Part 1: The Fruits and the Roots of the Blues Brothers. By Darren Weale
The Blues Brothers, Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues, are fictional characters, but fictional characters that progressed through television appearances, two movies and live shows to become real to countless people worldwide.
In the decades since they first donned their black hats and dark glasses, the Blues Brothers have not been fully acknowledged for their music or their impact on Blues music and musicians. Why is this? A best guess is that the Dan ‘Elwood’ Aykroyd and John ‘Jake’ Belushi were comedians who introduced the Blues Brothers on US TV show, Saturday Night Live. Why take two funny men, being funny, seriously? Why think they were more than two guys who had an idea for a comedy performance that happened to catch enormous popularity? The Blues Brothers have been derided by some as Blues imposters who made a mockery of the music and its history. The two movies have been much criticised by many, yet the Blues Brothers remain world famous to this day.
This series of articles will tell the story of the Blues Brothers, with a briefcase full of original quotes from the stars of the story and the people around it. The Blues Brothers story is wide-ranging and involves numerous people. It is too big a topic to fully honour even in this series of articles, but we will try. It is time to pay some respects and to show that the Blues Brothers deserve their own very special chapter in the history of the Blues.
We will come on to the story of the Blues Brothers, what they were and are, and how they started, but let us begin with that respect for what they have achieved.
Fruits of the Blues Brothers
From the beginning, the comic actors Dan ‘Elwood’ Aykroyd and John ‘Jake’ Belushi respected the musicians that inspired them, name-checking songwriters in shows and exhorting people to buy as many Blues albums as they can.
An early test of their integrity came when they were invited to produce their first album, Briefcase Full Of Blues. Dan Aykroyd recalls, “When we went to make Briefcase Full of Blues, the record company suggested we contact the writers of songs by people like Floyd Dixon and Donnie Walsh from The Downchild Blues Band and Isaac Hayes and Steve Cropper - and cutting in fifty per cent on the publishing royalties. John and I refused, which was pretty unusual at the time. We’ve had no share in any of the songwriting royalties on the eight records. We have a little for the mechanical royalties, the voice work, but that’s a pittance since Steve Jobs and Apple ratcheted down the value of music and it’s all digital. All the publishing royalties went to the original artists. We could have owned a part, but we did not grab a share of it. That’s not right.”
What did this novel approach mean for the musicians? American singer and musician Curtis Salgado has been described as ‘the original Blues Brother’ and looms large in the early days of the Blues Brothers. So much so, that Cab Calloway’s character in the first movie was named after him. Curtis told us a story about Floyd Dixon, who wrote the second song on the Briefcase Full of Blues album, Hey Bartender. “The Blues Brothers album that sold two million copies was dedicated to me, a thing that really moves me. In the nineties, Floyd Dixon comes up to me, thanks me for ‘the biggest royalty cheque in my career. It meant so much to me.’ I got choked up. I go ‘It’s none of my business, but how much did you get?’ Floyd says, ‘Seventy eight thousand dollars, the most I ever got.’ I think ‘Enough to buy a house!’ I asked, ‘What did you do with it?’ He looks into the sky. This was on the main stage at the Chicago Blues Festival. He says, ‘I put it all on the horses. I had a wonderful time, man.’ That’s a Blues Brother right there. That’s the real shit.”
We told Dan Aykroyd the story. He said, “I didn’t know that, did he get his royalties? I’m so pleased.”
Delbert McClinton, whose song ‘B’ Movie box Car Blues was also covered on Briefcase Full of Blues, provides further evidence of what this approach meant for musicians. “I had been talking with John Belushi, I went by his apartment at the Plaza Hotel, he knew I was coming to town and called me that he wanted to hear all the songs I’d recorded, and I gathered up all the records I had and took them to him. Shortly afterward he notified me that B Movie would be on the set. It being in the set and album didn’t make much difference to me, I was doing pretty good anyway. I got royalties, I was paid for it. They made sure everybody involved musically made some money and it was unheard of for record companies to do that, they would still gouge it out of you. It’s a mean old world. The music business then, the artists weren’t people who would read and study a contract, they’d be given a ‘standard contract’ and sign it. I signed away a whole bunch of publishing in my twenties.”
More proof of the personal impact on the careers of musicians comes from the Blues Brothers’ sax man, ‘Blue’ Lou Marini. He said, “The first movie was soundly panned by the critics, the movie wasn’t a success for money or critically, and got criticism for ripping off the Blues. I was practising alto and went into the trailer next to mine and saw John Lee Hooker, who said he wished he could play like me. I met him years later. He said, ‘I can’t tell you how much the movie has done for my business and bookings.’”
The Blues Brothers had a similar beneficial boost for the careers of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and many others. Another man who contributed music that the Blues Brothers covered in Briefcase Full of Blues is Donnie Walsh, of Canadian band Downchild, whose sets included Big Joe Turner’s Flip, Flop, and Fly and their own Shot Gun Blues and (I Got Everything I Need) Almost. What is Donnie’s take on the Blues Brothers? “Aykroyd especially, Johnny Winter and Paul Butterfield brought Blues to a white audience, it was a big thing, but the Blues Brothers were over the top! They brought the Blues to everybody, everywhere – they were the biggest thing to happen to the Blues ever! The Blues Brothers raised everyone up from where they were in the Blues.”
Yet, while we are paying our respects to the impact of the Blues Brothers, it is fitting that the Blues Brothers be assessed for their music and performances as well. Curtis Salgado – at the time playing with Robert Cray - was joined by John Belushi at a gig for a song. He was shocked by Belushi performing in the manner of Joe Cocker, who Belushi was known for impersonating on Saturday Night Live. Curtis punched Belushi in the chest and told the young comedian to be himself when it came to singing with a Blues band. Curtis, himself in 2013 a triple winner of Blues Music Awards, is, then, unusually well placed to consider the results of his advice and to offer a view on the Blues Brothers and the stellar band that backed them. Curtis summed up his feelings, “The Blues Brothers were the original Blues Brothers. They killed on stage. They were great frontmen. Their show was devastating. These were pro’s pro’s, a badass band, no doubt about it. They put it across, I’m proud to be part of it.”
So, how did these great frontmen get into the Blues? Read on.
Roots of the Blues Brothers
The Blues has had great days and periods from its rapid growth in the cotton plantations and levees in the Mississippi and its spread into Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans and beyond. By the 1970’s, however, these great days and the resurgence of interest in the music in the 1960’s following the British Blues Explosion had passed into memory. Glam Rock, Disco and other forms of music ruled. Blues icons like Muddy Waters had taken to experimenting with other forms of music in an attempt to get noticed again and to spark their flagging careers.
As the idea of Blues Brothers started with just the two Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood, it is the development of their creators, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, that we must focus on. History tells that these two men pursued careers in comedy in Canada (Aykroyd) and the US (Belushi).
