College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

The Daily Mississippian: An English Professor with an Interesting Talent

February 19, 2015  |  by Lana Ferguson, Courtesy of The Daily Mississippian

COURTESY: ADAM GUSSOW

PHOTO COURTESY: ADAM GUSSOW

In August of 2002, Adam Gussow arrived on campus to begin his work as an assistant professor of English and Southern Studies. After completing his Ph.D. on the subject of southern violence and the blues literary and musical tradition, he applied for a position at the University of Mississippi.

“The job that I was applying for here was the ideal job,” Gussow said. “It allowed me to combine all my interests: blues music, literature and all things southern.”

Gussow found his interest in blues music through his father.

“When my brother and I visited him in his studio on the third floor of our house, he’d always direct us towards his record collection,” he said.

The collection ranged from blues, jazz, boogie-woogie piano, rhythmic, soulful music and even Bob Dylan. But it was blues harmonica player Magic Dick and his song “Whammer Jammer” that sparked Gussow’s interest.

COURTESY: ADAM GUSSOW

PHOTO COURTESY: ADAM GUSSOW

“That song completely grabbed me,” he said. “So, I went out to the local mall in the fall of my senior year and bought my first harmonica and instructional book.”

Gussow said he spent hours trying to copy “Whammer Jammer” and other songs on the new records he had been buying. By graduation, he followed his valedictorian’s speech with a performance of the song.

“I was a quick learner, and I worked really, really hard to learn the instrument,” he said.

Gussow still performs; he is a member of a duo group, The Blues Doctors. The other half of the duo is guitar-man and psychology professor, Alan Gross. The two plan to perform on the streets during Double Decker.

“I play drums as well as harmonica these days—foot drums—so we have a big sound for two guys,” he said.

The greatest period of Gussow’s life as a performer was the five or six years between 1986 and when he first began playing with a guitarist/bluesman named Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee on the streets of Harlem. The duo released their debut CD, “Harlem Blues,” in 1991.

“Suddenly, we became a big-time touring blues act,” he said. “I would say that those four years in Harlem helped transform me from somebody who played a fair bit of harmonica into a legit blues player.”

Gussow’s first big performance was as an opening for guitarist Buddy Guy in Central Park.

“We literally came right off the sidewalks and onto a huge outdoor concert stage,” he said. “That gig made all my friends sit up and say, ‘Jeez, maybe Gussow hasn’t been wasting his time playing the streets.’”

When Gussow isn’t performing, he is working on his current book, “Beyond The Crossroads: The Devil, The Blues Tradition,” which is a full-length study of the devil and the blues. His work reflects his passion for southern studies.

“Although my first academic home will always be an English department because my professional training is as a literature scholar, this particular program gives me an amazing chance to extend myself,” he said. “I’m fascinated by the South’s culture and paradoxes, so it’s the perfect place for me.”