‘Black Betty’ by Ram Jam – Classic Hit or Miss
The band members were Bill Bartlett (guitar), Pete Charles (drums), Myke Scavone (lead singer), and Howie Arthur Blauvelt (bass). Also, Jimmy Santoro, who toured with the band in support of their debut album, joined on guitar for the follow-up album. Bartlett was formerly lead guitarist for bubblegum group The Lemon Pipers, while Blauvelt played with Billy Joel in two bands, The Hassles and El Primo. rom the Lemon Pipers to form a group called Starstruck—originally including Steve Walmsley (bass) and Bob Nave (organ) from the Lemon Pipers—later replacing Walmsley with David Goldflies (who later played for years with Dickie Betts and Great Southern, and the Allman Brothers). While in Starstruck, Bartlett took Lead Belly’s 59 second long “Black Betty,” arranged, recorded and released it on the group’s own TruckStar label. “Black Betty” became a regional hit, then was picked up by producers in New York who formed a group around Bartlett called Ram Jam. They re-released the song, and it became a hit nationally. The song caused a stir with the NAACP and Congress of Racial Equality calling for a boycott due to the lyrics.
Despite the controversy, the song reached number 18 on the singles chart in 1977 in the U.S. and Top Ten in the United Kingdom and Australia, while the Ram Jam album reached the U.S. Top 40. It was also a hit in the Netherlands, reaching number 4.