Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast

Adam Gussow interview

November 12, 2022 Neil Warren Season 1 Episode 73
Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast
Adam Gussow interview
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Adam Gussow joins me on episode 73.

Adam is a native New Yorker now living in Mississippi, working as a professor at the university there.
Adam rose to stardom as part of the blues duo Satan and Adam in the late 1980s. They found their audience on the streets of Harlem, where they were briefly filmed and appeared in a U2 documentary and album. Satan & Adam enjoyed great success, playing together for 15 years, releasing three albums before disbanding in 1998, re-forming some years later and releasing another album.
With the passing of Mr Satan, Adam formed his own one-man band, then a duo which has recently added Mr Satan’s nephew: Sir Rod & The Blues Doctors.
Adam was the first person to release blues tuition videos on YouTube and has had over 20 million hits, accompanied by his website Modern Blues Harmonica.

Adam’s website:

Satan & Adam documentary:

Pete Farmer kick drums and harmonica holders:


U2's Rattle and Hum clip of Satan and Adam:

Ronnie Shellist ‘Funky Blues Harmonica’:

Gussow's classic blues harmonica videos:

Modern Blues Harmonica YouTube channel:

YouTube video teaching Sunshine of Your Love:

Adam busking solo:

Crossroads video:

Sir Rod and the Blues Doctors: What’d I Say:

Podcast website:

If you want to make a voluntary donation to help support the running costs of the podcast then please use this link (or visit the podcast website link above):

Spotify Playlist:
Also check out the Spotify Playlist, which contains most of the songs discussed in the podcast:

Podcast sponsors:
This podcast is sponsored by SEYDEL harmonicas - visit the oldest harmonica factory in the world at www.seydel1847.com  or on Facebook or Instagram at SEYDEL HARMONICAS
and Blows Me Away Productions: http://www.blowsmeaway.com/

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I first heard Adam playing on on his 3rd Satan & Adam album in an Oxford Street bookshop in London, in the mid 1990s
Adam was raised in and around New York
Not many people on the podcast have been from New York: and the blues scene there
Blues scene in New York is more modern than Chicago and other areas of the US
Blues scene in New York is not as vibrant as it was
Adam now lives in Mississippi where he is a professor of English and Southern Studies at the university there and has written several books on blues, harmonica and black culture
Still an active musician down in Mississippi
Studied at Princeton and Colombia universities
Played guitar in a high school jazz funk fusion band
Went to Berklee music school for a short stint
Returned to Princeton and wrote a dissertation on blues music and southern violence
Willie Dixon and BB King witnessed violence in the south that heavily influenced their blues music
Adam started playing harmonica age 16
Whammer Jammer was the first track that inspired Adam to take up harmonica
Was also learning guitar at the same time and connecting the blues scale and the pitches between the notes that really make the blues
Adam was a self-taught harmonica and guitar player, discovering Nat Riddles as his mentor when he was a little older
Summer school at Berkeley School of Music where he learnt some jazz theory
Stopped playing music for a little while after graduating from college before going to a blues jam in New York age 25
Saw James Cotton opening for the J Geils Band, BB King and Muddy Waters in New York
Adam was part of the famous blues duo: Satan & Adam, and how he discovered Sterling Magee, aka Mr Satan, in October 1986
Adam didn’t know who Sterling Magee was, e.g. that he had played with James Brown and George Benson
The duo made an impact on the streets of Harlem when busking, with the groove the thing
Took a while for Adam to find his place in the duo with Sterling
Busked for four years initially with Sterling, earning other money from teaching harmonica
They weren’t called Satan and Adam until first demo came out
In 1987 The duo were filmed by the rock band U2, briefly appearing in a film and album (Rattle and Hum) from the band
Made first album together in 1991: Harlem Blues, after signing with a high-profile music manager
The album was well received and had a lot of air play on the radio and a WC Handy Award nomination for Best Trad Blues Album
They received some publicity and started to playing in clubs and touring, instead of busking
Touring around US and some internationally
Satan and Adam documentary
The duo dis-banded in 1998 when Sterling became ill, and re-formed later to release another album and Adam released some recordings of them busking in the late 1980s
Adam’s memoirs of that time: Mister Satan's Apprentice: A Blues Memoir
After Satan and Adam, released a solo record Kick and Stomp: playing solo harmonica, vocal and a kick drum
Tracked down a better quality kick drum from Pete Farmer, who created what is now the Seydel Gecko harmonica rack
Adam started his solo project at the same age Sterling was when he first met him
The album received air play on a national radio show: the first solo harmonica to be aired on there
Southbound album, released in 2011, with Adam adding guitar and a few musicians
2012: formed a duo with another university professor: The Blues Doctors
Now joined by the nephew of Sterling Magee: to form Sir Rod and The Blues Doctors
Latest album from Sir Rod and The Blues Doctors is Keep It In The Family
Adam’s YouTube channel, starting 2007, was the first of harmonica tutorial channel on that platform
Has two YouTube channels now, which have had millions of views, but first channel wasn’t monetised
Modern Blues Harmonica website accompanied the first YouTube channel
Created second channel in order to be able to monetise
Records lots of the videos in his car
Son plays several instruments, except harmonica
Modern Blues Harmonica website contains lots of information
Has written six books around blues and harmonica
Subject of latest book: Whose Blues: Facing Up To Race and the Future of Music
Blues is a worldwide phenomena now, partly from US and British military bases
BB King also helped spread the blues around the world
Blues has Senegalese roots
Adam has been involved in numerous harmonica teaching camps
Has played at different festivals around the world
Hoping to tour to Germany in 2023
10 minute question: practise blues scale and licks through middle and upper harp
Uses some custom harmonicas from Joe Spiers but mainly plays stock Marine Bands
Has played some chromatic, but not really now
What is ‘modern blues harmonica’ partly involves not just playing all the classic Chicago blues songs
Is a Hohner endorsee and plays mainly standard Marine Bands
Overblows: had one lesson with William Galison, who Adam also took over the Big River show harmonica part from too
Adam is part of the popularity of this technique, along with Mike Turk, Carlos del Junco and Jason Ricci
Embouchre: puckers and tongue blocks
Often uses two amplifiers at the same time
Uses a clean vocal mic, and not a bullet mic
Uses a delay pedal as main effect, sometimes reverb, and delay settings
Future plans include teaching a blues literature class (including some harmonica) in Parchment Farm penitentiary, the famous prison in Mississippi