Ball 'n' Chain
|"Ball and Chain Part 1"|
|Single by Big Mama Thornton|
|from the album Ball 'n' Chain|
|B-side||"Wade in the Water"|
|Format||7" 45 rpm record|
|Label||Arhoolie (cat. no. 45-520)|
|Writer(s)||Willie Mae Thornton aka Big Mama Thornton|
"Ball 'n' Chain" or "Ball and Chain" is a blues song written and recorded by American blues artist Big Mama Thornton. Although her recording did not appear on the record charts, "Ball 'n' Chain" has become one of Thornton's best-known songs, largely due to performances and recordings by Janis Joplin.
Thornton's "first vinyl rendition of 'Ball and Chain' [was] in 1968" for Arhoolie Records, according to music critic Bill Dahl. An edited version, titled "Ball and Chain Part 1" was released as a single, while the complete four and a half minute song is included on the Ball and Chain album. Backing Thornton is a small combo with her frequent guitar accompanist Edward "Bee" Houston. She later recorded several live and studio performances of the song, included her 1969 Billboard Top 200 album Stronger Than Dirt (Mercury SR 61225).
According to music writer Gillian Gaar, Thornton originally had recorded the song for Bay-Tone Records in the early 1960s, though it was never released. Gaar adds that "[Bay-Tone held] on to the copyright—which meant that Thornton missed out on the publishing royalties when Janis Joplin recorded the song later in the decade." However, Thornton's (and Big Brother/Joplin's) releases list "W.M. Thornton" as the songwriter, as well as the performing rights administrator BMI.
Janis Joplin / Big Brother and the Holding Company renditions
Janis Joplin, who frequently acknowledged Thornton's musical influence, recorded several live performances of "Ball and Chain". According to Big Brother and the Holding Company guitarist James Gurley, Joplin first heard the song during a performance by Thornton at a bar in San Francisco. With Big Brother, "Ball and Chain" was transformed into a slow minor-key blues with breaks. They performed the song at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 to an enthusiastic audience and critical reception. The first performance on June 17 was not filmed, so the band was persuaded to perform the song again on the next day. This shorter version (without Gurley's extended guitar solo) was released in the 1968 film Monterey Pop, while the longer June 17 version was released in 1995 on the Joplin compilation 18 Essential Songs. Another live version of "Ball 'n' Chain", recorded March 8, 1968 at the Fillmore East, was included on Big Brother's 1968 breakthrough album Cheap Thrills. Other live versions are included on Cheaper Thrills, Live at Winterland '68, Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968, The Woodstock Experience, Live in Amsterdam, and In Concert.
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- "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Exhibit Highlights. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Archived from the original on 1995. Retrieved May 10, 2013.