L-R: Tom Kurtz, Bill Bartlett, David Goldflies, David Fleeman
"Clang-ooosh" - the sound of a phased gong - followed by a four-on-the-floor bass drum and cruching guitar riff- kicks off the 1976 song "Black Betty", a 'one hit wonder' for the Kasenetz-katz produced band Ram Jam. This classic of mid 1970s hard rock has traveled around the world, used by figure skaters and sports teams, including between innings at Yankee Stadium, the movie "Blow", and even today elicting controversy for 'racist' lyrics.
Check that. Ram Jam? They get the credit, but in classic K&K method, they (save for guitarist Bill Bartlett) did not record it. The recording of "Black Betty" was actually cut by the Cincinnati band Starstruck, of whom Bartlett was a member. Got it?
Starstruck started in 1970. Founding keyboard/guitarist Greg Rike provides the following: "The band was started in the winter of 1970 by combining remnants of two bands: Beechwood Farm and Morning Sun. I was the leader of Morning Sun (Keyboards and guitar) with guitar player Tom Kurtz. We had connected with the Beechwood farm guys early on so when both bands split, Bill Bartlett, Tom Kurtz and myself decided to start a new band. I had quit school at Miami University and was working on Lemon Piper drummer Bill Albaugh's farm. Our first rehearsals were at Bill's house out past Cottage Grove Indiana toward Liberty Indiana. We talked Bill Albaugh into playing for a while but he was pretty focused on his farming. Tom and I recruited multi-instrumentalist Gordon Morris to play drums and Bill Bartlett finally convinced Steve Walmsley to move back from Vermont. We gained a loyal following and opened for major concerts like Edgar Winter and Fog Hat. I ended up getting ill and had to quit the band in 1972. I was B3 player and upon my departure they continued as a 4 piece band to the end."
At the time the band started, Tom and Bill were going to Miami University in Oxford. According to Tom, the band rehearsed a for a couple weeks and were playing gigs in various Oxford clubs.The band's two guitarists were sharing leads and the different styles (Tom was more into blues, and Bill into more country rock sounds). Not long after Greg Rike left, Gordon Moore quit and moved to California, The band went through a succession of drummers. Gregg Rupp was one of the drummers according to an email the editor received. Dave Toler, Dan Toler's brother, sat in with the band once. During this time Bob Nave (from the Lemon Pipers and Beechwood Farm) would play with the band (on B3 organ) but he was not an official member of the band.
In 1974 Dave Fleeman joined the band as permanent drummer. Dave left the band after a few months to work down in Atlanta. Steve Walmsley and Dave Fleeman were not meshing well - Dave was a hard driving drummer and Steve was more into stuff like the Grateful Dead) and Dave returned along with 18 year old bassist Dave Goldflies. Goldflies was a classically trained musician(violin) who complimented Fleeman's drumming very well. This lineup (Bartlett/Kurtz/Fleeman/Goldflies) started in January of 1975. Prior to this lineup change, Starstruck had been playing "Black Betty", a song in its original form as recorded by writer Leadbelly was just a short couple verses and blues scale. Dave Fleeman had heard the band doing the song and came up with a drum part which kicked the song into a harder rock style than they had been playing it. The band practiced at a place on Rt 27 between Oxford and Cincy which was owned by Carl Edmondson. With "Black Betty" the band sensed they were on to something and recorded at four different recording studios, pooling their gig money to pay for the sessions. They went to Cleveland Recording and put down the tracks for four songs. A couple weeks later, February of 1975, they went back to mix three of the tracks, including Black Betty. The Cleveland Recording session was strong enough for the band to go ahead and cut a record. Starstruck pressed a thousand copies of the 45 on their own Truckstar label, with a Bartlett original "I Should Have Known" on the flip. The record got attention locally, with airplay, and Stan Hertzman from A.Jaye took the band on. The band agreed that they would try for a year to get a record deal.
Starstruck spent the rest of 1975 playing constant gigs, hoping to get the attention of someone who could get them national exposure. They did opening gigs for a Fleetwood Mac/Eagles show in front of 20,000+ people, and other high profile shows with Edgar Winter, BB King, Canned Heat, and their Cincy buddies Pure Prarie League. They also opened for Seals and Crofts, a bit of a mismatch typical in the 1970s daze. They also played bar gigs for 5 people! The live sets included about a half dozen originals – the 2 from the record, "Right On The Money", "Country Way", "I Got Something For You Babe", a redo of "Young Blood" plus covers from Hendrix, Billy Cobham, J Geils, JJ Cale, Little Feat. After nearly a year of trying to break the band and record, they threw in the towel just after Thanksgiving, 1975. Tom Kurtz wanted out and that was the end.
The next spring of 1976 Bill Bartlett got a call from his old Lemon Pipers production team, Kazenetz and Katz, and invited him to try out for a new hard rock band based in NYC. Bartlett brought along a Starstruck record and when he returned to Ohio, he was meeting with the other Starstruck members, looking to buy their share of the recordings for $3000. Dave Fleeman told him at first to take a hike, but Bill persisted, saying that, in typical K&K style, no song, no band. The deal was completed and some months later, the Ram Jam LP appears with an edited and processed version of the Starstruck recording. The original recording had an extended middle session which featured Dave Fleeman pouding away on his double-bass kit (of which he had one of the first ones in the area) and a louder, more 'in your face' sound. The gong that opens and closes the song had been bought by Dave when he spotted it in the second floor of a Cincy music store, while hanging out with Wil Hicks. It was a 'this is cool' spontaneous purchase for $200 and they carried it out of the store.
"Black Betty" turned out to be the last chart action for K&K, and in a strange irony, they ended their career in a mirror to one of their early successes. With the Ohio Express, they took a recording by a defunct NYC band (the Rare Breed "Beg Borrow and Steal") and turned it into their success. With Ram Jam, the defunct band was Ohio and the NYC band got the recognition. As for the Starstruck members, Dave Fleeman retired from music. Dave Goldflies ended up joining the Dickey Betts and the Allman Brothers bands, one of several Cincy area musicians to do so (Kenny Tibbetts, Dan Toler). Greg Rike continued to plat Bill Bartlett, post Ram Jam, moved to the SE Indiana area and has taken up boogie-woogie piano, with a steady gig in an Oxford, OH bar.
Original business card designed by Bill Bartlett
Thanks to Dave Fleeman, Tom Kurtz, Greg Rike, Bob Nave