Song Black Betty - whats it saying?

One of my favorite hard rock songs. By Ram Jam. Black Betty also by Lead Belly.

Whats it about? Is it mostly celebrating mind blowing sex with a Black lady? They got rhythm and all. This song is from the late 70’s and those stereotypes were still around.

he talking great sex here?

She’s so rock steady (bam-ba-lam)
And she’s always ready (bam-ba-lam)
Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)

Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
She’s from birmingham (bam-ba-lam)
Way down in alabam’ (bam-ba-lam)
Well, she’s shakin’ that thing (bam-ba-lam)
Boy, she makes me sing (bam-ba-lam)

I could never figure out:


Kids been masturbating? :wink: <shrug> another old stereotype about sex.

In today’s society, does this song have some racial undertones? I ask, because a few years ago my daughter’s dance studio performed a number to this song, and it kinda made me cringe a bit.

I knew the Ram Jam song was based on an older blues recording, but Wikipedia says it goes back even farther than that, to a musket, a whiskey bottle, a prison transfer wagon, and a whip.

I assumed, given the earlier blues roots of the song, that it was originally a chant - there might be a standard set of verses, but a chanter/singer could make up verses along the way. And Leadbelly’s or anyone else’s early recorded version was just the way they learned the song. Stagger Lee/Stag O’ Lee and other songs are like this - weird variations with plot twists half-referenced, etc…

The rock version just took what verses they heard in earlier versions…

Just thinking out loud…although a check on wikipediasuggests that I am right about it being a work song, but originally about a flintlock musket.

ETA: Simul-post! Beaten by 2 minutes!!

To me most all the lyrics correspond with it being a woman. Guns and liquor don’t “shake that thing.” I’m not sure about the blind part though, it could be literal or just mean the child is out of control and can’t see what they’re doing wrong.

…aaaand now it’s stuck in my head. :mad:

Nothing to add to the interpretation, but wouldja believe that guitarist Bill Bartlett, the leader of Ram Jam, was also the leader of the Lemon Pipers? Yes, the Sixties psychedelic bubblegum group that played “Green Tambourine.”

Tom Jones singing Black Betty. No question what he’s talking about.
Black Betty had a child
Swears its mine
She must be out of her mind

he’s got several alternate lyrics

The Lemon Pipers did have a hard rock side. Although most of their recorded output was in the same vein as “Green Tambourine” (which they only recorded under duress), they managed to slip a few heavy rock songs with growling vocals on their albums. Once their record contract was up, they reportedly reverted to a Steppenwolf-like sound. They even played at the Fillmore on a bill with Traffic.

No end to what you can learn at the SDMB!

My favorite cover of Black Betty.

Bam-ba-lam! That’s what it’s saying, what more do you need?!


From the “lyrics I’ve been mishearing my whole life” file, I thought she was saying “It weren’t none o’ mine,” as if she’s disowning her child because the damn thing gone wild. Now I see she’s an appropriately concerned parent.

<emily litella> Well, that’s very different. Never mind. </el>

That’s actually exactly how I heard it, and was surprised when I read these lyrics after following the link from this thread…

Of course, an error on a lyrics website is not exactly unprecedented. I’m going to give it a listen as soon as I get a chance and see what I can make out.

*Listen while I playplayplayplayplay

The follow-up “Jelly Jungle” is one of my favorite examples of a band (or in this case, a producer) trying to repeat a hit. It’s all there: the sitar, the strings, the funny percussion effects, and the chorus that goes:

In the Jelly Jungle of orange marmaladeladeladeladelade

The “weren’t none o’ mine”/“worryin’ outta mind” part hits me ear roughly as “wharnoddamahn” – quite inconclusive. One could easily hear either phrase in there.

But what precedes that is far more likely “I’m” than “it.” There’s clearly an m sound there.

I think I have to concede that the site is correct in this case.