James "Super Chikan" Johnson was born in 1951 and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the cotton fields across the river from Helena, Arkansas. His nickname, Chikan, came from feeding corn to the chickens out of a molasses bucket. He trained the chickens so that all he had to do was “scratch that old bucket and they would come.”
"Back in those days, kids wasn't allowed to hang around older people." During his grandfather’s porch parties, Johnson would hide under the porch to listen to the music because it was “sounding so good.” He would hide somewhere just to watch the musicians play. He even fell out of a tree one day and “landed right in front of ‘em.” He remembered Jimmy Reed with his moonshine and high, whiny voice, and how Reed noticed Johnson playing his diddley bow. Reed said, “That boy gonna do something with it. He gonna be somebody someday.” Johnson credited his early fascination with Jimmy Reed as the singular influence on his own music.
He received the Mississippi Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2004. In 2006 he performed for both the Library of Congress’s Homegrown Concert Series sponsored by the American Folklife Center and for the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage program.