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The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers are a Grammy Award-nominated American blues and soul revivalist band founded in 1978 by comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as part of a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live. Belushi and Aykroyd, respectively in character as lead vocalist "Joliet" Jake Blues and harpist/vocalist Elwood Blues, fronted the band, which was composed of well-known and respected musicians. The band made its debut as the musical guest on the April 22, 1978, episode of Saturday Night Live.

The band then began to take on a life beyond the confines of the television screen, 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 have continued to perform with a rotation of guest singers and other band members. The original band reformed in 1988 for a world tour and again in 1998 for a sequel to the film, Blues Brothers 2000. They make regular appearances at musical festivals worldwide.

Band members

Original lineup

While not all members appeared in the original film, the full band included:

Other members

At various times, the following have been part of the act:

Band history

Origins

The genesis of the Blues Brothers was a January 17, 1976 Saturday Night Live skit. 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 mainly for the purpose of parking his Harley Davidson motorcycle. The bar cost less than a parking spot. Dan and John filled a jukebox with songs from many different artists such as Sam and Dave and punk band The Viletones. John bought an amplifier and they kept some musical instruments there for anyone who wanted to jam. It was here that Dan wrote a lot of 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. Even though Belushi was from Chicago he was not familiar with such music. An interest soon became a fascination and it wasn't long before the two began singing with local blues bands. Jokingly, SNL band leader Howard Shore suggested they call themselves "The Blues Brothers."

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.

Band formation

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' 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.

Their style was fresh and in many ways, different from prevailing musical trends: A very raw and "live" sound compared to the increasing use of sound synthesis and vocal-dominated music of the late 1970s and 80s.

The sound

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.

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 even 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 while opening for comedian Steve Martin at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheatre. 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 album liner notes fleshed out the fictional back story of Jake and Elwood, having them growing up in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Calumet City, 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 an alternate live recording of Everybody Needs Somebody To Love; 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 Jim 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 didn't appear in Blues Brothers 2000. It's rumored 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, Lou Marini, and Alan Rubin. The lead singer is Rob "The Honeydripper" Paparozzi, and they are frequently joined by Eddie Floyd.

Akyroyd 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.

Films

The Blues Brothers

In 1980, The Blues Brothers, directed by John Landis, was released. Featuring epic 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 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, 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 and ninth-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. 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, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, 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.

Video games

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 Blues Brothers Bar

The Blues Brothers Bar was an illegal basement tavern operated on Wells Street In Chicago's Old Town in the 1970s and 1980s which was started by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The Bar was down the street from The Second City theater. In the DVD commentary of the film Thief (a film shot in Chicago in 1981), James Caan mentions the bar. The bar was run by a college friend whom Belushi met at College of DuPage, the friend often operated as a bouncer. As the bar was unlicensed, alcohol was bought by the purchase of 'tickets' which were then traded to the bartender for the drinks. The bar was discovered by authorities in 1982 and was forced to close shortly after.

A bar by a similar title was built in Mount Prospect, IL (referenced in the movie as the town where Elwood purchased the car) opened in 2007.

In popular culture

There have been many takeoffs and parodies of the Blues Brothers, most notably in the Chicago area.

Theatre

The Whitehall Theatre in London, England, staged A Tribute to the Blues Brothers in 1996. What was originally a six-week run extended into 46 and was staged on and off till 2001. Guest-stars included Antonio Fargas (best known for the part of informant Huggy Bear in Starsky and Hutch) singing Minnie The Moocher.

Sports

  • A Budweiser ad campaign featured Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray in the Blues Brothers costume, also known as the "Cubs Fan Bud Man" campaign.
  • During the Oakland Athletics' run of success from 1988 to 1992, sluggers José Canseco and Mark McGwire were tagged "the Bash Brothers" and appeared in Blues Brothers costumes for a promotional poster.
  • During the early 80s, the San Antonio Spurs featured George Johnson, Dave Corzine, Kevin Restani, Paul Griffin, Mark Olberding, and Reggie Johnson. For their defensive prowess in rebounds and blocked shots, they were referred to as the "Bruise Brothers."
  • While the NBA's Chicago Bulls were making their championship runs in the 1990s, an act called "the Bulls Brothers" often performed at halftime, with the performers bearing striking resemblances to Belushi and the younger, thinner Aykroyd.
  • In college basketball, some schools have students who do routines at big games dressed as the Blues Brothers. This has been a tradition at North Carolina Tar Heels basketball games for a number of years. The Northwestern University basketball pep band plays several songs from the Blues Brothers movies, such as "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "Peter Gunn Theme." Northwestern is located in the Chicago suburb of Evanston.
  • At a select football game every year at the University of Michigan, the Michigan Marching Band performs its famous "Compression Drill" (also known as "the Cake") as they play "Can't Turn You Loose." Band announcer Carl Grapentine introduces the song with a variation of Elwood's famous introduction, ending with "And now, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Scotty B and his blues band!"
  • For the 2007 season, the Chicago White Sox have new promotional posters saying "We are on a mission from Guillen."
  • 2008 Capital One Bowl Halftime show featured "The Blues Brothers".
  • Old Dominion University's pep band performs at ODU basketball games and events. Many times, two students will perform as the Blues Brothers while the band plays "Can't Turn You Loose" and "Soul Man". They have even done a dance routine with the Monarch Dynasty Dance Team to "Shake Your Tailfeather".

