NOTE: The documentary "Satan & Adam," twenty-three years in the making, premiered in late April 2018 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City and began screening on Netflix on June 1, 2019. You can find out more HERE
Who were--or are--Satan and Adam? Ahigh-powered duo with an unusual look and an utterly distinctive sound,Sterling Magee and Adam Gussow were an integral part of the New York blues renaissance of the 1990s, along with Shemekia Copeland, The Holmes Brothers, Michael Hill and the Blues Mob, and Popa Chubby. They burst onto the scene in 1991 with their critically acclaimed debut release, Harlem Blues, featuring Magee on guitar, percussion, and vocals and Gussow on amplified harmonica. “[This is blues] so unbelievably raw and real,” wrote CMJ, “it’s hard even to describe it. Satan sounds like the heaviest and scariest parts of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters reincarnated as a whole band and then somehow crammed back into the body of one man, and Adam fills in some piercing harmonica wails that seem to come from the same dark, primeval place as Shakey Horton’s or Little Walter’s.” Harlem Blues was nominated for a Handy Award as “Traditional Blues Album” in 1991. ("Unlucky in Love," the track below, is the lead cut on their third album, Living on the River (1996).)
Magee and Gussow first met on 125th Street in Harlem in 1986, where Magee, an R&B singer and guitarist from Mount Olive, Mississippi, had reinvented himself as "Mr. Satan," a one-man band and street prophet. Known in the early 1960s as a “Five Fingers Magee,” a dazzling guitar prodigy, Magee later worked as a sideman with King Curtis, Marvin Gaye, Etta James, and Little Anthony and the Imperials. He also spent time as a Brill-Building songwriter--he teamed up with Jesse Stone on a number of hits--and had a brief recording career, waxing sides such as "Oh She Was Pretty." Gussow, an Ivy-educated writer and harmonicist with the touring company of Big River, worked Harlem’s streets with Magee for four years before the duo was discovered by Margo Lewis of Talent Consultants International and lofted into a big-stage career..
Magee and Gussow followed up Harlem Blues with Mother Mojo (1993) and Living on the River (1996). They toured internationally and played blues, jazz, and folk festivals in Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Winnipeg, Dublin, and many other venues. They were celebrated, among other things, for their 38-second cameo in U2’s 1988 documentary, Rattle & Hum, in which they performed Magee’s original composition, “Freedom For My People.”
In 1998, after Magee experienced health challenges, Satan and Adam disbanded. Gussow’s tale of the duo’s exploits, Mister Satan’s Apprentice: A Blues Memoir (Pantheon) was published later that year and received the Keeping the Blues Alive Award in Literature from the Blues Foundation in Memphis. (It was republished by the University of Minnesota Press in 2009.) Gussow is currently a Professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. Magee lived in Gulfport, Florida for many years, where he became a celebrated elder member of the Tampa-area blues scene. He passed away from the aftereffects of COVID-19 on September 6, 2020.
After almost a decade’s absence from clubs and festival stages, Sterling Magee and Adam Gussow returned to action in the summer of 2008, playing selected dates throughout the Southeast in support of Gussow’s new book, Journeyman’s Road: Modern Blues Lives From Faulkner’s Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York (University of Tennessee Press) and a new live double album, Word on the Street: Harlem Recordings, 1989.Between 2007 and 2011, Magee and Gussow worked periodically, always as a trio with drummer David "Dave on Drums" Laycock laying down the beat. In 2011 they followed up with Back in the Game, their first all-new release since 1996. Sadly, Dave passed away after a long illness late in 2011.
But Gussow and Magee reunited in December 2011 as a duo, with Gussow on percussion in his one-man-band mode. Miraculously, Satan and Adam managed to reinvent themselves once again. Below is some video from a 2012 appearance at the Johnnie Johnson Blues & Jazz Festival in Fairmont, West Virginia. Satan and Adam were blues survivors--and partners until the end.
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