Dan Aykroyd had the Blues from an early age. In Ottawa, he regularly attended a club called Le Hibou and was exposed to performers like James Cotton, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, and Muddy Waters. As a result, Dan had and has a particular view of Blues music, and why people should listen to it. “First of all, because there is a lot of humour in the music. The Blues is often depicted as a lament, a moan at life’s challenges of love, employment and how elusive love can be. But songs by musicians like Wynonnie Harris’s Good Morning Judge and All She Wants To Do Is Rock are humorous and have so much innuendo in them. Also Willie Dixon’s Dead Presidents and Junior Wells Messin’ With The Kid. They’re funny, uplifting, about good times. Second, the Blues is at the root of everything in music today. Third, musicianship. The Blues involves everything, from the Hammond Organ B3 to the mandolin. Take Gatemouth Brown – he used to say he wasn’t a Bluesman, he was a musician. The Blues is full of humour and rhythm and musicianship, there is so much enjoyment to seeing a live show. It’s the way the Blues treats the social moires’ and culture and is a reflection of our existence and life. It’s at the roots of all music. There is great young talent. There is the precision diamond cutting guitar of Freddie King, Albert King, Lil’ Jimmy King, BB King – all the Kings - and from the new artists Joanne Shaw Taylor and Ana Popovic. Some of these ladies are spectacular. Quinn Sullivan, Buddy Guy’s protégé, and he’s only fourteen years old, and Monster Mike Welsh.”
By contrast, the Blues were coming slower to Chicago’s John Belushi. We asked Judith Belushi, widow of the iconic frontman, for her thoughts. “In regard to the "birth" of the Blues Brothers, I'd say it developed in stages. The very first night John and Dan met, in Toronto after a Second City show, Dan and John discovered they both loved music – among other things – and they forged a fast friendship. Apparently they even suggested they should put a band together. Dan however was more Blues oriented, whereas John did not know much about Blues, but was very Rock 'n’ Roll oriented. What neither of them seem to have noticed at that time was that John's Rock 'n’ Roll idols were heavily influenced by the Blues: Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Cream, The Animals, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, John Lennon.”
“Flash forward to Eugene, Oregon, and the filming of Animal House [which made John Belushi a top box office star worldwide]. After seeing a local Blues band perform at the Eugene Hotel -- which included the guitar player from the movie's Otis Day and the Knights, Robert Cray – John becomes friends with lead singer Curtis Salgado. Curtis takes to coming by our house after filming with wonderful old Blues records and he and John delve deeply into the history and musicology of the Blues genre. By film's end, John has a huge vocabulary in and passion for the Blues.”
Music Mission Part 2: The Blues Brothers from Hive to Live!
The first part of this feature talked about the impact of the Blues Brothers act on music and musicians all these years on. It also touched on how the Blues came to Dan ‘Elwood Blues’ Aykroyd and John ‘Joliet Jake Blues’ Belushi. Now we turn to the progress of the act from its earliest days to its first major stage appearance.
In 1975, Canadian Aykroyd and Chicago’s Belushi met in an illegal after-hours drinking establishment run by Aykroyd. John Belushi was in the cast of a new comedy sketch show on America’s NBC Television, Saturday Night Live. Belushi recruited Aykroyd for the show, and, as Dan Aykroyd said, the subsequent history of the Blues Brothers came about, “All because we met in a bar in Toronto… listening to Downchild and said to each other ‘As you can play harp and you can sing let’s put an act together’.”
Blues Brothers trombonist Tom ‘Bones’ Malone adds to the story, “Let me tell you how the Blues Brothers started. In the old days, Saturday Night Live ran three shows then took a week off. In Spring ’78 John and Danny went to San Francisco and hung out with Curtis Salgado, who was then the harmonica player in the Robert Cray Band. Danny knew the Blues, but John was a Rock and Roll drummer with no knowledge of the Blues. They stayed up all night listening to Blues records. On the flight back from San Francisco to New York they talked about a new act, two ne’er do well orphans in the same size suits, so one suit was too large and the other too small. Howard Shore invited me to his office for 1 o’clock PM and it was Shore who came up with the name The Blues Brothers.”
Belushi found Salgado's enthusiasm infectious. In an interview at the time with the Eugene Register-Guard, he said, “I was growing sick of rock and roll, it was starting to bore me … and I hated disco, so I needed some place to go. I hadn't heard much blues before. It felt good.”
Judith Belushi recalls meeting Curtis Salgado when her late husband was filming National Lampoon’s Animal House, “When John was in Oregon, if not working he needed to remain low key and Curtis came by with piles of albums, like he was a professor. That was when John got his education, talked about lyrics and songs. John had been into Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis before, and Johnny Winter and Cream. He didn’t know they were Blues based until his education.”
Curtis Salgado was witness to what his eductional work was to help achieve, “One time he [John Belushi] shows me his fist. The word Jake is spelt on the knuckles.He says, ‘What do you think of the name Jake? We’re doing a skit, going to call it the Blues Brothers.’ I’ve not met Dan or got to know him yet. He’s going to be called Elwood. John asks, ‘What do you think about that?’ I’m a musicologist, I go ‘Cool.’”
Belushi began to appear with Salgado on stage. Salgado found to his shock that Belushi was doing his famous Joe Cocker impersonation when singing, and pointed out forcibly to Belushi that he should be himself. Although the Blues Brothers had appeared in bee costumes covering the song ‘King Bee’ in on Saturday Night Live in January 1976, it was in April 1977 that they made their first television performance explicitly as The Blues Brothers. They sang ‘Hey Bartender’ and became an overnight sensation. That led to the need for the Blues Brothers to assemble their own band and not simply to appear with the Saturday Night Live house band. The band could have been totally different from what it became, but for the intervention of John Belushi and a can of beer.
Curtis Salgado takes up the story, “John Belushi said, ‘We’re having Roomful of Blues as the band. But Duke [Robillard] is pissed off at me. We were at the Lone Star, were going to make them the full Blues Brothers act. It fell through because I got on stage and shook a beer can and sprayed the audience. Being New York, they did it back and got beer and foam on the instruments and band. Duke says, ‘Get off the stage, we’re not doing this.’” Duke verified it since, says its true, he didn’t like beer on his guitar.”
Instead, Belushi and Aykroyd started to assemble the Blues Brothers band by drawing on the Saturday Night Live house band. That provided Tom Malone on trombone, Lou Marini on sax, Alan Rubin on trumpet, Paul Shaffer on keys, and Steve Jordan on drums.
Steve Jordan was delighted, “All these drummers wanting to be on the band were on John, but John said ‘No, you may not know him now, but you will’. He was adamant I would be their drummer. John chose me and that was that. I especially didn’t want to let him down and to play this idiom of music I love so much.”
Judith Bellushi recalls how Blues singer and songwriter Jerome Solon Felder, aka Doc Pomus, helped John to fill out the band further, “He was introduced to Doc Pomus by a club manager. After the first performance on Saturday Night Live he started putting the band together. Pomus recommended Matt Murphy, Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn. He most influenced the choices. We spent a lot of time listening to other people, but John liked Cropper and Dunn right away, they were on songs he grew up with. He said ‘I’ve loved them all my life’.”