Films and television

  • In 1997, UPN ordered thirteen episodes of The Blues Brothers Animated Series. The order was pulled shortly afterward, and only two episodes were fully completed. Peter Aykroyd provided the voice of Elwood and Jim Belushi provided the voice of Jake.
  • In the Nickelodeon show, Drake & Josh, there is one episode entitled "Blues Brothers," in which both Drake Parker and Josh Nichols sing their song in their talent show, "Soul Man." A novelization of this episode was published in paperback by Scholastic on July 1, 2006 (coincidentally, Dan Aykroyd's 54th birthday).
  • Three Family Guy episodes have included Blues Brothers references. In "North by North Quahog," Peter and Lois lead a car chase through a mall with "Can't Turn You Loose" playing in the background as it did in the film, The Blues Brothers. In "Sibling Rivalry," Stewie asks Elwood, "You! You get me my Cheese Whiz, boy?" and Elwood tosses him a can. In "Blue Harvest," the scene in which Jake and Elwood sneak past the guard to the tune of "Minnie the Moocher" is parodied.
  • In the 2005 film Fun with Dick and Jane, one of the disguises worn by Dick and Jane are matching Blues Brothers' outfits.
  • In the Italian film Caterina in the Big City an Australian boy who lives near Caterina has a cardboard cut-out of Jake and Elwood.
  • The anime musical comedy TV series Nerima Daikon Brothers is about a fat brother (Hideki), a skinny brother (Ichiro), and their female cousin (Mako) who are in a band, wear dark suits and try to raise money to build a concert dome to perform in. An excerpt from the official website:
    At the risk of being obvious, the name "Nerima Daikon Brothers" is a riff on the "Blues Brothers," and much of the background music riffs in the show are homages to the Blues Brothers movie. Our Nerima Daikon Brothers can always be seen in Blues Brothers-inspired suits, hats, and sunglasses.
  • In the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "Bye Bye Nerdy," when Bloo puts on a pair of sunglasses, he makes a spoof of a line said on the film saying "It's 106 blocks to Mac, I have a full bladder, half an idea where I'm going, it's Tuesday and I'm wearing sunglasses". Frankie then opens the window and says "Hit it!" and Bloo jumps out screaming. There is also an episode of Foster's called "Bloo's Brothers." The first three episodes that made up the 90-minute pilot "movie" are collectively named "House of Bloo's".
  • In an episode of Mission Hill (Ep 1.12, Happy Birthday, Kevin), Andy takes Kevin to the "Shack of Blues" for his birthday. Andy has hired the venue's resident Blues Brothers tribute act "The Blues Brothers 2000", fronted by Justin Belushi and Timothy Aykroyd-Williams. When Kevin points out that those are not the real Blues Brothers, Andy responds, "Yeah, sorry. Dan Aykroyd sends his regrets, and John Belushi's been dead for fifteen years." (The episode aired in 2002, which means Belushi had actually been dead for twenty years by that time.)
  • Parodied on the Australian movie show The Bazura Project Episode 2.01, as part of the episode's opening sequence
  • In a Season Four episode of the Canadian series Reboot a pair of Binomes dressed in the distinctive garb of the brothers drive across a bridge filled with binomes calling for the return of Megabyte, saying, "NeoVirals. I hate Neovirals." This is an obvious parody on the line about the Illinois Nazis. The license plate of their car is also BDR 529, the same as the Bluesmobile.
  • In a season one episode of Supernatural Dean, dressed as a Department of Homeland Security agent, says that he feels like one of the Blues Brothers.
  • In Sister Act, in the scene where the nuns sing for the pope, look carefully behind Whoopi Goldberg at the doorway. There are two men dressed as Jake & Elwood, posed as they were standing in the Triple Rock church scene in the original movie.

