Whether celebrated as a sincere tribute or derided as a tongue-in-cheek
put-on, the Blues Brothers -- Joliet Jake and his silent brother
Elwood -- was among the most popular groups of the late '70s;
what started as a skit on the hit NBC television sketch comedy
series Saturday Night Live quickly snowballed to become a true
phenomenon, complete with hit records, a sold-out concert tour,
and even a feature film. Clad in vintage black suits, narrow ties,
fedoras, and omnipresent wrap-around sunglasses, the Blues Brothers
delivered spirited renditions of classic soul hits in the tradition
of the signature Stax-Volt sound; purists may still cringe, but
if nothing else the group deserves credit for introducing any
number of soul and blues classics to a new generation of listeners
while also allowing some of the most gifted session men in the
business a chance to shine on-stage and -screen.
According to "Don Kirshner" (actually Saturday Night
Live bandleader Paul Shaffer in disguise), the Blues Brothers'
history was as follows: "In 1969, Marshall Checker, of the
legendary Checkers Records, called me on a new blues act that
had been playing in the small, funky clubs on Chicago's South
Side....Today they are no longer an authentic blues act, but have
managed to become a viable commercial product." In reality,
however, vocalist Jake and harpist Elwood Blues were music lovers
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, two of SNL's brightest stars who
created their respective aliases in early 1976 to warm up crowds
before performances of the hit series. The Blues Brothers made
their national TV debut with Belushi and Aykroyd outfitted in
the bee costumes they often wore for another sketch, performing
(naturally enough) Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee," and
in the months to follow they grew in popularity, appearing on
the program with increasing regularity.
The Blues Brothers' band included top Memphis session men like
guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn,
who together appeared on many of the original Stax label recordings
of songs in the group's repertoire; later incarnations also featured
notables like bluesman Matt "Guitar" Murphy. While opening
for comedian Steve Martin in Los Angeles in 1978, the Blues Brothers
recorded their debut live LP, Briefcase Full of Blues; the album
quickly went platinum, launching Top 40 hit covers of "Soul
Man" and "Rubber Biscuit." They also toured in
1980 to promote their feature-length movie, The Blues Brothers,
a sprawling musical comedy featuring cameos by everyone from Cab
Calloway to Aretha Franklin, as well as their second LP, Made
in America; two more Top 40 hits -- "Gimme Some Lovin'"
and "Who's Making Love" -- appeared that same year.
In 1981, The Best of the Blues Brothers was released, further
solidifying their massive popularity; however, on March 5, 1982,
Belushi died in Hollywood of an accidental drug overdose, and
the Blues Brothers' saga was effectively over. Or so it seemed;
as the movie remained a cult favorite and old Saturday Night Live
sketches continued to run in syndication, the group's "legend"
continued to grow, and, in 1988, Cropper, Dunn, Murphy, and other
players re-formed the Blues Brothers Band for a world tour, often
backing singer Eddie Floyd. In 1992, they even cut a new LP, Red
White and Blues, which featured a guest appearance from Aykroyd/Elwood.
Around the same time, Aykroyd also mounted his House of Blues
franchise, an international chain of upscale blues joints; he,
actor John Goodman, and Belushi's brother Jim also appeared on
occasion in a new Blues Brothers lineup. Finally, in 1998 a second
movie, Blues Brothers 2000, was released to negative reviews and
poor box office returns.