Matt Murphy was amused when we suggested that of all the band, and having played with numerous Blues greats including Howlin’ Wolf and Memphis Slim, he was Mr Blues, “Of course. I was one of the guys that played the Blues and we played ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, I had been playing it since I was a kid. Sweet Home Chicago was one I suggested and we did that and a Junior Wells one we did too, ‘Messin’ with the Kid’. That was Dan Aykroyd’s idea, and John’s. They collaborated, thought it was a nice tune and I did too. The one they really liked me to do was ‘Shotgun Blues’. I didn’t need to do anything to add a Blues feeling, all of these guys knew about the Blues. They might not have my feel, but they had their type and played well, like Blue Lou, and Alan Rubin out of the Julliard School of Music was a high class guy, one of the highest places to be.”
This band was a departure for Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn as well, as Steve Cropper recounts, “I wouldn’t have hooked up to play with New York musicians without the Blues Brothers. I knew some, but in the early 1960’s New York musicians played jazz more than R ‘n’ B, though they were excellent players. We knew the Blues, but we connected with the Blues in making it commercial. In those days the Blues didn’t sell much, I knew that through working in a record shop, the reality of the old Blues was that it didn’t sell much. We worked with Albert King and made it fun and danceable, we had a good time down at Stax. Duck and I put a lot of that energy into Stax and it worked for Johnny Taylor and Albert King. It put Albert King on the map and when he got his first royalty it put him into shock when he received the cheque.”
With Matt Murphy and Steve Cropper on guitar and Duck Dunn on bass, that left the horn section to add its final member. Tom Malone recalls, “The band’s first concert was opening for Steve Martin at the Carnegie Hall in April 1978. In September, after the record deal was signed, we rehearsed in New York and Los Angeles. ‘Briefcase Full of Blues’ came from our outdoor appearance. John agreed I’d be our horn arranger, but I couldn’t go to LA until my daughter was born. She was due on 1st September and our rehearsal was due at the end of August and 1st September. The baby came later, and the band flew to LA on 4th September so I asked Tom Scott to substitute for me. The concerts were from 9th September at the Universal Ampitheatre, and there was still no baby. I was around my house, and thought, let’s have four horns. My daughter was born on September 12th, we got a babysitter and my wife’s parents in, I took a plane to LA, John had a car waiting for me to take me to the Universal Ampitheatre. When I got there I told John my plan, ‘Let’s do four horns’, and Tom Scott became a permanent member of the band.
The Universal Ampitheatre shows were very special for the band. Steve Jordan, though, wasn’t impressed with the first drums he’d been given. “Before the show I’d seen the drums. I had been endorsing Gretsch, but became a Yamaha artist. Gretsch had been used by all my heroes – Tony Williams, Alvin Jones, my mentor Freddy Waits, Charlie Watts. All of them played with them, bar Ringo Starr. Most jazz men played them. My dream came true. Gretsch were in a bad way in the late 70’s. I called the company, Leeds Music in LA. I was just a kid, on some records, in the Saturday Night Live band, building a reputation. I called, saying I’m playing the Universal Ampitheatre with the Blues Brothers, no one knew of it, they weren’t that interested. The drums left for the soundcheck were cracked and broken, and all the wrong sizes. It was insulting. I had specific sizes and a sound in mind. It wasn’t what I’d seen in my dream at that soundcheck. Duck and Cropper were living in LA and Willie Hall had endorsed Yamaha drums, and his new set had been sent to LA rather than Memphis as that was where Customs were. Duck had Willie’s drums. Yamaha gave its artists not one of everything but a mega set including eight bass drums, high hats, a big kit that could be used or broken down into whatever was wanted. So Duck called Willie and asked him if he would be kind enough to let me use his drums before he got to use them. They were amazing, fantastic, incredible. They had the sensibility of a vintage set, but were modern hardware. They were just great. Six months later, John said he went to Japan and saw a gigantic poster in a music store of me playing with Yamaha drums. I thanked Willie a few years later and I do now.”
Lou Marini knew the band was about to prove an exciting combination, “On the third day of rehearsals in New York, we knew this is sounding pretty good. De Niro and Meryl Streep and Cher and Bette Midler were backstage in LA, it was quickly apparent we’d produced something special. There were very strong personalities all round. Steve Cropper a good old boy from the South who frequently misunderstood Alan Rubin, sparks would fly.”
Like Steve Jordan, Judith Belushi loved this show, “My favourite moment was in the Universal Ampitheatre opening night. I was behind them, a little below, saw their silhouettes as they came into the light on stage – Jagger and all those people were out there, this was LA, and seeing the responses, thinking “wow, they’re really doing this.” It was in moments like that John would be so excited and happy he’d break character and giggle and laugh a little, that endeared me to him.”
The Blues Brothers were about to endear themselves to even more people with the first Blues Brothers movie. The album from the shows ‘Briefcase Full of Blues’, dedicated to Curtis Salgado, was a smash hit. John Belushi’s movie National Lampoon’s Animal House was a best-seller. So a Blues Brothers movie seemed natural next step. The story of that film appears in the next issue of Blues Matters magazine.
By Darren Weale
The Blues Brothers part 3
By 1979, those musical rogues, the Blues Brothers, had made their bow and impressed television audiences on American TV’s popular show Saturday Night Live. Ironically, as both Robert Cray and Curtis Salgado have said, those audiences didn’t include many musicians, who were out playing while the show was aired.
They had gone on to blow live audiences away from their first appearances in Los Angeles, when the full band was in place, drawing in first rate musicians including Steve Cropper, Matt Murphy, Paul Shaffer and a powerful horn section.
Where could the act go next? In fact, straight onto a high profile debut movie, simply titled ‘The Blues Brothers’. Once it was released, cinema audiences were light in numbers. Critics were abrasive. The big budget wasn’t recovered.
However, the expensive seeds of cult status were sown with that first movie. Immortal phrases were coined, like Ray Charles’s introduction to a piano he is selling; “2000 bucks and it's yours. You can take it home with you. As a matter of fact, I'll throw in the black keys for free” and the brothers “We're on a mission from God!” The movie plot is simple enough. A Blues-loving orphan, Jake Blues, is released from a Chicago prison after doing time for his latest offence, and is picked up by his also Blues-loving brother, Elwood Blues, in an ex-police car (traded for a microphone). The two are tasked with raising money to save the orphanage they grew up in, but, under orders from ‘The Penguin’ aka Sister Stigmata, without resorting (overtly) to crime. They pick up their old band, The Blues Brothers, and play a fundraising concert. Along the way they make enemies of Illinois Nazis, a Country and Western band called the Good Ole Boys, the owner of a venue, Bob’s Country Bunker, the state police, the National Guard, a SWAT team, and let us not forget Jake’s ex-fiancée, played by Carrie Fisher, who has been waiting for his release to kill him. After the concert, and as they are about to be hotly pursued to the office where the orphanage money must be paid, Elwood sums up the rest of the film. “It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses.”
