Blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter Sterling Magee and harmonica player Adam Gussow have paid their dues. They began their career on the street -- on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 125th Street, to be exact -- and within a matter of weeks they were drawing crowds, people pausing on their way home from work to stop and listen. For five years, nearly every afternoon that weather permitted, the pair would meet on the corner and Magee would set up his simple stool, drum kit, guitar, and amplifier. Using a combination of foot stomps, tambourines, hi-hat cymbals, and guitar, Magee gave the duo a full sound.
Magee and Gussow specialized in funky, gritty, electric urban blues, and there were few groups or artists anywhere who sounded anything remotely like them. Gussow's exquisite harmonica solos complemented the driving, open-toned guitar playing of Magee, who preferred to be called Mister Satan, and who frequently referred to Gussow in live performances as Mister Gussow. Satan & Adam redefined and shaped the sound of modern blues so much that their track "I Want You" from their Harlem Blues debut is included on a Rhino Records release Modern Blues of the 1990s.
Magee, born May 20, 1936 in Mississippi and raised in Florida, began his career playing piano in churches in both states. During the '80s Magee played on Harlem streets and he toured widely with Gussow during the following decade, but in the 1960s he was a key session guitarist, playing on recordings by James Brown, King Curtis, George Benson, and others. Gussow, born April 3, 1958 and raised in Rockland County, New York, was a Princeton-educated harmonica player who had a little uptown apartment, and in passing Magee one day on the street in 1985, he asked if he could sit in on harmonica. That was the start of a musical and social relationship between the two that has continued -- with some interruption -- into the 21st century.
The pair recorded several critically acclaimed albums for the now-defunct Flying Fish label, including Harlem Blues (1991) and Mother Mojo (1993). Satan & Adam also performed in U2's Rattle and Hum movie. On the Mother Mojo album, the duo reinterpreted and funkified well-known songs like Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and Joe Turner's "Crawdad Hole." In 1996 Satan & Adam released Living on the River on the New York State-based Rave On Records label.
Magee subsequently moved from Harlem to Virginia and suffered a nervous breakdown in 1998, the same year that Gussow published a memoir, Mister Satan's Apprentice, telling of his years playing with his duo partner. The days of Satan & Adam appeared to be over, but Magee subsequently resurfaced in Gulfport, Florida and Gussow, now an associate professor at the University of Mississippi, joined him for some performances in the mid-2000s. After that, a sense of renewed activity surrounded Satan & Adam, with the publication of Gussow's new book about the duo, Journeyman's Road, in 2007; work on a feature-length documentary film; the 2008 release of a downloadable archival collection entitled Word on the Street; and, finally, the release of a new Satan & Adam album entitled Back in the Game in 2011. ~ Richard Skelly