Adam Gussow is the author of Seems Like Murder Here, Journeyman’s Road, and Mister Satan’s Apprentice (new edition out this November). Associate professor of English and southern studies at the University of Mississippi, he continues to tour with Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee. Here he talks briefly about what’s behind his success (as an author and a musician) and what he plans to do in the near future.
Q: What first turned you on to blues music?
A: My father, a landscape painter, was also somebody of very wide musical tastes — Doc Watson, Charles Ives, the Beatles, Herb Alpert — and he’d collected jazz records in college. My brother and I used to pester him in his upstairs studio, so he’d sit us down next to his stack of old 78s — Bessie Smith, Fletcher Henderson, guys who played boogie-woogie piano — and encourage us to sort through them and play them. That’s where it started. Then in high school (a druggy suburban NYC day school) I got interested in what the other kids were listening to: Cream, the Allman Brothers live at Fillmore East, Alvin Lee, the Rolling Stones. Lots of bluesy rock. Everybody in my class was hopped up on THE J. GEILS BAND LIVE FULL HOUSE, with Magic Dick on harmonica. The song “Whammer Jammer” was what finally convinced me to buy my first harmonica. I was a smart, socially awkward kid (the valedictorian in a class of 13 stoners, more or less) and I decided that I WOULD teach myself how to play that song. I learned it well enough to play it on graduation day, after I’d given my speech.
Q: What do you believe you would be doing now if you had never met up with Mr. Satan?
A: I’m not really sure. If things had turned out differently, if my college/grad-school girlfriend hadn’t moved out after five years and thrown the blues on me in a big way that led to a powerful change-of-life-direction, it’s possible that at this point I’d be part of whatever group of people thinks of themselves as New York intellectuals. I’d be a college professor and literary critic … rather than a guy who plays music, talks about books and culture in a way grounded in an extended immersion in the blues world, and knows how to relax.
Here’s a documentary trailer of Satan and Adam by V. Scott Balcerek (due for release this year):