Trombonist Tom Malone told us how John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd ensured the movie departed from Hollywood convention, to the benefit of the musicians who had been with the band until then. “Danny started writing a script for a movie and interviewed the band. I told him a story about gigs with chicken wire in front of the stage in Mississippi, and Steve [Cropper] said the same thing about his experiences in Arkansas. Danny took his script to Universal, they bought it and the rest is history. Usually in films the musicians do the soundtrack and actors play the musicians in the movie, but Danny and John insisted the band were in the film and there we were.”
Even though the intention was to stick to the then line up of the Blues Brothers Band, changes were needed. Bassist Donald Dunn, guitarists Steve Cropper and Matt Murphy, trumpet player Alan Rubin, trombonist Tom Malone and saxophonist Lou Marini were available and were booked for the film.
Drummer Willie Hall remembers the re-shuffle. Willie was a Stax label musician, with The Bar-Kays and Isaac Hayes band, The Movement. Willie said, “They called me while the Blues Brother movie was waiting for a budget. Paul Shaffer [keyboards], Tom Scott [trumpet] and Steve Jordan [drums] were off Broadway with [comedienne] Gilda Ratner for one year. They couldn’t break their contracts, so when the green light came, who would replace them? Duck and Steve were in producer [Robert. K] Weiss’s office. The name to come to mind was Willie Hall. It was hard to call me at the time, but they kept trying, and called me through a friend from Weiss’s office with Steve and Duck there. They said, ‘Do you want to be in the film? Sure, man’. They mailed a contract and I flew to Chicago and we got around a table. I have Steve and Duck to thank for that. So that’s how that happened, thank God.”
Paul Shaffer was replaced by actor Murphy Dunne. Dunne had already appeared in a movie directed by John Landis, who was to direct the Blues Brothers film. Murphy was also a friend of John Belushi and of musician Willie Dixon, having helped Willie to put on a Blues festival in Chicago. Murphy said, “I had booked Booker T and the MG’s and met him and Al Jackson and Cropper and Dunne. These guys were my heroes! Later on, when Paul Shaffer couldn’t appear in the Blues Brothers, John called me, and when we met. They remembered and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s who you were!’ Happenstance worked out very luckily for me.”
Then there were the guest stars. Matt Murphy remembers one very well, “I was one picked, with Aretha Franklin. She sang her butt off.” Other guests to sing their butts off included Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, and James Brown.
Prior to the film being shot, it was thought important to give the band Blues names. Elwood Blues was, typically tersely, Elwood J Blues. Jake Blues became ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues.
As to the band? Tom Malone reflects on his own nickname, “My nickname ‘Bones’? At high school I was six feet two and a half inches tall and thin – one hundred and forty five pounds – so my High School friends gave me the name. Later, with the band with Duck Dunn and Guitar Murphy it was decided we all needed a middle name, I came up with Bones and they loved it. John came up with ‘Mr Fabulous’ for Alan Rubin, he had an elitist attitude and humour and it fitted. John came up with ‘The Colonel’ for Steve Cropper. It fitted because Steve always wanted to be in charge – after a couple of drinks. ‘Blue’ Lou – Lou chose his own name. John chose ‘Triple Scales’ for Tom Scott.” Though Tom, of course, did not appear in the movie.
Matt Murphy already had his nickname in place, “My nickname ‘Guitar’, Memphis Slim hooked me with that name. He said, ‘The guitar was like an extension of my body.’” Willie ‘Too Big’ Hall was more discrete when asked about his nickname, saying, “It’s going in my book I’m writing!”
There was also a mechanical character in the movie - the ex-police Dodge car that the Blues Brothers ran around in. From the first, Jake understandably disliked the car he was collected from prison in, throwing away the cigarette lighter before the vehicle powers over an opening mechanized bridge, leading to this dialogue:
Elwood: “It's got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant. It's got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters, so it'll run good on regular gas. What do you say? Is it the new Bluesmobile or what?”
Jake: “Fix the cigarette lighter.”
How did this character come into being? Judith Belushi explains, “My biggest contribution early on was sitting in our living room just putting away artwork from Animal House and a picture of the deathcar from the movie. Dan and John had ordered a Dodge ’63, I told them, ‘I’m going to go and pick up the Bluesmobile.’ Both of them looked at me, and Danny went ‘yes’. That was the first mention of the name Bluesmobile.“
The Blues Brothers movie was full of iconic scenes. Here, the band remembers some of their favourite moments.
It took Jake and Elwood very little time to get into trouble, jumping a red light at a junction and accelerating away as the police realise Elwood’s license is under suspension. Tom Malone recalls the scene where, as a result, the Bluesmobile enters, and wrecks, a shopping mall, The Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois. “It had been empty for seven to eight years. The movie company rented it, put in new glass and merchandise, and signed up car dealerships to fill the car park with new cars. They and the mall were wrecked in one shot that took a number of minutes. There were lots of car chases. The movie company made a deal for two hundred Illinois police cars, but only wrecked one hundred. A body shop was open all night so cars could be fixed up and go out the next day to be wrecked again.”
When the band was being assembled from their various occupations, in one scene Blue Lou and Matt Murphy leave their jobs in The Soul Food Café and Matt’s wife, played by Aretha Franklin, after she sings ‘Think’. Blue Lou, who has been washing up, plays sax on the café counter. At a recent Original Blues Band gig, it was apt to hear Lou being introduced as ‘The Dancing Dishwasher’.
Murphy ‘Murph’ Dunne, Tom Malone, Steve Cropper, and Willie Hall ply their trade as Murph And the Magic Tones in their “candy ass monkey suits” until the Blues Brothers call for them. Judith Belushi recalls, “I had a speaking role in the first film that was never shot, but I was a waitress at the Holiday Inn where Murph and the Magic Tones were playing and more in Animal House. I rode in the back of one of the cars in a car chase and I was in a crowd when the Blues Brothers were advertising their show using a microphone and loudspeaker.”
Tom Malone introduces the approach that was taken to filming and to recording the music, “All the music was pre-recorded for the first film except John Lee Hooker on Maxwell Street. We did pre-recordings in July 1979 at Universal Studios. I remember it had a big room, but it’s gone now. James Brown recorded ‘It’s a man’s world’ there. We did lip-synching and shot the movie in Hollywood. All the movie was shot in LA. Bob’s Country Bunker was in Universal Studio’s back lot. The interior was in a sound stage in LA. We had case after case of sugar glass bottles to smash on the wire. We were in there for several days. Also in Universal Studios was the restaurant scene where we picked up Mr Fabulous. The concert in the Palace Hotel Ballroom was in the Hollywood Palladium. Six hundred of the audience were paid extras from the Actors Union, the rest were from the unemployment line and were paid a few dollars and given lunch.”
The newly assembled band need equipment and head to Ray’s Music Exchange, where Ray shoots close to a would-be guitar thief to put him off, and sings ‘Shake A Tail Feather’. Tom Malone remembers, “That was pretty traumatic, the way they did it, even using blanks in the gun. They did it over and over; it allowed a lot of editing options. That was on set in Hollywood.”
