Language of the Blues: STAVIN’ CHAIN


This is the latest installment of our weekly series The Language of the Blues, in which author and rock musician Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase found in the blues.

Grab a signed copy of Devi’s entertaining & award-winning glossary The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Also available as an eBook.

Lil Johnson
Lil Johnson

Stavin’ Chain was a 19th-century rail worker of legendary strength and stamina. According to Lil Johnson’s 1937 recording of “Stavin’ Chain,” he was the chief engineer on a train, and a big, strong man who could make love all night:

Stavin’ Chain was a man of might
He’d save up his money just to ride all night

No wonder Stavin’ Chain was a popular nickname among bluesmen in the 1930s. When John and Ruby Lomax were recording songs by prisoners at Ramsey State Farm, Camp #4, in Brazoria County, Texas in 1939, they noted that “two boys claimed the nickname of the famous ‘Stavin’ Chain’; they compromised by accepting the amended names Big Stavin’ Chain and Little Stavin’ Chain.”Alan Lomax also photographed and recorded Wilson Jones, a.k.a. Stavin’ Chain, in Layfayette, LA.

Wilson Jones a.k.a. Stavin’ Chain, photo by Alan Lomaxette, Louisiana.

The term “staving chain,” may come from the chains used by barrel manufacturers to hold barrel staves together until an iron band could be fitted around the end of the barrel. Another theory is that staving chain was the name for the chain used to chain prisoners together by their ankles in a chain gang. Stavin’ chain may also be a corruption of “stave and chain.”

Pick up a signed copy of The Language of the Blues today!
“Stavin’ Chain”- Lil Johnson
“Windin’ Boy”- Jelly Roll Morton (Ferdinand Joseph Lematt)
“Stavin’ Chain Blues”- “Big” Joe Williams

“Stavin’ Chain” – Lil Johnson