Tuesday, April 21, 2009

YouTube Weekend (sort of): Black Betty

Well, it's probably not a weekend for you, but it is for me. My four day shift is over, and I'm starting a stretch of twelve days off. I'm also heading into my twenty-seventh hour of wakefulness. If I stay up a little bit longer maybe I'll reset.

I've been meaning to post this song for a while, and now seems as good a time as any. "Black Betty" has a long and murky history, involving Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, 20th century American folk music, and possibly an even earlier origin. (I would include a link to the Lead Belly version here, but the video I found online has had the audio stripped out as part of the WMG/YouTube pissing match.)

I've heard two versions on the radio. The older one is by the band Ram Jam, who turned the song into a sort of hillbilly rock / hard rock fusion in 1977. As far as rock versions of this song go, this is the original.

The more recent version is by the Australian band Spiderbait. Released in 2004, it uses vocal distortion and a more hard-edged beat, but still retains the rockabilly influence. This was the version I first heard in late December 2004 while driving to Ohio to visit a friend. I heard it again on May 21, 2005 on a jukebox at the Lift Inn in Lenoxville, Pennsylvania while Blue Sundaze was taking a break between sets. Derrick the drummer briefed me on the history of the song there. This is a non-embeddable video, so right-click to open in a new window or tab.


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