Tom recalls more about the Bob’s Country Bunker scene, where the band take the place of the delayed Good Ole Boys to perform their first gig, behind that infamous chicken wire and a hail of bottles until they played some more-or-less Country music. “The set up was that John had lied his way in to the place where they played just Country Music – ‘we play both kinds, Country and Western’. So when the band sees the set list, it doesn’t look right. When John used the whip in Bob’s Country bunker, that was a little scary. He was liable to do anything, he was full of energy. The scene wasn’t in the original movie. The original movie was a hundred and seven minutes and the Anniversary Edition a hundred and thirty four minutes. There was a lot more in it. The first version was short so more shows could be played in cinemas in a day to make more money. They left out one scene costing fifty thousand dollars where they go to the gas station and when John leaves he throws down his match onto a petrol spill and it blows up a gas tank and a telephone kiosk.”
Getting the big concert venue required to raise money for the orphanage meant blackmailing promoter Maury Sline in a steam bath. Some of the dialogue goes:
Maury Sline: “Hold it, hold it. Tomorrow night? What are you talking about? A gig like that, you gotta prepare the proper exploitation.”
Elwood: “I know all about that stuff. I have been exploited all my life.”
Dan Aykroyd confirmed, “The line about exploitation, that came out of me and Landis and one of the band members, Blue Lou Marini contributed.”
Looking back, the musicians that Aykroyd and Belushi insisted appear in the movie did themselves and the Blues great credit. Willie Hall remembers what it meant to him, “The acting, I never did that before, saying lines and hitting spots, but I enjoyed it. Landis said, ‘You delivered your stuff really well.’”
The resulting film has an enduring quality, even though its own producers didn’t always quite ‘get’ what they were portraying. Judith Belushi sums up, alluding to the scene in which Jake Belushi comes face to face with his homicidal ex-fiancée, who finds herself unable to kill him once she sees his baby blue eyes revealed behind the Ray-Ban sunglasses he has on all movie. “John and Dan made up characters, not just alter egos, great characters. Landis changed the script to add car chase scenes. The biggest battle was over the sunglasses, the film producers couldn’t understand characters that would not stop wearing their sunglasses, but it paid off in the tunnel scene.”
Proof of the impact of the movie can be seen to this day, for example when the Original Blues Brothers played in England in 2013. In the queue outside the venue was a small group comprising an Illinois State Trooper, and two men dressed as nuns. That is just one proof of the legacy of the first movie.
The Blues Brothers Part 4
The Blues Brothers began as a smash hit on American TV’s Saturday Night Live. They soon became a smash hit live in concert. Then, they hit the rails.
The first Blues Brothers movie, that is now a much-played and loved cult classic, sold poorly at the box office.
Nevertheless, the Blues Brothers as an act remained very popular. Thus, after the first movie, the next thing the band hit was the road. The Road To Ruin tour took the band around the US. Typically, they had a very, very good time. Certain spiritous liquors were partaken of, though one exception was Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, who valued the experience and treated it accordingly, “Just going to be in that era, that space at that time, that was what I was getting off on. It seemed like I didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, all I wanted to do was survive and play music and I enjoyed it.”
Murphy Dunne recalls a time immediately after the tour, “After the last show at Universal I encountered Jack Nicholson. We were all in an area backstage, and I went up, and reminded Jack where we had met, and our mutual friends. I mentioned what an inspiration his work had meant to me. Jack shook my hand and said, (insert Jack impression), ‘Well, Murph, I sure appreciate you taking the time to stop by and telling me.’ A high point for sure in my life.
“There was a large party afterward at a very large mansion. Michael McKeon was there, my old band mate from the Squigtones, Bette Midler,and Stevie Nicks, who is an old friend. It was one of the few Hollywood parties where I felt comfortable. Lots of laughs, no ego trips, and good company with many friends.”
The Blues Brothers didn’t stop after the Road To Ruin tour, though soon tragedy was to strike. John Belushi passed away unexpectedly on the 5th of March, 1982, the victim of a drugs overdose. Blue Lou Marini is one of those with special memories of the man who was also Joliet Jake Blues.
“Belushi was a natural athlete and singer too. As a singer, he had a great sense of rhythm and he could tell a story. As an athlete, he was strong and very agile. We were playing in Denver and Steve Jordan and I ran into Sharif Khan, the world champion squash racquets player, in the hotel's health club. Sharif's father Hashim was a six-time world champ in England. I'd seen Sharif play in person at the Boodle's Tournament in New York a few months before. We introduced ourselves and he said he and a group of his family were coming to the concert at Red Rocks the next night. We invited him backstage and as I was a squash and handball player, he asked if I'd like a lesson. Yeah! At the concert he showed up with his brother Mohamed, cousins Aziz and Gul and sister Yasmin. Belushi took one look at them and said, ‘Looks like a fuckin' terrorist group!’ Everyone cracked up and Sharif asked John if he'd also like to take a lesson. So the next morning we both took a lesson from Sharif, after which Sharif told me! ‘That guy's a natural!’ Then we watched the father and son play a three game match in which they split the first two games and the third went to a tie breaker that Hashim won. Unbelievable playing!”
Curtis Salgado, John’s friend and Blues muse – something he is very proud of to this day – has another story. “I was on the road with the Cray band in a step van with a rolling back door. Not in a hotel, we couldn’t afford one. This was in Santa Cruz, California, we were in a fans place sleeping on their floor. That’s part of showbiz. We were staying off the beach in two ladies houses. I’m passed out, face down in the equipment van in my three-piece suit after the after show party.
“There was a bang bang on the wall. Robert Cray wakes me up, ‘John Belushi is on the phone.’
“I go in the front door. ‘John, how did you find me?’
“John growls, ‘I have my ways.’
“We were on a tour, in a fans house. Hardly anyone knew. I still don’t know how he did it.”
Murphy Dunne recalls, “John used to say, ‘I can’t sing, but I can Soul the Blues’. Both of us worked in the Second City. You heard of that? That was how I met John, I was understudy to Peter Boyle. We got on together, we both liked Joe Cocker. I came out to see John in Los Angeles quite a bit, we’d hang out. He was a wonderful guy. If you made him laugh he’d want to be around you.”
John’s widow, Judith, reflects, “John would be very proud of what has happened with the Blues Brothers. He was proud of it to begin with. To continue to get a great response, the stories people tell me, touches my heart. It can be fun and frustrating and it’s like a boomerang.” She added, “John was a person who made himself at home. He’d set himself up on a couch and before you knew it, you’d be getting things for him. He was a ‘Mind if I see what’s in your fridge?’ kind of guy. He had not a lot of hesitation about being himself.”
John Belushi was under the kind of special pressure at the time that is reserved for the most famous. Steve Cropper was well aware of it, “John was a great guy, he kept his promises. He was a sharing and giving guy. Everybody knew who he was after Saturday Night Live, he couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped.”
