Sterling Magee and Adam Gussow are a couple of New York blues musicians. After almost a decade’s absence from clubs and festival stages, they 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 LP, Word on the Street: Harlem Recordings, 1989. Joining them on tour was drummer David Laycock, a noted Tampa-area performer who has now become—as Magee and Gussow put it—“the third member of the duo.”
As Satan and Adam, Magee and 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 on the scene in 1991 with their critically acclaimed debut release, Harlem Blues, featuring Magee on guitar, percussion, and vocals and Gussow on amplified harmonica. “ 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.
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 a one-man band. 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. Gussow, a writer and harmonicist with the touring company of Big River, worked Harlem’s streets with Magee for three years before the duo was discovered.
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 is being republished by the University of Minnesota Press in 2009. Gussow is currently an Associate Professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. Magee lives in Gulfport, Florida and has become a celebrated elder member of the Tampa-area blues scene. Now Satan and Adam have reformed, joined by "Dave on Drums," and have been bringing their distinctive sound to clubs and festivals.
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