Wednesday, October 15, 2014

BOTB-BLACK BETTY

I am going to make this short and sweet.

Two versions. One song. You pick.

If you think this is a pointless exercise, blame these two bloggers:

Far Away Series

STMcC Presents BATTLE OF THE BANDS


If you like the idea, these guys are bandwagon jumpers like me:

Tossing It Out

Your Daily Dose


And those who came after:

Curious As A Cathy

The Creative Outlet of Stratplayer

The Sound Of One Hand Typing


I know I posted about this song at some point in the past, but I do not think it has made it onto a BOTB yet.

A lot of rock and roll guitarists cite the old blues masters as key influences.


“Black Betty” is a 20th-century African-American work song often credited to Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, although the earliest recordings are not by him. 

Some sources claim it is one of Lead Belly's many adaptations of earlier folk material.

There have been numerous recorded versions, although the best known modern recording may be a 1970’s rock version by one-hit wonders Ram Jam (although they did have a second album, they only had one hit).

The origin and meaning of the lyrics are subject to debate. 

Historically the "Black Betty" of the title may refer to the nickname given to a number of objects: a musket, a bottle of whisky, a whip, or a penitentiary transfer wagon.

I would imagine in today’s extremely PC environment, the song would immediately be censored as racist.

Which makes me want to feature it all the more! 

A little controversy-now THAT’S worth posting about!

So here goes the "original" from Leadbelly...





And here's the version you may remember from the seventies....




Finally, here's a recent cover by Pat Travers...





So who wins....tradition, or one of the young whippersnappers?





29 comments:

  1. I have nothing but respect for the old blues masters, and there's definitely a certain power to the sparse singing of Leadbelly. But I heard this song so much in the 70's and liked the guitar at the times (although now it seems a trifle self-indulgent), that I have to go with Ram Jam. Pat Travis adds some interesting parts in the middle instrumental, but overall, his version doesn't really add much to the "original" Ram Jam version.

    So Ram Jam gets my vote.

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    1. Like you, the Ram Jam version was my first exposure...

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  2. Okay.... here is my breakdown of what you have here.

    I am not particularly fond of the original. Honestly, I am not a big fan of this song. Not because it is un-PC, but that it is repetitious. I get bored with it. Yeah, the first one was SHORT and I was done with after 45 seconds or so. It was hard just to listen to the end.

    The second was easier because it had the instrumentation to liven things up. So, I was at the two minute mark before I was bored with it.

    The last one.... just too darn long. It is still playing while I type this... It was out of contention when I saw that it was four minutes long and not going to do anything all that different than the second one...except last longer.

    So, the second one gets my vote. Ram Jam. Not because it is the most familiar (I think I've only heard it a few times and once recently at a trivia game), but because it is short and lively. The first isn't lively and the third isn't short.

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    1. Well put...I never really thought of the song as un-PC, but nowadays anything with the word black is...

      Agree that PT's version is long-that works better live than on the record.

      I still have the Ram Jam record-guess which one I prefer...

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  3. I like the two newer versions, but since I am all about the guitars, have to give it to Pat Travers.

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    1. Ever seen PT live, Alex? He puts on a good show and he can play!

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    2. He still performs, doesn't he? Rocking until the very end.
      And thanks for always lurking...

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    3. He does-I saw him last summer. He did a NYE show sharing the bill with Todd Rundgren but it was in Tampa and the funds were not there...

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  4. Never a favorite song of mine. All versions have certain merit though.

    Leadbelly's version is good--an interesting artifact that I would not necessarily listen to for enjoyment.

    Travers is just a heavier version of Ram Jam. Well performed, but nothing especially new.

    Ram Jam gets my vote. It's the 70's man and I can't go against the 70's. I think this group gives the song a better punch and over all it's more fun in their hands.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Plus, Lee, to my knowledge the Ram Jam version was the first "rock" version, which kind of makes it an 'original' that Travers does not really improve on.

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  5. I was not aware that this was a Leadbelly song. Hmm...

    I'm going with the Ram Jam version as well. Leadbelly's version was not really all that interesting, and Pat Travers' is almost the same thing as Ram Jam's. Plus, Seventies...

    John Holton
    The Sound Of One Hand Typing

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  6. Betcha thought I was gonna vote for Leadbelly, right? Nope. I like it well enough (you know I dig the old Country and Urban 'Blues' guys). But I gotta go with the Ram Jam version. I liked their take on this song so much that I bought their LP with 'Black Betty' on it in 1977.

