Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

Help support this site! Consider clicking an ad from time to time. Thanks!


Ball and Chain

First recorded (as “Ball ‘n Chain”) by Big Mama Thorton (c. 1961, released 1968).
Hit album version by Big Brother & The Holding Company (1968).

From the wiki: “‘Ball and Chain’ (also known as ‘Ball ‘n Chain’) was written and first recorded by Blues artist Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton (‘Hound Dog‘). 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 with Big Brother & The Holding Company. According to music writer Gillian Gaar, Thornton originally had recorded the song for Bay-Tone Records in the early 1960s, but it was not released until 1968 (by Arhoolie Records). 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 do list ‘W.M. Thornton’ as the songwriter. In 1967, after hearing a set by Big Mama Thornton at the Both/And Club, Joplin and Big Brother guitarist James Gurley asked Thorton if they could record ‘Ball and Chain’. ‘OK, take it – and sing it,’ was all Thorton said and then she meticulously wrote down the lyrics of the song for Gurley to use. With permission granted, and a signed release by Thorton’s manager, Jim Moore, Big Brother & The Holding Company began performing ‘Ball and Chain’ as part of their set.

“Big Brother performed ‘Ball and Chain’ at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 to an enthusiastic audience and critical reception. The first performance on June 17 was not filmed, but 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. Another live version of ‘Ball and Chain’ was included on Big Brother’s 1968 breakthrough album Cheap Thrills.

“Speaking about Joplin in 1972, Thornton said, ‘I gave her the right and the permission to make ‘Ball and Chain.’ And she always was my idol before she passed away . . . and I thank her for helping me. I’ll always go along the line with that.’ Later, she added: ‘It’s alright. It made me money. At least I got paid for it, and I’m still drawing royalties.’ 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.”

Big Brother & The Holding Company, “Ball and Chain” live performance at The Monterey Pop Festival (1967):

Big Brother & The Holding Company, “Ball and Chain” album version (1968):

Big Mama Thorton, “Ball and Chain” live performance (1970):

Comments are closed.