Super Chikan

Super Chikan
Sum’ Mo Chikan


By Art Tipaldi
September 2008

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“Somebody shoot that thing!“ might have been the first thing James “Super Chikan“ Johnson ever heard his mother say.

Growing up in Clarksdale, Miss., Johnson was christened “Chikan“ early, and today, rules the Delta roost.

Early on, he cut his teeth performing with his uncle, Big Jack Johnson, along with Sam Carr and Frank Frost.

As original as the Southern folk art he creates, “Super Chikan“ today is the most authentic performer of real deal Delta blues. He picks and plucks on a variety of homemade guitars that he fashions from whatever he finds in the yard: gas cans, ceiling fans, broomsticks, or everything else. Johnson then hand paints each of these one-of-a-kind instruments, called “Chikantars,“ with detailed scenes of the Delta. The instruments have become highly prized by collectors throughout the south. In 2004, he was a recipient of Mississippi’s Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts. This year, he hand painted six guitars that were donated by St. Blues Guitars to the Notodden Blues Festival in Norway.

Live, each song begins with a story from his Delta childhood and ends with a gold toothed smile - and Chikan yellin’ out “Somebody shoot that thing!“

In fact, his second tune, “Crystal Ball Eyes,“ replicates exactly the Chikan live experience. Over the hypnotic groove, Chikan tells his tale of growin’ up in the Delta where a chicken was a pet - and a food.

Growin’ up near Clarksdale juke joints such as Red’s or Margaret’s Blue Diamond Lounge, Chikan has internalized the deepest music that hangs in the air every day.

“Freddy’s Thang“ celebrates the explosive guitar Freddy King brandished. Musically, “Hookin’ Up“ is Chikan’s nod to one of Clarksdale’s great bluesmen, John Lee Hooker. But the story has Chikan rappin’ about his yodelin’ talents. “November Nights“ has the soul blues groove that co-exists with the blues on Southern radio.

As with the best of the blues, there is a certain amount of posturing in Chikan’s tunes. He’s the “Coochie Daddy“ drivin’ the “Love Cruiser.“ He’s the able “Yard Boy“ who can’t keep his woman’s garden tidy anymore.

And every song has Chikan’s distinctive Delta slide, skillfully played on every homemade guitar - answering Chikan’s vocals in typical juke joint fashion. In addition, there is a wonderful interplay between Chikan and Laura Craig’s keyboards. Chikan’s guitar clucks; and Craig’s piano answers.

On the eight minutes of “Crying About the Blues,“ Chikan frantically scratches strings, stretches notes to their breaking point and wah-wahs as Craig pounds out of control on her keys. It’s like a furious race down Highway 61.

Recorded in Willie Mitchell’s historic Royal Studios in Memphis, Sum’ Mo’ Chikan perfectly captures the joie de vivre that is Super Chikan.

Somebody shoot that thing!

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