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Satan And Adam – Back In The Game

Modern Blues Harmonica

10 tracks; 40.14 minutes

Back in the late 1980s Sterling “Mr Satan” Magee and Adam Gussow made a name for themselves, initially as a Harlem street duo, then as recording artists, no doubt assisted by a cameo performance on U2’s “Rattle And Hum” album. They recorded three CDs and became an integral part of the revival of the NYC blues scene alongside artists such as Michael Hill and Popa Chubby. Sadly in 1998 Magee’s health deteriorated and the duo broke up. After disappearing from sight for some years, Magee fetched up in a Florida retirement home and plays a weekly gig in the Tampa Bay area. Meanwhile Gussow wrote “Mister Satan’s Apprentice”, an account of the duo’s career, had some health issues of his own and moved to Oxford MS to take up a position as Professor of English at the University of Mississippi. The idea of the duo making any more music together seemed unlikely, but this new CD is here to change all that.

Recorded at a session in Tampa, the session seemed destined to fall apart when the drummer (with whom Magee had been performing locally) was taken seriously ill before the sessions could start. Fortunately the drummer recovered and a substitute was located for the session. Eight tracks were laid down in the session, with Sterling Magee on guitar, vocals and percussion, Adam Gussow on harmonica and vocals on two tracks and Rodger Stephan on drums. Jerry Jemmott, with whom Magee played many years ago with King Curtis, played bass on one track and some keyboards, bass and guitar parts were added on a few tracks. The other two tracks are from the archives, one being a live radio recording from 1991 and the other an outtake from the first CD sessions in 1990.

Looking at the new recordings we get three written by Magee, two by Gussow and three covers. The CD opens with a driving version of “Big Boss Man”, a full band sound with plenty of percussive piano and exciting harp (for real harmonica fans the key of each track is noted in the sleeve notes!). Magee’s “Broke And Hungry” follows, keeping the pace up, a song about hard times. “Thunky Fing Rides Again” is an instrumental with Jerry Jemmott on bass and certainly fits the title, with writer Gussow’s high end harp featured strongly. Track 4 is a cover of “Fever” and is a stripped down version of the song we all know so well from Peggy Lee’s version.

Gussow’s second composition is a bit of an oddity. Magee sits this one out as Adam sings about his love for his lady. Adam’s voice is definitely not as strong as Sterling’s and I found this something of a ‘filler’. “Ain’t Nobody” returns to straight blues though Magee’s voice sounds rather strained on this cut. “Hey, Hey, Hey” is a very basic song in terms of lyrics but is the shortest track at just under three minutes. Muddy’s “Take You Downtown” is the final new recording and is another strong piece, really swinging harp and guitar here. Interestingly Gussow sings this one in a much stronger voice than on the earlier track, with Magee answering him on the choruses.

All the new tracks are compact in length, ranging from 2.55 to 3.41. The two archive tracks are far longer, both clocking in at over 6 minutes and it is interesting to compare the performances across the years. Clearly the intervening years have taken some toll on Magee’s voice as his voice is definitely stronger on these earlier cuts. “Lotto 54” is a long saga about, among other things, being shipwrecked on an island with cannibals! This does offer the most amusing lyric of the set: “Tonight I’m going to be their delicacy. Only one wish I got left in me here, I hope I give them all severe diarrhoea”! The outtake from 1990 was apparently left off “Harlem Blues” because it was “so ferocious, so over the top, that we didn’t know what to do with it”. In my view they probably made the right decision at the time as the track left me cold.

The driver behind this CD has clearly been Adam Gussow who explains in the sleeve notes how fortunate he felt to be able to put the duo back together again. Fans of harmonica blues will enjoy this one a lot, as well as those who were fans of Satan And Adam the first time around. The duo has already done some live dates and it looks as if they will be back on the road from time to time in the future too – a very welcome return.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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