Blues Bytes

April 1998

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Satan and Adam
Living On The River
Flying Fish

Satan and AdamSatan and Adam burst onto the blues scene earlier this decade with their brand of rough, raw and frantic street-tough blues. The unique sound, hewn by many years of playing on the streets of Harlem, hasn't changed a bit during their three-album run on Flying Fish. They've avoided the temptation to smooth off the rough edges, and continue to kick the ass of every song they do.

In my book, Satan (aka Sterling Magee) has got to be one of the coolest cats around. Possessing a raspy, gravelly voice that stomps rather than caresses the words of his songs, Satan has a fantastic knack for taking someone else's song and completely turning it into his own thing. And it doesn't necessarily have to be a blues song. One listen to his frentetic version of "I'm A Girl Watcher," and you'll think that maybe this tune was recorded originally by Robert Johnson instead of the O'Kaysions. And if you thought you never wanted to hear another version of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billy Joe," you'll be fantasizing a side trip to the Tallahatchie bridge after Satan gets through telling you his version of the story.

Satan also has a nice, fluid guitar touch, pushing out a deep, resonant tone from his less than high fidelity amplifier. All the while his feet are pounding away on two cymbal pedals, one of which also activates a tambourine beat. He's a true, old-fashioned one man band ... except for the presence of Adam.

So far I've only talked about Satan. What about this Adam dude? Adam Gussow is the antithesis of Satan --- young, white, suburban, and college-educated. But a number of years ago he was taking an ill-advised shortcut through Harlem, crossed paths with Satan, and quickly fell under the man's spell. Adam plays soaring and wailing harmonica riffs, occasionally taking a solo, but usually nicely complementing Satan's vocals and guitar licks.

The biggest departure from their normal style on Living On The River is a wild version of "Proud Mary." Here Satan and Adam are backed by a couple of Ikette-style background singers and the four-piece Uptown Horns. Hot, hot, hot!

Satan also wrote a few of the songs on the disc, most notably the shouting, mid-tempo "Sanctified Blues" and the relaxing "Whole Lotta Nothin'." Satan does a little scat singing on the latter number, while Adam contributes some nice harp playing.

I never thought anyone could make Howlin' Wolf sound mild-mannered and restrained, but that was before I heard Satan's rabid version of "Little Red Rooster."

Other excellent covers are Rosco Gordon's "No More Doggin'," Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman," and Lloyd Price's "Stagga Lee," all done with Satan's unique touch.

I guarantee that Living On The River will finish the year on my top ten list. If you've never heard of this act, get this album as well as the first two on Flying Fish. Then when I ask who's your new favorite blues artist, I'll say "Is it .... Satan?"

- Bill Mitchell

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