By Tassoula E. Kokkoris
This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.
“There’s never been another artist singing one of their songs on a U2 album.” —The Edge
The artist that The Edge is referring to is Sterling “Mister Satan” Magee and the song is “Freedom For My People,” which appeared on Rattle And Hum.
Mister Satan, along with his musical partner Adam Gussow, are the subjects of the new documentary Satan & Adam, directed byV. Scott Balcerek.
The film chronicles the history of the unlikely pair from the time they joined up on the streets of Harlem on the mid-1980s until present day. And what a history they have.
At the time they met, Mister Satan was a street performer (by choice) who had previous experience making music with legends like Marvin Gaye and Etta James. It’s never specified exactly why he left the business, but he played with such exuberance and joy on the sidewalk, no one seems to question it. He performed for a regular following of fans and passersby who tossed money his way in exchange for prime entertainment.
One day, on the heels of a messy breakup, Gussow found himself walking down the street where Mister Satan was performing and asked if he could join in and play. Mister Satan agreed and soon the two became known as an unlikely but endearing duo—a classic black guitarist/singer with an impressive performance resume and an Ivy-League educated white harmonica player who lacked experience. With racial tensions high at the time in New York, their partnership was a refreshing reprieve from the violence that surrounded them.
Mister Satan and Adam wrote blues riffs that are undeniably catchy and soon they got the attention of Bono and The Edge, who were in town filming portions of the U2 documentary, Rattle And Hum. Phil Joanou, who directed that film, appears in Satan & Adam along with The Edge, and recalls how special the music sounded, “It wasn’t just some guy kinda ‘Give me a buck, come on I’m on the corner. I’m just riffin’ some cover tune.’ This was something interesting.”
Joanou put a brief clip of Mister Satan and Adam in his film and U2 added the song to their album, which brought the Harlem duo a heightened level of exposure and several new fans. Soon Adam convinced Magee to record some tracks in a studio and their popularity exploded, leading to a tour of notable clubs and festivals all across the U.S. and Europe. Though they enjoyed great success, circumstances beyond their control disrupted their rise to fame. The performances came to an end and life continued for them both, but in two very different directions.
With a mix of archival footage (including a segment U2 fans will find quite familiar) and interviews with Gussow and those moved by their music, the story that emerges is that of an enduring, real friendship between two very different men that were united for a period of time by music.
If you appreciate the blues or just want to witness a pleasant real-life “buddy” movie, Satan & Adam will be right up your alley.
Satan & Adam opened in the U.S. on April 12.
(c) 2019, atu2/Kokkoris.