Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Mister Satan’s Apprentice: A Blues Memoir by Adam Gussow

The author of this occasionally fascinating memoir is the harmonica-playing half of Satan and Adam, a raw-sounding, energetic blues duo whose music throbs with the vitality of the Harlem street corner where they began their unlikely journey 13 years ago. Satan, a.k.a. Sterling Magee, is the guitar-shredding, percussion-pounding, streetwise “master” with whom the Ivy League blues wannabe serves his apprenticeship, and it is those pages in which their association (and sometime sunderings) are detailed that are the most compelling. Central to this pairing is Gussow’s angst about being a white man in Harlem, especially during the racially tense summer of 1989. Gussow viewed what they did “as principled opposition to antagonism,” and-with few exceptions-he passersby, i.e., their audience, felt the same. Comments like “It’s good to see y’all getting it together. Pepper and salt” and “He plays harder when you come down” did a lot to buoy Gussow’s spirits.

Gussow’s memoir is in large part a coming-of-age story with the protagonist looking for musical and sexual outlets in, respectively, Greenwich Village clubs-where he tries out his stock of blue licks gleaned from records-and (mainly) at Columbia where he was an English major. The book seesaws between such humdrum issues as, is he going to get laid, is he going to amount to anything-well, we know the answer to that-and fiery accounts of blowing with Mister Satan and becoming a “blues-playing, money-making organism, one harshly sweet flailing thing doing what it did best. Outdoors, under the open sky.” After four and one-half years of blasting the blues on the corner of 125th St. and 7th Ave., they get a CD out (1991’s Harlem Blues on Flying Fish Records) and begin a slow crawl up the ladder of success: touring Europe with Bo Diddley; the cover of Living Blues, numerous festivals here and abroad, two more CDs; yet, as Gussow recounts in his Epilogue: “Minor celebrity beckoned, then faded.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published