Video games

  • The Blues Brothers is an arcade game released in 1990. It had a sequel in 1993 called The Blues Brothers : The Jukebox Adventure. Both games were edited by Titus and developed by Image Works
  • The Blues Brothers make two – albeit unnamed – appearances in the Space Quest video game series. They are seen performing in a bar in both versions of the game. Attempting to talk to them in the 1991 revamped version elicits the response, "They don't have the time to talk to you, they're on a mission from God." One character is tall and thin, the other short and fat, both dressed identical to the Blues Brothers. In the Space Quest IV sequel, the player is returned to the same cantina via a time travel pod. The exact same set is shown with the same characters dancing and singing the same tunes.
  • In Bully civilian cars bear the license plate number of the Bluesmobile (BDR 529)
  • In the Super Nintendo game Earthbound, a group called the Runaway Five is a parody of and tribute to The Blues Brothers.
  • In World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade a quest involves killing two Broken draenei called the Blue Brothers.
  • In the game The Lost Vikings II, there is a dialogue between Baelog and Scorch, which is a paraphrase of the famous "It's 106 miles to Chicago" line from the movie.
  • The game Elite Beat Agents, the main male characters are all wearing the classic Blues Brothers attire, shades and a black suit. Interestingly, the characters perform dance moves in missions where they help out others.
  • The arcade game Spy Hunter, uses the same theme as the Blues Brothers (the Peter Gunn theme, by Henry Mancini).
  • In the RPG Fallout 2 when you get Myron as your NPC, you get this talk option: "It's 106 miles to Arroyo, we got a full fusion cell, half a pack of radaway, and I'm wearing a thirty year old vault suit ... Hit it."

Music

Sculpture

  • In the Chicago Midway Airport and outside of the Slippery Noodle Inn, The Blues Brothers are paid tribute to with a pair of life-sized replicas of Jake and Elwood.
  • There are statues of The Blues Brothers at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans.
  • The Tom Jobim campus of Rio de Janeiro Estácio de Sá University features a statue of "Joliet" Jake Blues.
  • There are also statues of the Blues Brothers in downtown Rock Island, Illinois, and in Brookline, MA.
  • There is a statue of Elwood Blues in McLean, Virginia in honor of local musician Derek Defensor who named his dog after Dan Akroyd's character. On the base of the sculpture is the inscription "We are on a mission from God."
  • In Mitchell, South Dakota (Home of the famous Corn Palace.), there is a sculpture of Jake and Elwood Blues sitting on a bench outside a small ice cream parlor/hot dog stand. This is one of many sculptures of pop culture icons, such as Elvis Presley, that are located on the streets surrounding the Corn Palace.
  • In the walkway from the Parking lot to the Hollywood Casino in Aurora are Jake and Elwood in a "chicken wire" scene from the movie.
  • Sit next to statues at the Fuddruckers restaurant in Janesville, WI.

Other media

  • In the Andrew Clements book, Things Not Seen, the main character Bobby, who has been rendered invisible, makes the following observation:
    "The good thing about February in Chicago is that no one thinks it's weird if you're all bundled up...The stocking cap, the turtleneck, the scarf around my face, the gloves, it all looks natural. Except maybe Dad's huge sunglasses. They make me look like Elwood from The Blues Brothers."
  • Manga-artist Kenichi Sonoda is an avid Blues Brothers fan and has included references to it in many of his works. Most notably, in his manga Gunsmith Cats, which is set in Chicago the main character's car bears the familiar license plate number BDR 529. Also, his early anime Riding Bean, also set in Chicago showed several car chases inspired by the movie, involving massive police car pileups.
  • In the Terry Pratchett book, Soul Music, Cliff tells Buddy that no-one can stop them because they are on "A Mission from Glod," when they are stealing a piano for their band. Glod is a character in their band "The Band with Rocks In."
  • Mikey Teutal from Orange County Choppers featured in the T.V. series American Chopper on the Discovery Channel and TLC designed the "Blues Brothers" themed custom chopper
  • Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood house outdoor show attractions featurng the Blues Brothers (Titled The Blues Brothers Live in Florida, and The Blues Brothers R&B Revue in Hollywood). In the attractions, the Blues Brothers perform classic Rock and Soul songs. There is also a Christmas version of the show in which they sing Holiday classic songs.

Discography

References

External links

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