Blues Brothers Biography
The Blues Brothers were a rhythm and blues band fronted by comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in character (with various additions following Belushi's 1982 death). Belushi (as lead vocalist "Joliet" Jake Blues) and Aykroyd (as harpist/vocalist Elwood Blues) were both members of the original cast of NBC's Saturday Night Live. The Blues Brothers' television debut was as the musical guest in the April 22, 1978 episode of Saturday Night Live, often cited as one of the best-ever SNL episodes.
The genesis of the Blues Brothers was a January 1976 SNL 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.
In the January 4, 1979 edition of the Eugene Register-Guard, an article provides key details about the real origins of Belushi's serious interest in blues music. Belushi was in Eugene, Oregon, filming National Lampoon's Animal House. In October 1977, 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, interviewed for the article, found Salgado's enthusiasm infectious, saying:
The Blues Brothers recorded their first album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1978 while opening for comedian Steve Martin at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheater. The album went double platinum, and featured Top 40 hit covers of Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" and The Chips' "Rubber Biscuit". Despite the name of the act, most of the songs performed by The Blues Brothers throughout their existence were soul music or R&B classics rather than actual blues music.
The Blues Brothers, 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.
The two "brothers" assembled a collection of studio talents to play under the moniker of the The Blues Brothers Band; the musicians in the band had previously played with Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Paul McCartney & Wings, Miles Davis, and Otis Redding.
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.
While the music of the Blues Brothers is always said to be based on rhythm, 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 an odd (but successful) 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 Paul Shaffer's arrangements and to the musicians' talents.
In a documentary included on some DVD editions of the first Blues Brothers film, guitarist Steve Cropper reports 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 Cropper 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.
At the time of the original movie's release, Belushi's wife, Judith Jacklin, and his friend, Tino Insana, wrote a book, Blues Brothers: Private, that fleshed out the Blues Brothers universe and gave backstory for the first movie. The book is now somewhat difficult to find.
In 1981, The Best of the Blues Brothers was released; this album would be the first of several compilations and hits collections issued over the years.
On March 5, 1982, Belushi died in Hollywood of an accidental overdose of heroin and cocaine.
An animated sitcom with Jake and Elwood was planned, but scrapped after only a couple of episodes were produced.
After 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" Blues. 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 1988 Cropper, Dunn, Murphy, and others re-formed The Blues Brothers Band for a world tour. They released an album of new material in 1992 entitled Red White and Blues, which included a guest appearance from Elwood Blues.
To promote Blues Brothers 2000, Dan Aykroyd 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. (The raucous innuendo-laden performance was considered somewhat scandalous at the time.)
Several Blues Brothers video games have been made, including two Amiga/PC platform games by Titus. In 1991, the same company produced a Blues Brothers video game for the NES and Super NES. A Nintendo 64 game titled Blues Brothers 2000 was also released.
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, an international chain of nightclubs. In character as Elwood, he also hosts the syndicated House of Blues Radio Hour.
The movie also became a staple of late night cinema, even slowly morphing into an audience participation show in its regular screenings at the Valhalla Cinema, in Melbourne, Australia. John Landis acknowledged the support of the cinema and the fans by a phone call he made to the cinema at the tenth anniversary screening, and later invited regular attendees to make cameo appearances in the sequel (they are members of the crowd during the performance of "Ghost Riders in the Sky").
John Belushi's brother Jim Belushi toured with the band for a short time, and even recorded the album "Blues Brothers & Friends: LIVE! From Chicago's H.O.B" with Dan Aykroyd but unfortunately, he didn't appear in "Blues Brothers 2000"(1998). It's rumoured he was approached to play not the role of Mighty Mack (played by John Goodman), but the role of the local Sheriff 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 centered around the character of Elwood Blues trying to rescue his brother Jake from an eternity in limbo/purgatory. The musical was written and composed with the approval and permission from both the John Belushi-estate (including his widow Jackie Belushi Pisano) and Dan Aykroyd.
In August 2005, there was a 25th anniversary celebration for the Blues Brothers movie at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in L.A.. Attendees included director John Landis, former Universal Studios executive Thom Mount, movie editor George Folsey Jr., and cast members James Brown, Henry Gibson, Charles Napier, Steve Cropper, and Stephen Bishop. It featured a press conference, a panel discussion where Dan Aykroyd joined via satellite, and a screening of the original theatrical version of the film. The panel discussion was broadcast directly to many other cinemas around the country.
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 Jim Belushi's Sacred Hearts Band.
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.
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 staring James Belushi 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 un-licenced, alcohol was bought by the purchase of 'tickets' which were then traded to the bartender for the drinks.
There have been various takeoffs and parodies of The Blues Brothers, most notably in the Chicago area.