    Back when it was getting airplay, it once came through the radio speakers on the bus when my high school's wrestling team was going to a match on the other team's turf (an "Away" match). Ram Jam's 'Black Betty' got me fired up for the wrestling match that I engaged in shortly afterwards.

    The Pat Travers version doesn't bring anything to the song that Ram Jam hadn't already introduced. So my vote is easy, and it's for Ram Jam. That's a butt-kickin' rocker!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. I did figger you for a Leadbelly vote, but between the two "modern" versions, you almost have to go with Ram Jam.

      I actually was given the album before the song got a lot of play-a friend found a DJ copy used and gave it to me because of "Ram" in the name and my affinity for the football team.

      You would have really impressed me if you said you bought their second album (I have both on CD, only the first on vinyl)

      I do worry about the old blues geting lost (see Birgit's comment and my reply below) by the young generation.

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  7. Okay, knowing I'm about to speak sacrilege, but I just don't grok old blues. Pat did nothing I can here to add to the song (except maybe a bit on the vocals). And the RamJam 45 once was thrown at me and cut the bridge of my nose. So I am forced to vote for Betty White.

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    1. At least none of my versions caused you an injury, CW!

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  8. Is this song UN-PC? Spare us alive!

    OK, so your gonna get the nostalgia comment of the day. Indulge me,

    Yesterday in my car, the Reno radio station 'The X" had a guest in the studio, whose name I can't remember, but he was a 'Dobro' player and he did a few tunes live on the radio. This got me thinking about an old freind of mine John Walters. John used to play a Dobro guitar and he did a rendition of 'Black Betty' that was a cross between Leadbelly and Ram Jam, if you can imagine that.

    Anyway...due to the nostalgia factor, I'm having a hard time choosing. yeah the song is repetitious, but isn't that a part of it's charm?

    In the end I guess I go with...Ram Jam. I like the faster version and it reminds me more of John's. The Pat Travers was just kind of meh.

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  9. Leadbelly deserves to be known and I hope a great film will be made of him one day. That being said, I am not voting for him. It was repetitious and I found it boring. The last one was showcasing the guitar and that's OK but I did not care for his vocals and the song was too long. I vote for Ram Jam-The lead singer had the right voice, the timing was great and I was not checking the time.

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    1. I agree that we should not forget that early wave of musicians that paved the way for modern music, and there are quite a few labels that did a lot to keep the music alive on vinyl and on CD-I wonder how it will fare in the digital music future.

      When I say I embrace the album format, I think people infer I am against digital delivery-not so.

      But I grew up with the act of listening to music being an activity unto itself, and that seems to be lost. With music trending largely as background, I fear a lot of its history may slowly fade.

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  10. Great song choice, and I'll tell you why in a minute...

    So what you said above is why I wouldn't vote for Pat Travers - it just doesn't really improve upon what Ram Jam did. Leadbelly's version I can appreciate, but it's not for me. More than the familiarity, Ram Jam's version has that great guitar sound and such high energy. As a fairly mindless rock song that's great to blast while you're tearing up the open road in a throaty muscle car (which I have done many a time)* Ram Jam easily gets my vote.

    *If it says anything, my car was nicknamed Black Betty by a friend, about 10 years ago, and it stuck.

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    1. You racist bastige-should a car be judged by the color of it's paint?

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    2. HA!-HA! Great response to Beer Boy Bryan, LC.

      ~ D-FensDogg
      'Loyal American Underground'

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    3. My black car isn't even the racist one.

      My other car is red, and I hear that the Washington Redskins are going to pressure me to paint it another color out of sensitivity to the Native American people. I'm thinking of painting it Caucasian.

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    4. I think you're supposed to call it "indigenous" instead of "red."

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  11. I love RamJam's version, and it will probably always be my favorite.

    However, I'm voting for Lead Belly because it is not easy to carry a tune without the help of instruments. His voice also lent itself well to the content of the song. Yep, repetitious, but there was a good story in the lyrics.

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    1. Not one to follow the crowd...good for you!

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  12. The Ram Jam version is the one that I know the best. However, I will vote for the simplicity of Leadbelly's version.

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  13. I'm very familiar with Ram Jam's version and whenever it comes on the radio I always give the volume button a big twist to turn it up. I do like Lead Belly's version though because it took my mind ponder a time and place that calls to me for many reasons. I wasn't thrilled with Pat Travers version. Got too tedious for me. Although I definitely admire Lead Belly's version, I have to vote Ram Jam on this one.

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