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Ram Jam was an American 1970s rock band, best known for their 1977 Top 20 hit "Black Betty". The band members were Bill Bartlett (guitar), Pete Charles (drums), Myke Scavone (lead singer), and Howie Arthur Blauvelt (bass). Jimmy Santoro, who toured with the band in support of their debut album joined on guitar for the follow-up album. Bill 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.
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 Dickie Betts and Great Southern, and The Allman Brothers), David Beck (Eicher) was their pianist. While in Starstruck, Bartlett took Leadbelly's 59 second long "Black Betty", composed music for it, then arranged it and recorded and released it on the group's own TruckStar record label. "Black Betty" became a regional hit, then was picked up by record 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 line-up, as well as the first tour backing up the single. The touring band included Jimmy Santoro on guitar as well as Bartlett. The song caused quite 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. Also, Ted Demme used the song in the soundtrack to his 2001 film, Blow, and it is often played between innings at Yankee Stadium. In July 2008, an excerpt of it was used in a dance routine on "So You Think You Can Dance."
A subsequent album Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram achieved little success, despite the addition of the Long Island, New York lead guitarist Jimmy Santoro. The "Portrait" album was re-issued on Rock Candy Records in 2006. Their second album 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 titled The Very Best Of Ram Jam. However, the
cover of said album features the same artwork as their self-titled
debut so be sure to check the track listing to differentiate, although
both have "Black Betty" on the albums. In fact The Very Best Of Ram Jam
album starts with the ten titles from Ram Jam, in the same order as
they can be found on Ram Jam (e.g. "Black Betty" first). 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. A remix of
"Black Betty" reached number 13 in the U.K. singles chart in 1990.
In 2006 Ram Jam was featured in an article that included bands like Moxy and Tucky Buzzard called Top 6 Classic Rock Bands You Never Knew You Didn't Know written by Dave White. Bartlett still plays guitar, but during the last decade has 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. Myke Scavone, after many years detached from the music business is once again fronting his old High School Rock band, "The Doughboys". The Doughboys have just finished recording a CD of 12 songs, both originals and covers. The Doughboys will be featured at the 40th Reunion of John Zacherle's Disc-O-Teen in 2008, which will coincide with Zacherle's 90th birthday. The CD, titled "is it now" is an excursion into the depths of early "Roots Rock" and includes endorsement liner notes by John Hawkins, the original keyboard and Piano player for the "Nashville Teens". Howie Blauvelt and Pete Charles have both died.
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