I Just heard today that Sterling Magee passed away.
Who is Sterling Magee? I’m glad you asked!
Sterling Magee was a street musician in Harlem, NYC back in the 1980s and 1990s, who liked to go by the name of Mr. Satan. Apparently he had been in the R&B circuit as a guitarist since the 1950s, playing guitar with artists like King Curtis and James Brown but ultimately left the music biz to follow his own vision. He was a visual artist as well as a singer and songwriter, and he preferred the freedom of busking to the constraints of the live music circuit.
In the mid 1980s a young white harmonica player named Adam Gussow joined him busking on the streets of Harlem. The odd couple (one an older , southern born Black man, the other a young white suburban New Yorker) soon became known as “Satan & Adam”. Their sound was so unique, that no-one else sounded anything like them. Mr. Satan played electric guitar in an intensely rhythmic style, and accompanied himself with foot drums. Adam is one of the top Blues harmonica players, a virtuoso with a dynamic and unique sound. Couple that with Mr. Satan’s gritty and passionate vocals and original songwriting that is at once both extremely traditional but also completely iconoclastic to the Blues - and you get a one-of-a-kind act.
Their first claim to fame was a short scene in U2’s film “Rattle and hum” - when that band was walking through Harlem and stopped to watch Satan and Adam play. Eventually the duo landed a recording contract, and put out 3 fantastic albums while touring all the major Blues festivals throughout the 1990s.
The Blues is a genre where originality is often not a priority, and way too often you get many artists who sound the same. As one who always searched for something special in music,I was mesmerized by their special sound. Everything about them was different - yet perfect - and their music was always passionate. Eventually Mr. Satan retired from performing due to health problems, while Adam went on to an academic career at the University of Mississippi and remains a teacher and mentor to harmonica players around the world. You can read more about Satan & Adam in Gussow’s memoir of his days playing on the street with Mr Satan , a book called “Mr. Satan’s apprentice” - I highly recommend it!
I also strongly recommend you to listen to the recordings of Satan & Adam, and expose yourself to one of the most special sounds in the history of the Blues
Rest in Peace Mr. Satan - and thank you for all the music!
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