What's Streaming: 'SATAN AND ADAM': An unlikely pair
So, a man born into white privilege who becomes a Princeton graduate, finds himself with the question we all face: What do I want to be in life? Surely, a question better asked before earning a degree, but that was not the way for Adam Gussow. After earning an English degree, Gussow found himself wandering the streets of Harlem, aimless and curious.
He turns a corner and hears a bluster of symbols crashing and intense guitar playing. He follows the sounds to find an older black man sitting down before a homemade drum kit, dressed in an eclectic manner, playing guitar as if Robert Johnson himself has made another pact with the devil and had risen from the dead.
“Who is this man?” he asks a passerby. “That’s Mister Satan. He’s been here forever,” the pedestrian replies. “Yes, but who is he or was he?” thinks Gussow. He finds himself enthralled with this elderly black man full of talent and passion.
Over time Gussow gathers his courage, pulls out his harmonica, and asks if he can join. The crowd around them, a predominately black one, scoffs at the idea. “Do you know who this is?” they ask. Then the rumors circle that this old man was once the right-hand band member to greats like James Brown, King Curtis and Big Maybell. He even once played with George Benson.
“You think you can hang with a great, honky?” the crowd asks of Gussow.
Well, that’s exactly what he did. He pulled out his long-time love, his trusty harmonica and plugged in. His experience with playing in bands was limited, but it did not hinder his ability to match Sterling “Mister Satan” Magees’ intensity thanks to his harmonica mentor, Nat Riddles (a New York virtuoso). Suddenly, lightening stuck.
The crowd, at first shocked, began to wildly dance about. This white boy could run the race. He matched the style of Mister Satan with apparent ease. Gussow was hooked and spent the next several years as a street performer, showing up each morning to hussle alongside Mister Satan and perform.
Did they make it big? Well, it was more about the journey then it was about the reward. However, for those lucky enough to have seen them play live, they were left with the impression that they had seen the greatest blues duo ever.
From the streets of Harlem to, eventually, the greatest jazz festival of all time: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They were even featured on U2’s “Rattle and Hum” album. Satan and Adam (as they came to be called) toured around the globe and made a name for themselves for the next seven years (from 1991 to 1998) before Mister Satan fell into obscurity, once again, after a nervous breakdown and leaving Gussow to his own devices.
But, like any good comeback story, Adam found Mister Satan. He had a stroke and lost his ability to play. But with gentle courage from the staff at the local adult care facility, Mister Satan regained his abilities. Suddenly, Adam and Satan were back on.
This incredible story is a unique one that has luckily been filmed over the course of 20 years and craftly put together in this attention-grabbing documentary. Written and directed by V. Scott Balcerek, this film initially was produced by Sundance Films and is now on Netflix.
It is the story of friendship, compassion, determination, redemption and the pure love of the blues. They are an unlikely pair of ebony and ivory that gave the greatest gift to us all: music. And they showed us how to live with each other despite our differences. We could all learn from their partnership.
To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.