Blue Lou agreed, “The pressure he was under! We went to the Tower Records store in LA at 1a.m. in the morning. When we got there, there were four or five people in there, including staff. More and more people come in and soon there’s thirty and more coming in and bombing it. We split. It was a window into the pressure of celebrity. Everyone loved John and there wasn’t the usual reticence of people with him, because they loved him so much.”
Steve Jordan had a similar experience, “I went to the theatre with John to see Animal House and sat next to him. We sat in the back with [the late] Hiram Bullock, the guitar player. By the end everyone realised John is in the theatre and we had to run out, like the Beatles or something. It was a very surreal experience.”
Matt Murphy offered his own view, “John Belushi messed up. He was a little hot headed that was all, a good guy who would give you the shirt off his back.”
After a pause, the Blues Brothers band continued to perform, adding more high calibre musicians to the touring band. As Blue Lou said, “An Italian promoter in 1987 approached Matt [Murphy] and we spent a month in Europe, including the Montreux festival.” The band reformed more formally in 1988 for a world tour and they have toured at intervals since as The Original Blues Brothers Band.
Blue Lou loves the life with the Original blues Brothers, “It is most important to me, the cult band status, we’ve been touring since 1987 – Japan, Europe, Italy, Spain, India, Thailand, Africa. Steely Dan and so on never play where we do. We can play to audiences of thirty thousand and then to two hundred and fifty in a club in a small town. Mayors of towns invite us to dinners at the town hall and they give us local wine and cheese and produce. We make friends the world over, we’ve seen cathedrals and parks and galleries and we’re still going on… the band is smoking. Lots of young musicians come up and say they got into music through our films.”
Steve Cropper agrees, “I’ve always made time for the Blues Brothers band, we always have fun, it’s twenty five years of working with the band. Since we did a show for a birthday party, Lou and I looked at each other and said, ‘This is too much fun, we’ve got to keep doing it.’ The party was for Dan’s fortieth birthday, his wife Donna did a great job of sneaking us in while Dan was out with his father, he opened the door and there’s a big whisper, ‘Surprise!’”
Blue Lou commented, “I'm certain that the party was before we began touring again, had to be ‘86 or ‘87 so maybe it wasn't his fortieth. But it was certainly the catalyst for restarting and I know the first tour was five or six concerts in the late winter or spring of ‘87 in Italy.”
Of course, ‘normal’ life continued for members of the band. Murphy Dunne shared a few things from the period, “I increased my acting focus and did some scoring for tiny ballet based on The Little Prince. I would see the Brothers socially... Duck, and Blue when they were in town ( I'm seeing Blue with James Taylor this week). We would see Duck with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I did small musical projects with Waddy Wachtel, and Van Dyke Parks. I directed a short subject entitled The Lawyer, a one man show entitled Nevertheless at The Globe in L.A., and a lot of non-related Blues Bros stuff, like being the national spokesman for Hyundai. I became a dad and our daughter Veronica is to be a regular in a new Disney series, K.C. Undercover.”
Even as the band, minus John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, who was largely preoccupied with other projects, got on the road, the next major milestone in the history of the Blues Brothers was being contemplated.
This was the second movie, filmed in 1998, and named Blues Brothers 2000. It came after a delay that kept Steve Cropper’s hair long for an extended time. Steve remembers, “After movie one, I cut my hair and beard and went clean shaven. Dan Aykroyd came round and said, ‘We’re going to do a second movie’. I immediately started to grow my hair and beard. Seven years later I still had it! I don’t know what held up the movie, I had a ponytail to pull it back. I turned up on set with my hair pulled back in the ponytail and [Director] Landis couldn’t see it. He says, ‘Where’s your hair? You nearly gave me a heart attack!’ I said, ‘Where? Back here’ and showed him. Then he said, ‘You can go bald if you want!’ I kept the pony tail and beard, it was grown back for the second movie.”
Blues Brothers Music Mission Part 5 – Blues Brothers 2000
Nearly twenty years on from their big screen debut in The Blues Brothers movie, The Blues Brothers came back with Blues Brothers 2000. The core Blues Brothers band was essentially the same – Matt Murphy, Steve Cropper, Donald Dunn, Lou Marini, Tom Malone, Alan Rubin, Murphy Dunne, and Willie Hall. For the Blues Brothers themselves, it was a different story. John Belushi had passed away, leaving Dan Aykroyd as the only original Blues Brother.
In the first Blues Brothers movie, Elwood Blues (Aykroyd) and Joliet Jake Blues (Belushi) had played a concert to raise money to save the Catholic-run orphanage where they had been brought up, in the process attracting the unfriendly attentions of the Illinois law enforcement community, Illinois white supremacists, an irate Country and Western band, an out of pocket venue owner, a SWAT team, the National Guard, and a jilted ex-girlfriend. The movie closed with the band playing a gig as jail inmates. By the year 2000, the band were out of jail, and Elwood is shown at the beginning of the movie being released from prison to discover that his brother had passed away. So too had the orphanage character Curtis, played by Cab Calloway.
As things rapidly move on, Elwood acquires care of an orphan, Buster (J. Evan Bonifant), as a result of a meeting with Mother Mary Stigmata at the St Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage. He goes on to pick himself up the only way he knows how, by once more reuniting the band and taking them, sidetracked by several adventures, to a Battle of the Bands in New Orleans, this time upsetting the Illinois law enforcement community (again), US-based Russian organised crime, a Voodoo Queen, and a White Power paramilitary group. By then, Elwood and Buster have been joined as Blues Brothers by Mack McTeer (John Goodman), who was barman in Willie Hall's strip club, and the policeman son of Curtis', Cabel 'Cab' Chamberlain, played by Joe Morton.
So, where there were two Blues Brothers in the first movie, by the end of Blues Brothers 2000, there were five. This time, the film took in an even more stellar array of Blues talent than the first. Aretha Franklin returned for the second movie, and was joined by, to name a few, Paul Shaffer, Jimmie Vaughan, Bo Diddley, BB King, Junior Wells, Lonnie Brooks, and many more.
Tom Malone reflects that the movie faced an uphill battle to be a success from the start, "The second film was weakened without John Belushi. It was an effort of love to bring it back. It went out at the wrong time, when Titanic was released. They could have released it later, away from that competition. The movie had another dynamic."
Even so, the film was blessed by all those stars, some great scenes, and some great music. Matt Murphy certainly enjoyed being back, "All the guys and Aretha and them and John Goodman too, all the guys were really together, professional and everything."
Blue Lou was delighted to meet Aretha Franklin again, "In the car dealership scene, when her limo pulled up, I said Aretha, 'How are you?' He entourage was scowling, everyone calls her Ms Franklin. She said to me, 'Blue Lou! How are you, baby?'”
The cast have fond memories of many of the scenes in the movie. Blue Lou recalled, "My highlight of the second film was the Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett scene [set in Ray's Love Exchange, a call centre for sex chat]. It was a wonderful, colourful scene, really cool. I was there when it was filmed and watched the whole thing. It was great that they used women of all shapes and sizes and colours.
