Janis Joplin – Ball and Chain

I always thought Janis had the voice of a songbird. A cigarette smoking and Southern Comfort drinking songbird…but a songbird all the same. Janis and Aretha Franklin are my two favorite female artists of all time. They put every ounce of themselves into their songs. They cheated no one.

I first heard this song on Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits. I bought the album for the song Me and Bobby McGee and I found out I liked every song on the album. Unlike other singers I listened to at that time…Janis left everything on the field so to speak. That is the same quality I liked about Bruce Springsteen later.

Ball and Chain was written and originally recorded by a blues singer named Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, who recorded the original version of “Hound Dog.” Thornton was introduced to church music at an early age. A skilled singer, songwriter, dancer, self-taught drummer, and harmonica player.

Janis’s big break came at the Monterey Pop Festival singing this song. She would go on to sing it at Woodstock also. It was on the album by Big Brother and the Holding Company called Cheap Thrills released in 1968. With the help of their appearance at Monterey, the album peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album charts for 8 consecutive weeks.

This was their breakthrough album. The album was supposed to be called Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills; Columbia nixed it. The album ended up being the band’s last album with Joplin, who left by the end of the year to launch a solo career.

The cover was designed by legendary artist Robert Crumb. He didn’t care for Big Brother too much but liked Janis.

Cheap Thrills [LP] VINYL - Best Buy

Robert Crumb: “She was a swell gal and a very talented singer. Ever heard any of this pre-Big Brother stuff she recorded? She was great. Then she got together with those idiots. The main problem with Big Brother was they were amateur musicians trying to play psychedelic rock and be heavy and you listen to it now and it’s bad… just embarrassing.”

“She wasn’t nationally known yet. I remember going to see her at the Avalon Ballroom and you could tell right away that she had an exceptional voice and she would go far. She started out singing old time blues like Bessie Smith. She was kind of a folknik originally.“

 “Janis had played with earlier bands just playing country blues and it was much better. Way, way better. She’s singing well, not screaming, not playing to the audience that wanted to watch her sweat blood. In the beginning she was just an authentic, genuine Texas country-girl shouter.”

Ball and Chain

Sitting down by my window
Honey, looking out at the rain
Sitting down by my window, looking out at the rain
All around that I felt it
All I can see was the rain
Something grabbed a hold of me
Feel to me, oh, like a ball and chain
Hey, you know what I mean that’s exactly what it felt like
But that’s way too heavy for you, you can’t hold them all

And I say, oh, whoa, whoa, oh, that cannot be
Just because I got oh, your love, please
Why does every
Oh, this can’t be just because I got to need you, daddy
Please don’t you knock it down now, please
Here you’ve gone today
What I wanted to love you and I wanted to hold you, yeah, till the day I die
Yes, I did, yes, I did, yeah, hey, hey, alright

Say, whoa, whoa, whoa, honey
This can’t be anything I’ve ever wanted from your daddy tell me now
Oh, tell me, baby
Oh, say, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, honey
This can’t be, no, no, no, no, no
Yeah, yeah
I hope there’s someone out there who could tell me
Tell me why just because I got to want your love
Honey, just because I got to need, need, need, need your love
I said I understand
Honey, what I’m wanna trying to say hi
Trying, try, try, try, try, try, try
Honey, everybody in the world, also same, baby
When everybody in the world what needs, seem lonely
What I wanted work for your love, daddy
What I wanted trust your love, daddy
I din’t understand how come you’re gone
I don’t understand why half the world is still crying, man
And the other half of the world is still crying too, man
I can’t get it together
I mean if you go to ? Oneday, man
I mean, so baby, you want ? Three and sixty five days, right
You ain’t gonna within sixty five days, you gonna for one day, man
I tell you, that one day, man, better be your life, man
Because you know, you can stay oh man, you can cry about the other three and sixty four, man I said whoa, whoa, whoa
But you gonna lose that one day, man
That’s all you got, you got to call it love, man
That’s what it is, man
If you got today, you don’t worry about tomorrow, man
Because you don’t need it
Because the matter of the fact, as we discovered tat’s rain, tomorrow never happens, man
It’s all the same fucking day, man

So you gotta when you want to hold someone
You gotta hold them like it’s the last minutes of your life
You gotta hold, hold, hold and I say, oh, whoa, whoa, now babe, tell me why
Hold, baby, ’cause some come on your shoulder, baby
It’s gonna feel too heavy, it’s gonna weigh on you why does every thing, every thing
It’s gonna feel just like a ball
Oh, daddy and a chain


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

22 thoughts on “Janis Joplin – Ball and Chain”

  1. Great song Max. I have always been a big fan of Janis and I will be writing about her songs Move Over for Song Lyric Sunday this weekend as it is Clive Davis day. I like the Big Mama version and I have only heard that a few times. Janis killed it on Ball and Chain and they say that to sing the Blues you have to suffer and her voice makes my flesh go all goose bumps when I listen to this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. one of the great, rough rock voices . Jim mentions Clive Davis and I thought how funny it is – the two women whose careers Clive really spearheaded and built up were Janis Joplin and Whitney Houston. Both did well (Houston phenomenally so if you’re looking at sales)but both met sad demises and yet it would be harder to find two more different female pop/rock voices if you tried.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I recognized Robert Crumb’s work on the album cover right away. Funny the company had a problem with the name but not the artwork on the album. I am adding both Big Mama Thornton and Janis to the list. I’m guessing you are doing the write-up on JJ? Both of these women sing their hearts out with sincerity and passion.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes…I get it that alot of people didn’t like her voice but they could never question her sincerity and passion.
      Oh yea I would be honored to write about Janis.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really like your description of her as a Southern Comfort swigging, cigarette smoking songbird. Very apropos. I had a biker friend once–an associate of the criminal Jimmy Chagra and a go between for him and the Bandidos. Real classy dude. Anyway, we bonded over Joplin. She was the only artist that he had records of. We were talking about Linda Ronstadt and he said–I’ll never forget it–“she’s good looking all right but she’s not sexy and she can’t sing. She needs to smoke some cigarettes and drink some whiskey. Roughen up that voice. Then she’ll be sexy.” I laughed then and I laugh now…I also appreciate you bringing Robert Crumb into the conversation. Crumb knew her well. They were buddies–both of them outsiders. If you haven’t seen the documentary “Crumb” I highly recommend it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have had some biker friends also through the clubs we played…some pretty cool people as long as they liked you.
      I kinda feel like he does lol…I like Bonnie Tyler and Tanya Tucker also…something about that rougher voice I like.
      I’ll check that doc out.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Whats ashame Obbverse…her last producer was helping her learn to sing regular to save her voice….like in Bobby McGee but she exited before she could make another.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Janis Joplin was really something else. I think your description of her hits the nail on the head.

    I also love Big Mama Thornton’s original. First of all, that name is just priceless. Janis Joplin sounds almost ordinary by comparison – though to be very clear, Janis was anything but ordinary. In fact, I would go as far as saying Janis was in a class by herself. I know of no other artist who sounded like her and had her level of intensity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She was almost primeval….she dug down deep. Like I was telling Obbverse….her last producer was teaching her how to save her voice for the future like Bobby McGee on her last album.

      Oh I like Big Mama Thornton also!

      Liked by 1 person

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