“We don’t just bitch about Bush and global oligarchies. We’re still a rock band and ‘Cover Up’ is THE Ministry party album.” ~ Al Jourgenson
So I was putzing around the house listening to the surprisingly awesome upcoming Ministry album, Cover Up, and had the idea for a Black Betty throw down…
Cover Up is supposedly the really final Ministry album and it very well may be their best since The Land of Rape and Honey. Featuring covers of Deep Purple, T-Rex, ZZ Top, The Doors, Mountain, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and, of course, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter songs. It’s nice to see Al and Co. go out with their hair down and their party shoes on. The album (release date is April 1) will coincide with Ministry’s final tour, aptly titled The C U LaTour. C U LaTour features founder Al Jourgensen (vocals, guitars) being joined onstage by guitarists Tommy Victor (Prong) and Sin Quirin (Revolting Cocks), keyboardist John Bechdel (Fear Factory, False Icons), drummer AAron Rossi (Prong/John 5) and Static X’s Tony Campos stepping in to fill recently departed Paul Raven’s shoes on bass. The show will consist of a 2 1/2 hour set featuring not only tracks from their 28 years, but also archival Ministry video footage. If Cover Up is any indication, the band is just out for one last pisser, so it should be a lot of fun.
This brings me to the music. It isn’t really ninebullets.net’s thing to post about albums that aren’t out in stores, but the Ministry cover of “Black Betty” got me to thinking this would be a really fun Friday post. While most people think Ram Jam when they hear “Black Betty”, and though it is usually credited to Ledbetter, some of the earliest recordings of the song pre-date Ledbetter’s recordings by over 5 years. Here is a little background on the song from Wiki:
The song was first recorded in the field by U.S. musicologists John and Alan Lomax in 1933, performed a cappella by the convict James Baker (also known as Iron Head) and a group at Central State Farm, Sugar Land, Texas.
The Lomaxes recordings for the Library of Congress, and their later field recordings in 1934, 1936 and 1939, also include versions of “Black Betty”. It was recorded commercially in New York in 1939 for the Musicraft label by blues artist Lead Belly, as part of a medley with two other work songs: “Looky Looky Yonder” and “Yellow Woman’s Doorbells”. Lead Belly had a long association with the Lomaxes, and had himself served time in State prison farms.
The origin and meaning of the lyrics are subject to debate. Some sources claim the song is derived from an 18th century marching cadence about a flint-lock musket with a black painted stock; the “bam-ba-lam” lyric referring to the sound of the gunfire. Soldiers in the field were said to be “hugging Black Betty”. In this interpretation, the rifle was superseded by its “child”, a rifle with an unpainted walnut stock known as a “Brown Bess”.
David Hackett Fischer, in his book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford University Press, 1989), states that “Black Betty” was a common term for a bottle of whiskey in the borderlands of northern England/southern Scotland, and later in the backcountry areas of the eastern United States.
In 1977, the rock band Ram Jam whose members included Bill Bartlett, formerly of Starstruck and The Lemon Pipers rerecorded the song with producers Jerry Kasnetz and Jeff Katz under Epic Records. The song became an instant hit with listeners, as it reached number 18 on the singles charts in the United States and the top ten in Australia. At the same time, the lyrics became the cause of a boycott by civil rights groups NAACP and Congress of Racial Equality, who claimed it insulted black women.
Here is a sampling of various version of Black Betty. Who do you think did it best?
Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter – Black Betty
Al Lomax – Black Betty
Tom Jones – Black Betty
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Black Betty
Ram Jam – Black Betty
Big City Rock – Black Betty
Spider Bait – Black Betty
Ministry – Black Betty
Drugstore Cowboys – Black Betty (Hoxton Whores Mix)
My top 3: Ledbetter, Tom Jones, Ministry