"Also in the second movie, for the final car crash scene. I got to know the stunt drivers. The drivers would pile up in sequence – driving into the pile of wrecked cars then pausing for people to check they were OK and for them to get out of their cars. Each time the new cars would start further away and go faster to go up the pile. One car, when it crashed, the people didn’t give the all clear and an ambulance was called. The driver had concussion – I think he was in a coma for a few days. The vibe plummeted. Once it was all clear and started again the stunt men were burning, it fired them up more, it was intense.
"I did the scene where we were dressed as Good Old Bluegrass boys and the monster trucks were on. It was a classic screw up. Landis thought he was doing the take but only one camera was rolling. There was fur flying and intensity then, because we couldn’t do it again as the cars had been wrecked."
At the Battle of the Bands, the Blues Brothers Band was memorably bidden by Queen Mousette to "do something Caribbean".
Elwood responded, "Uh, ma'am, we're the Blues Brothers. We do blues, rhythm & blues, jazz, funk, soul. We can handle rock, pop, country, heavy metal, fusion, hip hop, rap, Motown, operetta, show tunes. In fact, we've even been called upon, on occasion, to do a polka! However Caribbean is a type of music, I regret to say, which has not been, is simply not, nor will ever be a part of this band's repertoire."
That unwise response led to the band temporarily being turned into Zombies to perform a song. Dan Aykroyd loved the result, saying, "The second film is worth it just to see Funky Nassau."
It was at Queen Mousette's Battle of the Bands where a stunning array of the world's top Blues men and women performed. Dan Aykroyd loved that too, "The Blues Brothers is about reverence and veneration of real artists. I was awestruck by the talent on stage and grateful they came."
Tom Malone loved the rival band to the Blues Brothers at the Battle of the Bands, The Louisiana Gator Boys, "The Gator Boys was my favourite part of the second movie. It was a one day shoot. Clarence Clemens couldn’t read music, so Blue Lou taught him the arrangement. He learned quickly. A lot of the band members have gone now, Bo Diddley, Clarence Clemens, Grover Washington Jr, James Brown and more, The guys, I’m not exactly sure, had $1000 apiece for the days shooting, nothing for guys of their stature. I’ve played with all of them, but to see them all together was just amazing, the biggest all star band ever assembled. Everybody was kidding around a bit, but they were very professional. There were some big egos on that stage, but they were on their best behaviour. Paul Shaffer has the unusual ability to command the respect of big shots, like Quincy Jones had. Probably only Paul could have pulled that off."
Tommy 'Pipes' McDonnell was on that stage with the stellar Blues talent, and still performs with the Original Blues Brothers Band worldwide. The day was special for him too, "When I stepped on that stage and took my place, I started looking around to see all my musical idols, all these famous, legendary musicians standing next to me on the same stage. It was a surreal experience. I was noticing people looking at me with the look of wonderment on their faces. During the lunch break I went up to Steve Winwood and said, 'I am a huge fan, I just wanted to introduce myself. I'm Tommy McDonnell. I sing with the Blues Brothers band.' His reply was, 'Yeah, I know who you are. I had to ask someone, who the hell is that guy?' With that, Eric Clapton walked over and I introduced myself to him and went through the same kind of thing."
"One of the most hysterical things, I was talking to Isaac Hayes. He was telling me about how Bo Diddley would always play Maleguena anytime he was impressing a pretty girl. They let in the extras for the scene, and as if on cue he started playing it. We just looked at each other and laughed and he said, 'I told you.'”
"The funniest stuff happened between the takes. One guy would start playing a riff and then the next guy would join in, and the next guy, etc. It was like a bunch of friends screwing around when they should have been quiet. The director, John Landis, had to yell, 'Will you guys shut up?!'”
Blue Lou sums up the ending of what was the second, and, to date, last of the Blues Brothers movies, "In movie two, at the end we were all jammed in a car together. We were up there three minutes and Landis says, 'That’s a wrap', and we’re done with the movie. I felt so sad, it’s a poignant feeling, an unexpected feeling to go back to regular life. It was sad and beautiful at the same time."
The next and final issue of this series on the Blues Brothers will reflect on the period between Blues Brothers 2000 and now, and their legacy. More memories of those who have passed, such as Donald Dunn and Alan Rubin, will also be shared as a tribute to their part in a story that shows no signs of ending just yet.
Blues Brothers Music Mission Part 6: Legacy
“Buy as many Blues albums as you can”, roared 'Joliet' Jake Blues, aka John Belushi, to the audience at the Universal Amphitheatre, during the first Blues Brothers concert performance. Perhaps that suggestion, which many obeyed, is the single biggest legacy of the Blues Brothers. Nearly three million people bought their debut album, Briefcase Full Of Blues, and the more adventurous will have bought albums by those who inspired the Blues Brothers – Downchild, Curtis Salgado, Delbert McClinton, Elmore James, Sam and Dave. The list goes on. Then there will be the music buyers who went on to get into current artists like Joe Bonamassa, Seasick Steve, and Gary Clarke Jr, often because the Blues Brothers introduced them to the music. That is quite a legacy. Put simply, the Blues Brothers helped fulfill a claim that many make, to keep the Blues alive.
Where are the performers in the Blues Brothers now? Sadly, of course, not all of those who are part of the Blues Brothers story are still with us. In fact, the most poignant moment in these fresh tellings of Blues Brothers tales came early on in an email exchange with Tom 'Bones' Malone:
”My pleasure to speak with you... But we'll never get Mr. Fabulous.”
So, we will pay respect to those of the Blues Brothers we will now never get, starting with Tom's thoughts on the late, great Alan Rubin, trumpet player extraordinaire, who was, and always will be, Mr Fabulous.
“Alan Rubin had the funniest sense of humour and had no shame and would say things others wouldn’t say as they were too outrageous. He was not afraid to say anything, he was by far the funniest person in the band. I met him when I was on the road with Lee Castle and the Jimmy Dorsey Band. We were to play the Riverboat Room in the Empire State Building. We got on the bus and were told Frank, who played lead trumpet, had died. We were told about a twenty two year old kid who plays lead trumpet for the Robert Goulet Band. That was Alan. He played the whole show with no rehearsal and did it perfectly, as good or better than the usual lead trumpet player. Lee Castle said to him afterwards, 'You played pretty good, kid' and Alan told Lee, 'I played a lot better than you did!' We didn’t really become friends until the start of Saturday Night Live in 1975, when the core of the band was Lou, Alan and myself. We were inseparable, we hung out and had lunches together. We were close friends to the end. The last picture taken of Alan was at my wife’s birthday, nine days before he died. He was a piece of work. Thinking of him cracks me up. A brilliant musician, and very warm.”
Dan Aykroyd reflects, “Alan was the sarcastic, caustic, sceptical voice. He and Steve Cropper had their clashes, exciting conversations, two bowls in the same arena. There was a lot of love and friction. Alan provided a view of what we were doing, helped protect us.”
