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You're probably dying to know how a dude comes by a nickname like "Super Chikan," so let's deal with that issue up front. When James Louis Johnson worked as a cab driver in Clarksdale, Miss., he became notorious for his lead foot. He acquired the nickname "Quick Chicken," which somehow got altered to "Super Chikan," and a new blues moniker was born.
Nephew of bluesman Big Jack Johnson, Super Chikan is a lifelong resident of the Mississippi Delta who went from driving cabs and trucks to playing his guitar and singing the blues. What You See is a greasy, diversified effort that includes horn-inflected R&B, down-home rockin' blues and loose countrified funk.
Unlike some of his rural label mates at Fat Possum, Super Chikan is a very polished guitarist and singer. Fortunately, What You See possesses that spontaneity of sound and eccentricity of purpose that are Fat Possum hallmarks. It's a very entertaining CD, and most of the credit goes to Super Chikan himself. His quirky but soulful vocals, unpredictable guitar playing and comical tunes make for a distinctive listen.
The album opens with "What You See," a swampy funk track featuring the leader on wah-wah guitar. "Ain't Nobody" and "Good Thing" are pure Southern soul numbers, but they're just off-center enough to beguile. "El Camino" is a Latin-tinged instrumental not far removed from the Ventures, while "Okie Doak" is a funky tune with a deep groove.
"You Said" and "Big Boy Now" are the funniest songs on the album. The former has Super Chikan accusing his woman of cheating because her hair is unruly even though she owns "24 cans" of hairspray. On "Big Boy Now," Super Chikan raps about "yodeling like them white folks" while his band lays down a mean boogie groove. It's crazy stuff, but it's great fun. Johnson revels in his nickname by scratching his guitar like a chicken on "Okie Doak" and doing some crazy vocal clucking on "Big Boy Now."
Super Chikan is a talented, fun-loving guy with a great voice and a natural feel for his guitar. Just check out his fiery solo on "Fighting Cock." This guy can really play, but he has a way of making it sound easy. Picture Joe Tex, Lonnie Mack, George Clinton and Slim Harpo rolled up in one crazy dude. Credit his band for keeping pace, no easy task given the diversity of music on What You See.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.