A bit late – drafted this some time ago, but forgot to post!
Mr Satan’s Apprentice -A Blues Memoir by Adam Gussow.
How I missed this when it first came out, I don’t know, but glad that another blues enthusiast lent me his copy, while waiting for my own.
Mister Satan’s Apprentice is the history of one of music’s most fascinating collaborations, between Adam Gussow, a young graduate school dropout and harmonica player, and Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee, a guitarist and underground blues legend who had originally made his name as “Five Fingers Magee.”
(hardback version 1998)Pantheon
paperback version 2000 (Vintage)
Apart from the mix of blues and comments about broader social issues, there are many noticeable and notable paragraphs about Mr Satan’s philosophy as well as blues harp playing. Here is one as a starter:
“I am Satan,” he declaimed.” God’s people told you a lie. I am the most mannerable person you will ever meet. and guess what ? Every single war that ever was- all the killing, all the disrespecting, all the mother effing this and that- every bit of that damned mess has been taught in the name of God. Ain’t no wars been fought in the name of Satan.” p.49
“I am the Earth, Mister Adam,”Mister Satan cried, inflamed. ”I joke not. the Earthworks in mysterious ways. I may feel a little cold coming on, mix me up a little milk and honey, drink it down, and I’m gonna wake up next morning with my health in full flower. Ain’t took no doctor to cure my behind. A doctor will kill you, man. How’s a doctor gonna help anybody produce healthfulness when he spend all day and night studying sickness and death? Can’t do it. Same thing with God. Bastard puts man and woman in the garden of Eden, shows them where the Tree of Life is, looking oh so pretty with the apple hanging down, and then go and make up some lie about how they gonna die if they go and have a taste.
God is death, plain and simple. Ain’t no life in the mess.”
About harp playing, from Adam….
In those days I gave a lot of harmonica lessons, almost all them to lonely white guys with time to spare and an aching desire to make a certain kind of sound on the instrument. Everybody I knew referred to this as the Sound. Nat had the Sound; he’d done his best to pass it along to me. The Sound was Southern-born, it was cocky playful, manic, chuckling, resentful, edgy, comforting, relentless. It took incredible lip strength and finesse to produce.It was sexual. It was the haunted, restless feeling of a guy’s apartment late at night after the woman who used to live there had moved out.
all I had was my music, pitiful as it was….Saturday nights ,while other freshman as the Primitive Inn –my residential college –were mingling to disco bands in the darkened dining room. I’d hide out upstairs blowing and jumping around, working up my nerve, my favourite inspirational text was Muddy Water’s Woodstock album with Paul Butterfield on harp, faster than James Cotton, more fluid than Magic Dick,Butter would hammer out endless triplets, buzzing around Muddy like a chuckling angry wasp. I’m gonna take you downtown, put cloooothes on your back…Muddy would bellow and Paul would diddly-diddly-waaaaah..I’d dance around and between them until my lips ached, trying to soak up Muddy’s swagger, Paul’s wasp-chuckle.
And about the teacher of teachers -Nat Riddles (Adam’s harp guru)
“Sweet Home Chicago” went by, unremarkable; I couldn’t sing with Nat watching me. A higher power descended in the middle of “Mean Old World” Mister Satan had just cried “Sometimes I wonder…how can you love be so cold.” Suddenly shivering,I had it- a knotted sob-and knew what to do with it. The moment he yelled Blow! I went off .I thinned my tone, got as mean as I could with maximal tongue-articulation up and down the harp, all the moves Nat had lovingly help install.
The men crowding around us shouted “play it!” Nat hovering with the tape recorder, yelled, “Go ahead!” Whatever I was holding back broke out in a flood.I sobbed,cursed,raged hoarsely, flogged my own throat,with the air I wrenched through it.
and on Nat:
He sat down….spine erect legs spread in back – porch mode – and started to blow. And he did blow. His first long low note got under and upended everything I”d just played. “Go ahead brother!” a man yelled. A current rippled through the gathered crowd. “Low down and dirty brother!” another yelled out. Nat’s lidded eyes narrowed as he bore down, his shoulders swiveled, feinting and parrying, a tai chi push-hands master daring you to come at him. Five six, seven choruses. Every half-digested Nat Riddles lick I’d just thrown down-tongue slaps, warbles, bends, glissandos-he scraped off the sidewalk, swapped around ,kicked and bit back into shape, then hurled through the stained, oily gum-spattered concrete we were standing on. Down they flowed into the molten core, boiling and squalling before erupting through the paper cone of my Mouse.
take a break and watch the vid of the pair:
William and I were sitting behind the two women, harps out, deep in the woodshed. He’d just shown me a mind-blowing new technique.Overblows were a way of playing three extra notes in the middle octave by reversing direction on a draw note bend so the pitch popped up. The notes literally weren’t there; you made them happen with shrewdly applied tongue-force. The tone went glassy for a split second then broke into clear usable higher ground. Suddenly boogie-woogie s were possible, jazzy blues heads like : Blue Monk” and Night Train” all the sax riffs I’d been fudging. A New World swims into view!.
Certainly worth a read!
Winner of the 1999 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Literature, an honor bestowed annually by the Blues Foundation.
Check out this video on Satan and Adam
Also check out Adam’s website: