The Blues Brothers, more formally called The Blues Brothers' Show Band and Revue, was an American blues and rhythm and blues revivalist band founded in 1978 by comedy actors Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as part of a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live. Belushi and Aykroyd, in character as lead vocalist "Joliet Jake" Blues (named after Joliet Prison) and harmonica player/backing vocalist Elwood Blues (named after the Elwood Ordnance Plant, which made TNT and grenades during World War II), fronted the band, which was composed of well-known and respected musicians. The Blues Brothers first appeared on Saturday Night Live on January 17, 1976. The band made its second appearance as the musical guest on the April 22, 1978 episode of Saturday Night Live. They would make their third and final appearance on November 18, 1978.
The band began to take on a life beyond television, releasing an album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1978, and then having a Hollywood film, The Blues Brothers, created around its characters in 1980.
After the death of Belushi in 1982, the Blues Brothers continued to perform with a rotation of guest singers and band members. They reformed in 1988 for a world tour and in 1998 for a sequel film, Blues Brothers 2000. They make regular appearances at musical festivals worldwide.
On August 31, 2011, it was announced that Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's widow Judith Belushi Pisano were pitching a new Blues Brothers TV series to primetime networks.
Aside from the "brothers", all members performed under their real names. The full band included:
"Joliet" Jake E. Blues (John Belushi) - lead vocals,
Elwood J. Blues (Dan Aykroyd) - harmonica, backing vocals,
Steve "The Colonel" Cropper - lead and rhythm guitar (formerly with Booker T & the M.G.'s),
Matt "Guitar" Murphy - lead and rhythm guitar (Howlin' Wolf, other artists),
Donald "Duck" Dunn - bass guitar (formerly with Booker T & the M.G.'s),
Murphy Dunne - keyboards (brought in for the film due to Paul Shaffer's commitment to perform with Gilda Radner in Gilda Live!, toured with the band in the summer of 1980),
Willie "Too Big" Hall - drums, percussion (formerly of the Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes' band),
Tom "Bones" Malone - trombone, trumpet, saxophone (Saturday Night Live Band and formerly Blood, Sweat & Tears),
"Blue" Lou Marini - saxophone (SNL Band and formerly Blood, Sweat & Tears),
Alan "Mr. Fabulous" Rubin - trumpet (SNL Band),
Steve "Getdwa" Jordan - drums, percussion (SNL Band) (does not appear in movie),
Birch "Crimson Slide" Johnson - trombone (does not appear in movie),
Paul "The Shiv" Shaffer - keyboards, arranger (does not appear in first movie, but appeared in the 1998 sequel, Blues Brothers 2000),
Tom "Triple Scale" Scott - saxophone (L.A. Express) (does not appear in movie),
At various times, the following have been part of the act:
"Brother" Zee Blues (James Belushi) - vocals,
"Mighty Mack" McTeer (John Goodman) - vocals,
Buster Blues (J. Evan Bonifant) - harmonica, vocals,
Cabel "Cab" Chamberlain (Joe Morton) - vocals,
Cab Calloway - vocals,
Larry "T" Thurston - vocals,
Eddie "Knock on Wood" Floyd - vocals,
Sam "Soul Man" Moore - vocals,
Jason "Sunshine" Say - rhythm guitar,
Tommy "Pipes" McDonnell - harmonica, vocals,
Rob "The Honeydripper" Paparozzi - harmonica, vocals,
David Spinozza - Guitar,
Leon "The Lion" Pendarvis - piano, vocals, arranger,
Danny "G-Force" Gottlieb - drums,
Jimmy "Jimmy B" Biggins - saxophone,
Anthony "Rusty" Cloud - keyboards,
Eric "The Red" Udel - bass,
John "Smokin" Tropea - guitar,
Lee "Funky Time" Finkelstein - drums,
Steve Potts - drums,
Anton Fig - Drums,
Larry "Trombonius Maximus" Farrell - trombone,
Alto Reed - saxophone,
Jonny "The Rock & Roll Doctor" Rosch - vocals, harmonica,
Bobby Harden - vocals,
Chaka Khan - vocals,
The genesis of the Blues Brothers was a January 17, 1976, Saturday Night Live sketch. In it, "Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band" play the Slim Harpo song "I'm a King Bee," with Belushi singing and Aykroyd playing harmonica, dressed in the bee costumes they wore for the "Killer Bees" sketch.
Following tapings of SNL, it was popular among cast members and the weekly hosts to attend Aykroyd's Holland Tunnel Blues bar, which he had rented not long after joining the cast. Aykroyd and Belushi filled a jukebox with songs from many different artists such as Sam and Dave and punk band The Viletones. Belushi bought an amplifier and they kept some musical instruments there for anyone who wanted to jam. It was here that Aykroyd and Ron Gwynne collaborated on and developed the original story idea which Dan then turned into the initial story draft of the Blues Brothers movie, better known as the "tome" because it contained so many pages.
