of the few 70s hits that was a remake of an old folk song. I have never heard Leadbelly's version so I cannot make a comparison of both versions.Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
Actually, I don't think the song is about drugs in any way. From reading the lyrics and discussion with others, I believe the song is about a party woman who had syphilis (child goes blind & wild).Leo - Detroit, Mi
Alabama legend states that this song pertains to Betty, who was somewhat of a local legend amongst bar-goers in the early '40s. She was a blues-enthusiast and performed all across Alabama, performing under the name, "Black Betty."Betty - Montgomery, Al
Black Betty is slang for speed in pill form, the pills arent even black at all.. not that that has any bearing, but its clear what the song is about. SPEED.Alan - Albuquerque, Nm
i thought it was about a black car called black bettyBen - Wellington, New Zealand
Ramjam is a good band because there song Black Betty is very good because me and my brothers love to listen to the song.I love listening to ramjam because i just relized how wonder full the band is and that is all thanks to the song Black Betty.The reason i like Black Betty is because oh all the words and i like how they say bama lamb because it says my favorite animal it is a lamb and i think that Black Betty is very good.So i wouold love to thank the band on person but i can't so this is to Ramjam Thanks ramjam for all that you have done you make my life very goodTara - Holiday, Fl
I haven't heard Ram Jam's version, but I do have Leadbelly's original version that he recorded as a medley with "Looky Looky Yondet" and "Yellow Woman's Doorbells". All three are work songs -- you sing them while you're doing hard physical labor so you can build up a rhythm and get done faster. Leadbelly knew over 500 folk and blues songs like these. He sings all three acapella, puts in hand claps for hammer strokes and even imitates a cross cut saw. Unless you are allergic to wotk, there is nothing offensive here. (We don't even need to mention that Leadbelly was black himself.}Jude - Thomasville, Ga
The above "fact"that Ram Jam took heat from civil rights groups is true, but the song is NOT about a black woman, it is about herroin.

And on most of Ram Jam's other songs the drummer is the lead singer, this was one of the few he did not sing on.
Jenn - East Rutherford, Nj
i heard a really cool remix of black betty. it was very r&b, almost rap. if anyone knows who did the song, that'd be great.
thanks!
jes
Jes - Wheaton, Il
Tom jones also did a really awful version of this song. Of course a real Tom Jones fan may not agree with me. This song always amazed me because it just sounds like when it was recorded it was chopped up and edited together rather slopilly.Tommy - Richmond Hill, Ny
Originally made No.27 in the UK in 1977. A remix in 1990 returned the song to the UK charts, when it reached No.12, but it is still their only hit to date.Dave - Cardiff, Wales
Featured in the 2001 film "Blow," as George Jung (Johnny Depp) was entering the airportVictor - Vienna, Va
The lead guitarist was also in The Lemon Pipers of "Green Tambourine" fame.Geo - Eugene, Or
Nick Cave recorded a cappella version of this song with the Bad Seeds. Just the band singing with a guitar being slapped to provide the beat. Definitely mode bluesy than the RamJam or Spiderbait versions!
-Brad, Brisbane, Australia
Brad - Brisbane, Australia
There is also a rare extended version of this where tha singer slash bassist tears it up on the bass now.Fred - Longs, Sc