The Blues started out in over a hundred years ago as a rural music, and many of the originators of Blues music wrote songs with agricultural themes, with work songs, or ballads about crops or pests or the weather, and about their own dogs and mules. Old country harp players might imitate farmyard animals in their wailing cries, barks and moans, but a more recent Blues player has gone the whole nine yards and called himself after a domesticated ‘critter’. It would be hard to find a man with deeper roots in the Delta than Super Chikan.
James Johnson was born in Darling MS in 1951, the nephew of Big Jack Johnson
, the hill-country Blues guitarist whose intense, archaic, one-chord juke-joint boogies spoke to those origins of the Blues
. James moved around the Delta
working on relatives’ farms as a kid, and he liked feeding the chickens, imitating and ‘talking to’ them, leading his friends to call him ‘Chikan Boy’. He learned to play a diddley-bow, and when he was 13, James bought a beat-up second-hand guitar from a Salvation Army store in Clarksdale, but he was not looking for a career in music. He worked a variety of jobs as a young man, and while employed as a truck driver, he would make up his own songs to fill the lonely hours. His buddies persuaded him to record some demo records and he tried playing with some musician friends, but he preferred the freedom and spontaneity of being a solo artist. James adopted the ‘Super Chikan’ tag when he finally started performing, and his songs usually included some crowing and scratching on his guitar.
Super Chikan plays cigar-box guitar with the all-girl band ‘Fightin’ Cocks’ at a Chicago Festival;
The guitar in question might be fashioned from a gasoline can, a cigar box or a double or triple-necked adaptation of a standard guitar, or an updated diddley-bow. All these were electrified home-made devices, and were later to be joined by others made from a bejewelled hubcap, a Harley fuel tank, the ‘Bad Boy’ (which resembled Bo Diddley
‘s signature tool), Obama and Seagal specials to commemorate the ’08 election and a tour with Steven Seagal’s ‘Thunderbox’, and even one made from a shotgun. All these instruments are beautifully decorated works of art in themselves, and he kindly gave one to the equally eccentric Bluesman, Seasick Steve
. Chikan uses them to play slide and fingerpicking boogies that would not be out of place at his Uncle’s juke-joint, but his style is not limited by convention, incorporating funk-tinged Soul ballads and funny stories into a hugely entertaining live set.
Chikan’s shotgun guitar at the ‘Ground Zero’ club;
Chikan’s first album puts his songwriting skills in the spotlight with his lyrical, humorous storytelling and downhome guitar skills.
BLUES COME HOME TO ROOST
Super Chikan’s recording career began in 1997, with ‘Blues Comes Home to Roost’, and he has produced a fine album every couple of years since then. Extremely popular on the club and Festival scene, Chikan has toured Europe several times, and played in Russia, Africa and Japan as well as on many domestic tours. His album ‘Chikadelic’ was recorded in Norway, and won the 2010 Blues Music Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, and his latest release ‘Okiesippi Blues’ is an album of duets with harp player and lap-steel guitarist Watermelon Slim. An almost life-long resident of Clarksdale, Chikan has enjoyed a long-running residency at ‘Ground Zero’, Morgan Freeman’s renowned club in the town.