Ball 'n' Chain

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For other uses, see Ball 'n' Chain (disambiguation).
"Ball and Chain Part 1"
Single by Big Mama Thornton
from the album Ball 'n' Chain
B-side "Wade in the Water"
Released 1968 (1968)
Format 7" 45 rpm record
Genre Blues
Length 2:25
Label Arhoolie (cat. no. 45-520)
Writer(s) Willie Mae Thornton aka Big Mama Thornton

"Ball 'n' Chain" or "Ball and Chain" is a slow twelve-bar blues song written and recorded by American blues artist Big Mama Thornton. Although her recording did not appear on the record charts,[1] "Ball 'n' Chain" has become one of Thornton's best-known songs, largely due to performances and recordings by Janis Joplin.

Original song[edit]

Thornton's "first vinyl rendition of 'Ball and Chain' [was] in 1968" for Arhoolie Records.[2] 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 her Ball n' Chain album. Backing Thornton is a small combo with her frequent guitar accompanist Edward "Bee" Houston.[3] She later recorded several live and studio performances of the song, included her 1969 Billboard Top 200 album Stronger Than Dirt (Mercury SR 61225).

Janis Joplin / Big Brother and the Holding Company versions[edit]

Janis Joplin, who frequently acknowledged Thornton's musical influence, recorded several live performances of "Ball 'n' Chain" as a minor-key blues with breaks. With Big Brother and the Holding Company, she 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 James 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.


Big Mama Thornton's "Ball 'n' Chain" is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of the "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll".[4]


  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. p. 411. ISBN 0-89820-068-7. 
  2. ^ Dahl, Bill (1996). Erlewine, Michael, ed. All Music Guide to the Blues. Miller Freeman Books. p. 251. ISBN 0-87930-424-3. 
  3. ^ Schulte, Tom. "Bee Houston: The Hustler — review". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  4. ^ "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.