Laughing It Up in Clarksdale, Mississippi
Last of the Delta Blues Legends
Super Chikan is not yet super famous, but he deserves to be. With his killer Delta Blues tunes, a knack for riveting storytelling, and a mouth full of gold teeth offset by a rainbow assortment of diamonds, he’s an incredibly colorful character just waiting to become a talk show celebrity.
Raised in/around Clarksdale, Mississippi, the artist formerly known as James Johnson grew up the nephew of Delta Blues legend Big Jack Johnson. He spent a lot of time with his grandfather, a high-level Mason who deputized guys like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Sonny Boy Williamson to help poor blacks escape the Delta via the Underground Railroad. He tells incredible tales of informal jams on his granddad’s front porch that would give any serious Blues fan goosebumps.
Chikan first made a name for himself by building homemade guitars out of scrap items such as gas cans, ceiling fan motors, plastic toolboxes and rifles, then adorning them with vivid paintings and colorful gems. But he eventually became equally well known for playing the hell out of any stringed instrument he got his hands on, first in Uncle Jack’s band The Jelly Roll Kings, and then later as a solo artist.
“Shoot Dat Thang!”– the Super Chikan Catchphrase
Now, at age 62, Super Chikan is one of the last truly great Delta Blues musicians, keeping alive a rich African-American musical tradition that has influenced bands ranging from the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to the White Stripes and Black Keys. He’s the favorite of Morgan Freeman, who moved to Clarksdale and opened the Ground Zero Blues Club, a modern-day juke joint where Chikan performs regularly. But, despite winning the Blues Music Award for Best Traditional Album in 2010, this Blues ambassador still doesn’t have a record deal.
During my recent visit to the birthplace of the Blues, I was honored to have a chance to chat with this local legend about growing up in the Mississippi Delta, learning in the shadow of his famous uncle, his experiences in Africa and Norway, and what makes the Delta Blues so special.