Except for me. Somehow the music stayed way in the background, perhaps because I was reading more than anything, then becoming a movie and tv geek. Music was not really a part of my life. It never really touched me in my heart. It danced around me, yet never wove its way in.
Like every college-age American, at 11:30 on Saturdays, we watched the only counter-cultural show that spoke our language, that was aimed directly at us: Saturday Night Live. And, late in the year, two shifty looking white dudes from Calumet City, Illinois, fresh from the stage at the Black Rhino Club, took SNL by storm…
…and the Blues Brothers opened up to me a world of music that finally touched my soul.
The origins of the Blues Brothers are well known, and I suggest you go to Blues Brothers Central for all the info you need. Basically, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi started the Blues Brothers as an SNL warm up gig. They got their first (and lesser-known) chance as the BBs on stage in 1977…as Bees, performing “King Bee.”
But that was just one song, as the Bees. And no one thought about it ever again.
Then came November 18, 1978. Belushi, fresh off the success of Animal House, took the mantle of Jake Elwood Blues, and Aykroyd, the creative dynamo behind the duo, became Elwood Jake Blues. They opened for Steve Martin during a series of performances at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. Their first album, Briefcase Full of Blues, was recorded from these shows, and their first performance on SNL officially as the Blues Brothers was “Soul Man.”
They were clearly Dan and John. And yet, somehow, they were not. I wasn’t sure at first if it was really them. There was someone else behind those Ray-Bans. They were different personalities — characters and iconographs made real. And the music was rock and soul with a sense of humor…combined with reverence, irreverence, and a distinctly contemporary groove.
It sparked me. It sparked a lot of people. It woke something up in America’s musical psyche. This one-of-a-kind combination of a little bit of comedy and a lot of old-fashioned music, filtered through the funky groove of the ’70s, made the blues cool again. Hell, even B. B. King and Ray Charles admitted that the Blues Brothers revitalized not only their careers, but the Blues. It’s the only musical that regular guys watch and absolutely love — because they don’t look at it as a musical. It’s a dude flick, with cool songs. Get it?
And the movie was a rebirth for the costars when it was released in 1980. Although the film was panned critically, it has since become an overwhelming cult favorite. It jump-started the faltering careers of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the musicians from Booker T. and the MGs, and made B. B. King ask if he could be in the next one.
He was, in Blues Brothers 2000, released in 1998 (please, don’t ask me, I have no idea). Not a hilarious film; maybe not even a good one. But the music is fine, the heart is in the right place, and John Goodman proves he can sing a mean cover of “I’m Looking for a Fox.” That, and Aykroyd’s cover of “Cheaper to Keep Her,” make the dvd worth the price.
Comedy opened up a world of music to me. And since the Blues Brothers and the untimely death of Jake, I have explored the blues and soul music of B. B. King, Albert Collins, Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, Johnny Lang, Susan Tedeschi, Matt Guitar Murphy (Blues Brothers guitarist who is recovering nicely from a stroke), Delbert McClinton, Candye Kane (I fixed the spelling, Candye!), Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Koko Taylor, Tinsley Ellis, John Lee Hooker, Aretha, Johnny Winter, Ana Popovic, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kim Wilson, Buddy Guy, Wilson Pickett —
Driving rhythm, pounding guitar, haunting blues organ, triumphant and sad horns. Man, all it does is reflect the cascading beats of the masculine heart as some woman tramples on our soul.
Elwood lives. Jake’s blood brother, Zee, lives. They’re performing October 8 in Orlando at the House of Blues, where every bar in every HOB location is called Jake’s Bar.
My temperature’s rising and I’m goin’ back to Miami. I owe you guys.