Tent stage - Friday 10:00 p.m.
James "Super Chikan" Johnson is a Blues Music Award-winning blues musician, songwriter, outsider artist, educator, and guitar maker based in Clarksdale, Mississippi. One of eleven children, James came from a musical family. His grandfather, Ellis Johnson, played fiddle in local string bands, and one of his uncles, Big Jack Johnson, was an internationally known blues musician. He spent his childhood moving from town to town in the Mississippi Delta and working on his family's farms.
At an early age, James got his first musical instrument, a diddley bo. As he grew up, he came up with new ways to improve and vary the sounds he could make on the one-stringed instrument, and in 1964, at the age of 13, he bought his first guitar. At age 19 he began hitting the jukes, playing bass with his uncle, Big Jack Johnson, and went on to play bass and guitar for a number of Delta blues bandleaders, including Frank Frost, Earnest Roy Sr. and Sam Carr.
As an adult, James began driving a truck for a living. During the long stretches on the road, he began composing his own songs. When he showed the songs to his friends, they convinced him to go a studio and record them. So, in 1997 Super Chikan released his debut album, Blues Come Home to Roost, influenced by such musicians as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Chuck Berry. He went on to release What You See in 2000, Shoot That Thang in 2001, Chikan Supe in 2005, Sum Mo Chikan in 2008, and Chikadelic in 2009, which was awarded the 2010 Blues Music Award for Traditional Blues Album. Also in 2010, he was honored with three additional BMA nominations: BB King Entertainer of the Year, Song of the Year for "Fred's Dollar Store," and Traditional Blues Male Artist.
In recent years, taking lessons learned from his grandfather, who built instruments and made fishing lures, James began building his own guitars and other instruments. James combines discarded guitar parts with old Army gas cans to create "Chikantars." He also makes cigar box guitars and other one-of-a-kind instruments. He hand paints each of his instruments, ornamenting them with detailed scenes of the Delta.
I like the guitar James made from a ceiling fan, covered in jeweled beads, mirrors, and working lights! Such decorated functionality parallels the kind of blues that Super Chikan writes and plays. I've seen Super Chikan many times, and he's the real deal—a Delta bluesman who knows how to put on a good show. But I've never seen him with his all-female band, the Fighting Cocks—although MVBS member Mary Jo Slocum, who heard them on the Legendary R & B Cruise, says they're fantastic. I predict a superlative set!
-- Karen McFarland