James L. Johnson grew up in the Delta cotton country. As a youngster, he was inclined to chase chickens around the yard so that he could better hear what he thought they were saying; hence his nickname, "Super Chikan." As a young man, Super Chikan learned about music from his father and his now-famous uncle, Big Jack Johnson, "The Oil Man." As he got older, Super Chikan could be found playing in the area juke joints along side Big Jack.
Super Chikan's latest release on Rooster Blues Records is Shoot That Thang!. As with his previous releases on Rooster, Shoot That Thang! is filled with original tunes that feature Super Chikan's unique lyrics and a potpourri of musical styles from the Mississippi Delta. Backed up by his band, The Fighting Cocks, including Dionne Thomas (drums) and Harvell Thomas (bass), the band cruises through eleven original tunes, many telling stories of real events in Super Chikan's 50 years on this earth. A prime example of the autobiographical focus of the songs is "Mennonite Blues," describing Super Chikan's work as a land leveler and his relationships with the Mennonites for 23 years of his life. The songs are generally upbeat, exemplified by the aptly titled "Wrong To Sing The Blues" and the delightful "Tin Top Shack," a song about lovemaking to the sound of rain hitting the tin roof of a Delta home. My favorite song on the CD however is the title track, "Shoot That Thang!" The first time I was lucky enough to see Super Chikan perform live, "SHOOT THAT THANG!" was his battle cry throughout the evening. The song version is over eight minutes long, featuring numerous guitar solos by Super Chickan, who at times sounds a lot like his uncle, Big Jack. The lyrics on "Shoot That Thang!" are also unique, offering variations on several well known nursery rhymes followed by a chorus of "Somebody shoot that thang, Shoot it all night long!"
For a man who has only been pursuing music as a full time career over the past few years, Super Chikan has quickly asserted himself in the blues community with three albums, five Living Blues Critic's Awards and a 1998 W. C. Handy Award nomination for "Best New Blues Artist." The progressive development/improvement of his recorded work and the excellent set of the original music on Shoot That Thang! should help to further Super Chikan's "eggceptional" rise as a blues performer.
For more information on Super Chickan and/or to order a copy of Shoot That Thang!, visit the Rooster Blues website at www.roosterblues.com.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.