Watermelon Slim and Super Chikan : Okiesippi Blues

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Bill “Watermelon Slim” Homans is an award-winning American blues musician that lives in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and frequently performs at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero blues club when he is not out traveling the globe. John Lee Hooker tunes served as “Slim’s” early introduction to the Deep South blues; however, it was in a Vietnam hospital bed with a cheap guitar, a coffee-can guitar pick, and his army-issued Zippo serving as a slide, where “Slim” learned the upside-down, left-handed slide guitar. He first appeared on the music scene with his 1973 debut of the Merry Airbrakes LP. However, over the next three decades, “Slim” worked as a truck driver, forklift operator, sawmiller, firewood salesman, collection agent, funeral officiator, and, at times, a small-time criminal, all the while continuing to play the blues. A turning point for “Slim” was in 2002 when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. He eloquently summed up his sentiments by saying, “Everything I do now has a sharper pleasure to it. I’ve lived a fuller life than most people could in two. If I go now, I’ve got a good education, I’ve lived on three continents, and I’ve played music with a bunch of immortal blues players. I’ve fought in a war and against a war. I’ve seen an awful lot and I’ve done an awful lot. If my plane went down tomorrow, I’d go out on top.”

Like “Slim”, James “Super Chikan” Johnson is also an award-winning American blues musician that had an informal introduction to his craft. Currently living in Clarksdale and regarded as Morgan Freeman’s favorite blues performer, James Johnson was introduced to music at an early age while working on his family’s farms in the Mississippi Delta. The nephew of fellow blues musician Big Jack Johnson, Johnson got “diddley bow,” a board with a piece of baling wire stretched end-to-end, at a very early age. As he grew, he came up with new ways to improve and improvise the sounds that could be made with the bow. Finally, at the age of 13, James bought his first guitar from the Salvation Army. Once an adult, “Super Chikan” began driving a truck for a living and composing his own songs during the longs stretches on the road. When he showed his songs to his friends, they convinced him to go into the studio, and in 1997 “Super Chikan” released his debut album, Blues Come Home to Roost.

Okiesippi Blues is an album that brings together the collaborative forces of “Slim” and “Super Chikan,” two of the best living Deep South blues artists, and delivers a sound that harkens back to musicians like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Okiesippi Blues consists mainly of self-penned originals written by “Slim” and “Super Chikan,” depicting hard work and hopeful disparity. The album opens with “Trucking Blues,” which pays homage to the players’ self-proclamation as road dogs. Homan’s “I Don’t Wear No Sunglasses” is a declaration to the purity of his music and a bow to the uncertainty of the future. “The Trip,” written by “Super Chikan,” talks of his worldly travels and a sense the sense of struggle encountered while on the road.  The climax of Okiesippi Blues comes with a fast and raw “Diddley-Bo Jam,” which highlights “Slim’s” and “Super Chikan’s” immense talent and the pride they have in their roots. This emotional jam is not one you’ll find on a highly produced record, but one that you might encounter in a small blues club in Mississippi. To further reinforce their connection to the Mississippi Delta roots, Okiesippi Blues includes the traditional standard, “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.”  The album closes with a little more history of the Deep South and its notoriety for bootleg liquor. “Moonshine” is a back-and-forth between two individuals discussing the checkered past of this distinctly southern drink.

Most music will tell a story, but the blues, a distinctly American art form, thrives by juxtaposing the musician’s words with instrumental accents. Through-and-through Okiesippi Blues takes the listener back to times past and drives home the significance of history. This album preserves and honors the past, but also has integrity as a unique contribution to the genre.

Okiesippi Blues is out now on NorthernBlues Music Inc.

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