Like Mr Fabulous, Blues Brother and vocalist 'Joliet' Jake Blues, John Belushi, too has passed and Murphy Dunne recalls how it was that the comic actor was able to generate the energy and excitement in his performances, “John used to say, 'I can’t sing, but I can Soul the Blues'.” John's widow, Judy Belushi, says “John would be very proud of what has happened with the Blues Brothers. He was proud of it to begin with. To continue to get a great response, the stories people tell me, touches my heart. It can be fun and frustrating and it's like a boomerang.”
The late bass player Donald 'Duck' Dunn, whose career was paired with that of guitarist Steve 'The Colonel' Cropper, is constantly in the mind of his close friend, who recalls a line from the first Blues Brothers movie, “The line 'goats piss into gasoline', Duck was fed that line – it was written into the script – but he had a lot of one liners. Every day I’m spitting out something that I think 'That’s a Duck Dunn.' Like, 'I feel more like I do now than when I got here' and on leaving, 'Look guys, I’m glad you got to see me, get in touch with yourselves.'” Dan Aykroyd was briefer, “Duck Dunn was the sweetest and funniest and most humorous and sardonic heart of the Blues Brothers.”
Several guest musicians who graced the Blues Brothers movies have passed as well – Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker and more. Steve Cropper recalls another, “James Brown was awesome. We all looked up to him from school. He was real hard to get near to, he was bigger than life, a great. He comes up to me one day and said, 'Do you know when I started liking you? When you inducted me into the Blues Hall of Fame in California'. On stage he was Mr Energy. Period. He was one of the top two energy performers I ever saw, James Brown, and Tina Turner. Too bad we’ve lost him. There’s been lots copying him, but they’ll never do what he did. He could put as much energy into a ballad as an up tempo song.”
Dan Aykroyd continues as Elwood Blues live and on his radio show http://thebluesmobile.com and is valued by Judy Belushi, “Dan, I could not ask for a more sure friend. He is just a lovely person, so kind and thoughtful as a friend and amazing as a business partner. I inherited the business and was not able to put on the suit. I think the world of him. I miss the kind of friendship we had when John was alive, but all these years we have retained a good friendship.”
Keyboard man Murphy Dunne is now in The Enzymes, which he descries as “A very lyric oriented, whimsical hard Rock ‘n’ Roll and Blues oriented band.” Having heard their album, this is a very accurate description. He left out another word which applies. Fun.
Drummer Willie Hall is busy and recalls what happened to his souvenirs from the movies, “Right after the films I had eveything – clothes caps sticks, I gave them to the Memphis and Stax museums. That which I got from God I gave to God, what I got from people I gave back to people.”
Fellow drummer Steve Jordan is also very busy and when interviewed was appearing with Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall. Organist Paul Shaffer and sax man from the early days, Tom Scott, are also very active still in music.
Tom Malone is highly sought after as a producer and appears with New York band The City Boys Allstars, along with Blue Lou Marini, and in other musical acts. He was responsible for the appearance of another musician in Blues Brothers 2000. “John Popper, I met him on the Letterman Show. He told me he’d started playing harmonica having seen Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers. I told Danny and Dan put him and Blues Traveler in the second movie. Dan liked to put truth in the movie.”
Although his health has had its challenges, Matt 'Guitar' Murphy is active, and says, “I still play pretty good. Matt Murphy is still alive and kicking and playing some hot Blues licks.”
Dan Aykroyd recalls some of those who helped along the way and his very small stock of souvenirs, “Steve Martin was a great banjo player and helped us at the start, when we opened for him at the Universal Ampitheatre and recorded our first record. There are a lot of people to thank – Curtis and Steve Martin, Steve Jordan, Duck Dunn, Steve Cropper, Alan Rubin and more, so many contributors.... I do have a brick from the wall of the mall we smashed up in the first movie. Someone sent me that. The cigarette lighters thrown out of the Bluesmobiles – some props department has that, if they’d Ebay them and could prove the authenticity, they’d be worth a lot of money.”
Perhaps the last words from those involved should go to Dan Aykroyd, “They were all talented, magnificent musicians.”
Yet the Blues Brothers and those in the story are far from finished. Don't forget the official touring Blues Brothers revues, one European, one American, details of both to be found on the Blues Brothers official website
http://bluesbrothersofficialsite.com -, as well as The Original Blues Brothers Band, who have themselves been having fun on the road for getting on for thirty years.
But what of the fans? One, on Twitter, is @ O_Canadaykroyd. Asked “What do The Blues Brothers mean to me?” the reply came:
“The following is what I feel 'The Blues Brothers' teaches us: You never forget your roots; When friends need help, you do everything in your power to come through for them, no matter the obstacles you may face; When it comes down to it, you are smarter than you think, and stronger than you realize; The bond of brotherhood is infinite; Music is a powerful force that can inspire and unite in ways you never thought possible.”
Then there is Linda Cain of The Chicago Blues Guide - www.chicagobluesguide.com – who when asked immediately quoted Aretha Franklin, "The Bah-looze Brothers!? Sheeeeeet. They still owe you money, fool!". Linda explains, “Well that is my favorite line. And the other is about 'both kinds of music'. In fact, one of CBG's contributors, Al Finley, hosts a show on a local college radio station titled 'Both Kinds'. And yes, he plays Country and Western music.
“There is a scene in which Elwood and Jake first get pulled over. It was filmed on the north west side of Chicago, near my aunt and uncle's home. Whenever we pass that intersection by the Nelson funeral home, we always say, 'Uh oh, rollers. They've probably got SCMODS.' Or something like that. The Blues Brothers film is truly ingrained in Chicago culture and vernacular.
“I had the good fortune to attend a Blues Brothers party when John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were filming their movie in Chicago. I was covering country music in the late ‘70s and I was backstage with Willie Nelson when he played at Chicago Fest at Navy Pier. John Belushi was there hanging out with Willie, too. Willie and his band had recently performed on Saturday Night Live. After Willie’s show, John invited the whole entourage to a party. So I jumped on one of Willie’s buses, with Delbert McClinton, and rode to the party. It was in a coach house behind the folk music club, The Earl of Old Town. It was one helluva a party room. They had a bar, a jukebox and a band set up.
“Belushi started playing drums and some of Willie’s road crew picked up the guitar and bass and launched into Johnny B. Goode. And I sang backup vocals. Belushi and Aykroyd were a lot like their characters, Jake and Elwood. John was a real party animal, he got really drunk and had to be dragged out by his manager after everyone had left. At one point during the party, a song by The Cars came on the juke box and Belushi pulled the plug on the machine. He apparently preferred hearing the 45's of soul music and R&B that was playing previously.
“I had a chat with Dan and he was the opposite: very straightlaced and sober in the midst of this Animal House party. Dan was really excited because he got to ride in a cop car on patrol with some Chicago cops that day. Once the movie was out, you saw that cop cars had starring roles. Even the Bluesmobile was a cop car.”
So many years on, the Mission from God continues, and the boys are still wearing sunglasses.
By Darren Weale
Blues Matters MagazineGo »