Adam Gussow (PhD)

A clever Dos Equis commercial recently featured the fictional character, the suave Mr. Suatz, who was dubbed to be “The most interesting person in the world”. They are obviously wrong. We blues fans know very well that the true “Most Interesting Person in the World” is certainly our own Dr. Adam Gussow. At least he is one of the most interesting people in the blues, and we have got a mighty interesting set of characters to brag about.

In Europe, it would be almost unthinkable to imagine a university professor with star- quality, who is at his core a street musician and performs thunderous blues in a one- man-band. Dr. Gussow looks like a boyish, handsome movie-star, plays harmonica like a madman and is at once an intellectual heavy-weight in the obscure and esoteric field of blues musicology. How much more interesting can it get?

Trying to describe Adam Gussowʼs charismatic persona is no easy feat. Whatever descriptive you attempt would normally be associated with multiple accolades. Letʼs just call him brilliant and amazing and leave it at that, as to not to overthink it. His blues related pursuits include musician, producer, educator and musicologist, and in each he is quite extraordinary. Dr. Adam Gussow is also one of the movers and shakers in the blues scene today, playing a major role in the musicologist forums and publishing widely on the topic of blues in literary and academic journals, an essayist and memoirist. His single-handed contribution to the genre cannot be overstated. There are few people in the blues who muster the wide ranging respectability that Dr. Adam Gussow can pull off, Dr. David Evans being another. The music business has its egos and self-serving interests. Gussow has carved out a place that is somehow beyond all the commercialism, tapping the higher purpose, the loftier ideal, yet he is simply one of these remarkable people who turns anything he touches into gold.

He earned his masters from Columbia and his PhD at Princeton in the English department, where his thesis was later published in the book “Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition” (2002). He taught at Vassar College and is currently Associate Professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi with a specialty in blues literature and culture. Yet, he feels equally at home in the streets of Harlem as in the halls of the Ivy League; because, as anyone who has ever met him will attest, he is modest, friendly and affable– a regular guy who can make a friends of anyone he meets. He carries a simultaneous duality of refined sophistication and street-smart grittiness, a down-home charm. Enough accolades? Hardly.He is also an acclaimed author. His testimony of his time with Sterling Magee “Mister Satan’s Apprentice” received the “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award from the Blues Foundation. He is the author of “Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition” (2002) and “Journeyman’s Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulknerʼs Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York” (2007). Unlike music authors who are dependent upon book sales for their livelihood and have to come up with ever more controversial and far-fetched thesis in order to evoke sales, Dr. Gussowʼs writings are foremost  academic studies published by the higher standards of academia. There is real substance here, but also enthralling, captivating writing.

Besides all that, he is an innovative and tantalizing musician. He blows a mighty harp, and not just a little, having reached the pinnacle of mastering the blues harmonica. He plays a unique style of “overblowing,” along with the traditional country blues styles that are key elements to his sound. He sounds like Sonny Boy Williams on overdrive, playing a gritty, funky, furiously intricate style. He is to the harmonica what Rajan Roland Kirk was to the saxophone. While Raj actually played multiple saxes simultaneously, Adam Gussow just sounds like he is playing more than one harp at once. These descriptives may make it sound as if the playing was over the top noodling or squeezing in notes for their own sake. Not so. He is capable of highly sophisticated, intricate elaboration, but mostly he just plays funky, dirty, with a hard beat and true eloquence and sweet fluidity. Itʼs not a matter of impressing with fast solos, it is a foot stomping frenzy. In the early 1960s they just called it “Beat”. Most famously he was part of the duo Satan and Adam with Mississippi bluesman Sterling Magee in Harlem. Magee was a street musician and the two hooked up in Harlem and conquered the blues world with their wild, unencumbered primitivism and powerful polyrhythmic, bombastic sound.

He has been teaching harmonica via his innovative teaching method online and has become one of the most important teachers of the blues harp. He is a self-described web entrepreneur with the #1 blues harmonica website in the world, according to Google, and a promoter who founded and produced Hill Country Harmonica in 2010 and 2011.

Nowadays, he is doing very impressive one-man band work. Check out his fun video below and his excellent harmonica website.

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