Ram Jam were an American rock band active in the 1970s. They are known primarily for scoring a hit with a cover of "Black Betty" in 1977.
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. Maxx Mann, one time singer with Trans Siberian Orchestra and Kings of Christmas, was recruited by producers Kasenetz/Katz to front a version of the group in the 90's.
Bill Bartlett went on from 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 Dickey Betts and Great Southern, and the Allman Brothers). While in Starstruck, Bartlett took Lead Belly's 59 second long "Black Betty" and 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 Ram Jam "recording" was actually the same one originally recorded by Starstruck, the band at that time composed of Bartlett, lead guitar and vocals, Tom Kurtz, rhythm guitar and vocals, David Goldflies, bass, David Fleeman on drums. The rest of the tracks on the first studio album containing "Black Betty" was played by the Ram Jam lineup. 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.
Their subsequent album Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram achieved little success, despite the addition of Long Island, New York lead guitarist Jimmy Santoro. The Portrait album was re-issued on Rock Candy Records from England in 2006. It is listed in the Top 100 lists in Martin Popoff’s book The Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal Volume 1: The Seventies. The album's heaviness was attributed to Santoro’s guitar and Scavone’s vocal power. Bartlett had left the group by then and did not play on the album.
In the 1990s both studio releases by Ram Jam were packaged together as a German import record entitled The Very Best Of Ram Jam. However, the cover of the album features the same artwork as their self-titled debut, and The Very Best Of Ram Jam album starts with the ten titles from Ram Jam. This is followed by all the ten titles from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram. The titles from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram are slightly re-ordered. The first two songs ("Gone Wild", "Pretty Poison") are moved to the end on the The Very Best Of Ram Jam release. The song "Black Betty" has been a Boston Bruins stadium staple for years. Local radio stations continue to use it as a background music when promoting the Bruins games.
A remix of "Black Betty" by Ben Liebrand reached number 13 in the UK Singles Chart in 1990.
In the early 1980s, Bill Bartlett ventured off into bluegrass with a new band called Medicine Wheel. Bill Bartlett still plays guitar, but in the early '90s transformed himself into a boogie-woogie piano player. He also plays banjo, harmonica, slide guitar, and has written dozens of songs. Santoro still plays professionally in various bands in New York, and teaches music in a public school on Long Island. Scavone, who now resides in New Jersey, after many years detached from the music industry, recorded a CD of 12 songs, both originals and cover versions with his former teenage garage rock band called The Doughboys. It was featured at the 40th Reunion of John Zacherle's Disc-O-Teen in 2004, which coincided with Zacherle's 84th birthday. The CD, entitled Is It Now included liner notes by John Hawkins, the original keyboard and piano player for The Nashville Teens.
Howie Blauvelt died in 1993, whilst Pete Charles (full name Peter Charles Picardio) died in 2002. Scavone continues to write and record original music with The Doughboys.
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Image from Discogs