It was also at the bar that Aykroyd introduced Belushi to the blues. An interest soon became a fascination and it was not long before the two began singing with local blues bands. Jokingly, SNL band leader Howard Shore suggested they call themselves "The Blues Brothers". In a 1988 interview in the Chicago Sun-Times, Aykroyd said the Blues Brothers act borrowed their "duo thing and dancing" from Sam & Dave and others, "but the hats came from John Lee Hooker. The suits came from the concept that when you were a jazz player in the 40's, 50's 60's, to look straight, you had to wear a suit."
The band was also modeled in part on Aykroyd's experience with the Downchild Blues Band, one of the first professional blues bands in Canada, with whom Aykroyd continues to play on occasion. Aykroyd first encountered the band in the early 1970s, at or around the time of his attendance at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and where his initial interest in the blues developed through attending and occasionally performing at Ottawa's Le Hibou Coffee House. Aykroyd has said of this time:
So I grew up (in Ottawa), in this capital city. My parents used to work for the government, and I went to elementary school, high school, and the university in the city. And there was a place on Sussex Drive (Sussex Drive is where the Prime Minister's house is, right below Parliament Hill), and there was a little club there called Le Hibou, which in French means 'the owl.' And it was run by a gentleman named Harvey Glatt, and he brought every, and I mean every blues star that you or I would ever have wanted to have seen through Ottawa in the late 50s, well I guess more late 60s sort of, in around the Newport jazz rediscovery. I was going to Le Hibou and hearing James Cotton, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, and Muddy Waters. I actually jammed behind Muddy Waters. S. P. Leary left the drum kit one night, and Muddy said, 'Anybody out there play drums? I don't have a drummer.' And I walked on stage and we started, I don't know, Little Red Rooster, something. He said, 'Keep that beat going, you make Muddy feel good.' And I heard Howlin' Wolf (Chester Burnett). Many, many times I saw Howlin' Wolf. And of course Buddy Guy, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. So I was exposed to all of these players, playing there as part of this scene to service the academic community in Ottawa, a very well-educated community. Had I lived in a different town I don't think that this would have happened, because it was just the confluence of educated government workers, and then also all the colleges in the area, Ottawa University, Carleton, and all the schools--these people were interested in blues culture.
The Toronto-based Downchild Blues Band, co-founded in 1969 by two brothers, Donnie and Richard "Hock" Walsh, served as an inspiration for the two Blues Brothers characters. Aykroyd initially modeled Elwood Blues in part on Donnie Walsh, a harmonica player and guitarist, while John Belushi's Jake Blues character was modeled in part on Hock Walsh, Downchild's lead singer. In their first album as the Blues Brothers, Briefcase Full of Blues (1978), Aykroyd and Belushi featured three well-known Downchild songs closely associated with Hock Walsh's vocal style: "I've Got Everything I Need (Almost)," written by Donnie Walsh, "Shot Gun Blues," co-written by Donnie and Hock Walsh, and "Flip, Flop and Fly," co-written and originally popularized by Big Joe Turner. All three songs were contained in Downchild's second album, Straight Up (1973), with "Flip, Flop and Fly" becoming the band's most successful single, in 1974.
Belushi's budding interest in the blues solidified in October 1977 when he was in Eugene, Oregon, filming National Lampoon's Animal House. He went to a local hotel to hear 25-year-old blues singer/harmonica player Curtis Salgado. After the show, Belushi and Salgado talked about the blues for hours. 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.
Salgado lent him some albums by Floyd Dixon, Charles Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and others. Belushi was hooked.
Belushi began to appear with Salgado on stage, singing the Floyd Dixon song "Hey, Bartender" on a few occasions, and using Salgado's humorous alternate lyrics to "I Don't Know":
I said Woman, you going to walk a mile for a Camel,
Or are you going to make like Mr. Chesterfield and satisfy?,
She said that all depends on what you're packing,
Regular or king-size,
Then she pulled out my Jim Beam, and to her surprise,
It was every bit as hard as my Canadian Club
These lyrics were used again for the band's debut performance on SNL. This took place on the episode of April 22, 1978 (hosted by Steve Martin), where, in the cold open, Don Kirshner (played by Paul Shaffer) describes how Marshall Checkers of Checkers Records called him on a hot new blues act, and how with the help of "Neshui Wexler and Jerry Ertegun" (a play on the names of record industry executives Jerry Wexler and Nesuhi Ertegun), they were no longer regarded as an authentic blues band, but "a viable commercial product." The Blues Brothers then performed "Hey Bartender." Due to Shaffer's involvement in the sketch, keyboards were played for this performance by Cheryl Hardwick.
