Adam Gussow is known to most students as an English and Southern Studies professor. He also is the subject of a blues documentary called “Satan and Adam,” following 23 years of blues music production.
On Thursday night, “Adam and Satan” was screened in Barnard Observatory at 4 p.m. The conversation afterward was led by Director of the Southern Documentary Project, Andy Harper.
The story started in the 80s in Harlem, where Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee entertained the people of his community. Gussow walks through the streets and becomes enamored with the one-man band that was Mr. Satan. Gussow asks if he could join in, and the two become a pair.
The film originally premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 12.
Gussow was a student from Princeton and found his release in music, specifically the harmonica. Magee would play percussion and the guitar, and sing simultaneously.
Magee grew up in Mount Olive, Mississippi, and played for musicians such as Ray Charles, Etta James and Marvin Gaye. After years in the music industry, Magee decided to play on the streets for the people.
The racial differences between Magee and Gussow caused the duo to face adversity in Harlem. Through this, the two persevered through music and continued to play the blues with the support of the community.
“Every time (I watch the documentary), I see something different. This time I really saw how beautifully it was edited,” Gussow said.
Their music was recognized, and the documentary started filming nine years into Satan and Adam’s story, following them even through the later disappearance of Magee to Florida because of a nervous breakdown. Despite the movie’s late start, local news sources and friends of the duo would take videos and pictures used within the film.
The documentary touches on the unity of music and the race within the music industry. Having previously been part of the African American music scene, Magee was distrusting of the opportunities the pair received after growing in popularity.
Regardless of the issues Gussow faced playing in Harlem with Magee, the two continued to play.
After Magee disappeared, he arrived in Harlem and went to his usual spot on the street. A man referred to him as Mr. Satan, Magee became irritated and quickly left.
Years later, the production team found Magee in Florida living with his family.
He refused to even think of picking up his guitar after the interview, and it was not until a few years later that a worker at his nursing home motivated him to start playing again.
“It’s been really interesting taking (the film) around, and there’s one common thread in the responses it gets, which is the number of people who say that it’s made them cry,” Gussow said.
Gussow reconnected with Magee and returned for another album. Satan and Adam had been miraculously reborn and pleasantly revered by family, friends and fans.
Gussow continues to teach at the University of Mississippi, and Magee now resides in Florida where he continues to play the blues as Mr. Satan. Gussow gives free harmonica lessons on YouTube.
“What the film doesn’t get at, if you watch it closely, it might seem that I’m a one-man band by the end,” Gussow said. “I had a complete rebirth as a one-man band.”
The film is currently available online, and music from Satan and Adam are available on streaming services.