Artists Nicknames Explained
Eric Clapton: “Slowhand”
This doesn’t have anything to do with the Pointer Sisters’ desire for a lover with one of these, in case you’re wondering. If anything, it’s an ironic title similar to calling a fat guy “Slim.” But there’s a little more to it than that. It was given to him by the Yardbirds’ manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, and has a story behind it. In 1999, Clapton said, “I think it might have been a play on words from the ‘Clap’ part of my name. In England, in sport, if the crowd is getting anxious, we have a slow handclap, which indicates boredom or frustration. But it wasn’t my idea; it was someone else’s comment.” He went into greater detail in his 2007 memoir: “On my guitar I used light-gauge guitar strings… and it was not uncommon during the most frenetic bits of playing for me to break at least one string. During the pause while I was changing my string, the frenzied audience would often break into a slow handclap, inspiring Giorgio to dream up the nickname of ‘Slowhand’ Clapton.” Of course, in the late ‘60s, he also had another nickname: “God.” (See Jay-Z; blasphemy.)
Bruce Springsteen: “The Boss”
It began before he was even a recording artist, when his hired band members would wait to get paid by “the boss” at the end of every working week. This was not something he perpetuated himself after it caught on in the late ‘70s. ““I hate being called Boss,” he said in 1981. “I just do. Always did from the beginning… I personally would have preferred that it had remained private.” At one 1984 show, he improvised the lyric, “You can call me lieutenant, honey, but don’t ever call me Boss.” But in recent years, Springsteen has relaxed and embraced the term enough to occasionally use it in an ironic context in some of his stage patter. After all, it beats being called Bruuuuuuce, right? less
Frank Sinatra: “The Chairman of the Board”
Look this one up on the web and at least 99 out of 100 citations will say Sinatra got the honorary title after founding Reprise Records in the early ‘60s. But true Sinatra fans will tell you that explanation is all wet. It was really bestowed upon him by Williams, a DJ on WNEW radio from the ‘40s through the ‘80s, who thought that his hometown pal should have a nickname as cool as Benny Goodman’s “King of Swing” or Duke Ellington’s simple “Duke.” Not surprisingly, Ol’ Blue Eyes (as he was also known, of course) dug it. less
Michael Jackson: “The King of Pop”
Was this title fan-generated or self-imposed? That controversy may never end. Jackson liked to say that he adopted it only after it had become a common catchphrase among his followers, although there was little evidence that it had been in popular usage prior to his insisting that MTV identify him as a royal in 1991. But he also referred to it being used by his pal Elizabeth Taylor, and sure enough, she did refer to him as “the King of Pop, Rock and Soul” in a 1989 introduction. Jackson, modest fellow that he was, lopped off the “rock” and “soul” designations and stuck with being ruler of one country. In later years, the British press came up with a name he hardly embraced: “Wacko Jacko,” eventually shortened to the slightly less derogatory “Jacko.” lessPaul McCartney: “Macca”
Mariah Carey: “Mimi”
When Mariah was about to release her Emancipation of Mimi album, after separating from Tommy Motolla, she suggested that this little-known nickname represented a previously hidden secret identity. ““Mimi is a very personal nickname only used by those closest to me… just one of those little things that I’ve kept for myself in an attempt to have some delineation between a public persona and a private life,” she said. “I am letting my guard down and inviting my fans to be that much closer to me… Most importantly, I am celebrating the fact that I’ve grown into a person and artist who no longer feels imprisoned by my insecurities or compelled to try and live up to someone else’s vision of ‘Mariah Carey.’” Occasionally, detractors who think the diva is a little big for her britches write it out as “Me-Me.”
His friends were impressed by how spontaneously he could improvise rapid-fire rhymes—a sure sign, in their minds, that he was the Second Coming. Hence the original nickname: “J-Hova”… as in, Jehovah. “That’s what they said I had to be to do that,” the rapper/mogul told the Observer in 2003. However, he’s got 99 problems, but being a deity ain’t one, and he wanted to avoid blasphemy. “I’ve never been real comfortable being called God,” he laughed. “I shorten it to Hova.” less
John Mellencamp: “Little Bastard”
After dropping “Cougar” from his name, Mellencamp apparently thought that he was short a catchy nickname after all, so he adopted “Little Bastard,” which reflects not only his famously ornery demeanor but his relative stature. What rarely comes up is that the name was copped from the roadster in which James Dean had his fatal crash. That might seem like tempting fate, but Mellencamp has managed to avoid similarly going up in flames.
Johnny Cash: “The Man in Black”
In 1971, Cash offered a fanciful explanation for his all-black garb, in song: “I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town… I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been/Each week we lose a hundred fine young men… I’d love to wear a rainbow every day… (but) till things are brighter, I’m the Man in Black.” Which, of course, was absolute bull as self-explanation, even if it was brilliant as poetry. Cash admitted in his own memoirs that he just liked the look of it, although other reasonable explanations have arisen, including the idea that that was the best way for a band on a budget in the mid-‘50s to have matching outfits.