With the help of pianist-arranger Paul Shaffer, Belushi and Aykroyd started assembling a collection of studio talents to form their own band. These included SNL band members, saxophonist "Blue" Lou Marini and trombonist-saxophonist Tom Malone, who had previously played in Blood, Sweat & Tears. At Shaffer's suggestion, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, the powerhouse combo from Booker T and the M.G.'s and subsequently almost every hit out of Memphis's Stax Records during the 1960s, were signed as well.
Belushi wanted a powerful trumpet player and a hot blues guitarist, so Juilliard-trained trumpeter Alan Rubin was brought in, as was guitarist Matt Murphy, who had performed with many blues legends.
For the brothers' look, Belushi borrowed John Lee Hooker's trademark Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses and soul patch.
While the music of the Blues Brothers is based on R&B, blues, and soul, it also drew heavily on rock and jazz elements, usually taking a blues standard and bringing a rock sound and style to it. The band could be drawn into three sections: the four-man horn section, the traditional rock instruments of the five-man rhythm section, and the two singing brothers. The sound of the band was a synthesis of two different traditions: the horn players all came from the clean, precise, jazz-influenced sound of New York City; while the rhythm section came from the grittier soul and blues sound of Chicago and Memphis. The success of this meld was due both to Shaffer's arrangements and to the musicians' talents. Belushi, technically, did not have a good voice; he compensated for this by throwing his heart and his soul into his singing, from which approach the power of the blues is said to come.
In Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, a 1998 documentary included on some DVD editions of the first Blues Brothers film, Cropper noted that some of his peers thought that he and the other musicians backing the Blues Brothers were selling out to Hollywood or using a gimmick to make some quick money. Cropper responded by stating that he thought Belushi was as good as or better than many of the singers he had backed. He also noted that Belushi had, early in his career, briefly been a professional drummer, and had an especially keen sense of rhythm.
Albums, early gigs, character backgrounds:
The Blues Brothers recorded their first album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1978 after comedian Steve Martin asked them to open for him at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheatre. The same year that Belushi's National Lampoon's Animal House became a #1 box office hit, the album reached #1 on the Billboard 200, went double platinum, and featured Top 40 hit recordings of Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" and The Chips' "Rubber Biscuit," the latter of which featured Aykroyd's "talk-singing."
The album liner notes fleshed out the fictional back story of Jake and Elwood, having them growing up in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Rock Island, Illinois and learning the blues from a janitor named Curtis. Their blood brotherhood was sealed by cutting their middle fingers with a string said to come from the guitar of Elmore James.
The band, along with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, opened for the Grateful Dead for the final show at Winterland, New Year's Eve 1978.
With the film came the soundtrack album, which was the band's first studio album. "Gimme Some Lovin'" was a Top 40 hit and the band toured to promote the film, which led to a third album (and second live album), Made in America, recorded at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1980. The track "Who's Making Love" peaked at No 39. It was the last recording the band would make with Belushi's Jake Blues.
Belushi's wife, Judith Jacklin, and his friend, Tino Insana, wrote a book, Blues Brothers: Private, that further fleshed out the Blues Brothers' universe and gave a back story for the first movie.
In 1981, Best of the Blues Brothers was released, with a previously unreleased track, a version of The Soul Survivors' "Expressway to Your Heart", and alternate live recordings of "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and "Rubber Biscuit;" this album would be the first of several compilations and hits collections issued over the years. A 1998 British CD compilation, The Complete Blues Brothers, exclusively features Lamont Cranston's "Excuse Moi Mon Cheri," from the L.A. Briefcase recordings, originally available only as the b-side to the "Soul Man" 45 rpm single.
On March 5, 1982, John Belushi died in Hollywood of an accidental overdose of heroin and cocaine.
After John Belushi's death, updated versions of the Blues Brothers have performed on SNL and for charitable and political causes. Aykroyd has been accompanied by James Belushi and John Goodman in character as "Zee" Blues and "Mighty Mack" McTeer. The copyright owners have also authorized some copycat acts to perform under the Blues Brothers name; one such act performs regularly at the Universal Studios Florida theme park in Orlando, Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood.
In 1997, an animated sitcom with Jake and Elwood was planned, but scrapped after only eight episodes were produced.
To promote Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi and John Goodman performed at the halftime of Super Bowl XXXI, along with ZZ Top and James Brown. The performance was preceded with a faux news report stating the Blues Brothers had escaped custody and were on their way to the Louisiana Superdome.
Aykroyd has continued to be an active proponent of blues music and parlayed this avocation into foundation and partial ownership of the House of Blues franchise, a national chain of nightclubs.
John Belushi's brother, James Belushi, toured with the band for a short time as "Zee Blues," and recorded the album, Blues Brothers & Friends: Live from House of Blues, with Dan Aykroyd, but he did not appear in Blues Brothers 2000. It is rumored that he was approached to play not the role of "Mighty Mack" (played by John Goodman), but the role of the local Sheriff "Cab" Chamberlain, which eventually went to Joe Morton. Jim would later reunite with Aykroyd to record yet another album, not as the Blues Brothers but as themselves: Belushi/Aykroyd - Have Love Will Travel (Big Men-Big Music).
In 2004, the musical, The Blues Brothers Revival, premiered in Chicago. The story was about Elwood trying to rescue Jake from an eternity in limbo/purgatory. The musical was written and composed with approval and permission from both the John Belushi estate (including his widow, Judith Belushi-Pisano) and Dan Aykroyd.
The Blues Brothers featuring Elwood and Zee regularly perform at House of Blues venues and various casinos across North America. They are usually backed by James Belushi's Sacred Hearts Band. The rest of the Blues Brothers Band tours the world regularly. The only original members still in the band are Steve Cropper and Lou Marini. The lead singer is Jonny "The Rock & Roll Doctor" Rosch, and they are frequently joined by Eddie Floyd.
Aykroyd currently reprises his character, Elwood Blues, as the host of the weekly House of Blues Radio Hour, heard nationwide on the Dial Global Radio Network.
The Blues Brothers:
In 1980, The Blues Brothers, directed by John Landis, was released. Featuring car chases involving the Bluesmobile and musical performances by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker, the story is set in and around Chicago, Illinois. It is a tale of redemption for the paroled convict Joliet Jake Blues and his brother Elwood as they decide to take on a "mission from God" and reform their blues band in order to raise funds to save the Catholic orphanage where they grew up. Along the way, the brothers are targeted by a "mystery woman" (Carrie Fisher) and chased by the Illinois State Police, a country and western band called the Good Ol' Boys, the owner of Bob's Country Bunker, and "Illinois Nazis." The film grossed $57 million domestically in its theatrical release, making it the 10th highest grossing movie of 1980, and grossed an additional $58 million in foreign release. It is the second-highest grossing film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch (only 1992's Wayne's World having grossed more) and the twelfth-highest grossing musical film.
Blues Brothers 2000:
With Landis again directing, the sequel to The Blues Brothers was made in 1998. It fared considerably worse than its predecessor with fans and critics, though it is more ambitious in terms of musical performances by the band and has a more extensive roster of guest artists than the first film. The story picks up 18 years later with Elwood being released from prison, and learning that his brother, Jake Blues, has died. He is once again prevailed upon to save some orphans, and with a 10-year-old boy named Buster Blues (J. Evan Bonifant) in tow, Elwood again sets about the task of reuniting his band. He recruits some new singers, Mighty Mack (John Goodman) and Cab (Joe Morton), a policeman who was Curtis' son. All the original band members are found, as well as some performers from the first film, including Aretha Franklin and James Brown. There are dozens of other guest performers, including Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Junior Wells, Lonnie Brooks, Macaulay Culkin, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Sam Moore, Taj Mahal and Jonny Lang, Blues Traveler, as well as an all-star supergroup led by B. B. King called the Louisiana Gator Boys. On the run from the police, Russian mafia and a racist militia, the band eventually ends up in Louisiana, where they enter a battle of the bands overseen by a voodoo practitioner named Queen Moussette (Erykah Badu). During a song by the Blues Brothers (a Caribbean number called "Funky Nassau"), a character played by Paul Shaffer asks to cut in on keyboards, which Murph allows. This marks the first time in a film that the Blues Brothers play with their original keyboardist.
A video game involving the characters was made for various platforms by Titus. The same company produced another video game for the Amiga, Game Boy, PC and Super NES. A Nintendo 64 game titled Blues Brothers 2000 was also released. The game was extremely difficult, had little to do with the film and was poorly received.
The Blues Brothers Bar:
The Blues Brothers Bar was an illegal backhouse tavern started by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, on Wells Street in Chicago's Old Town, across the street from The Second City and in back of the Earl of Old Town night club. It was run by one of Belushi's friends from College of DuPage. As the bar was unlicensed, alcohol was bought by the purchase of 'tickets' which were then traded to the bartender for drinks. The bar was discovered by authorities in 1982 and forced to close shortly after.
In the DVD commentary of the film Thief (filmed in Chicago in 1981), James Caan mentions the bar.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license