The Blues Brothers began as a bit on Saturday Night Live, but they were always more than that.
Dan Aykroyd loved the blues and been an amateur musician. His partner, John Belushi, immediately fell in love when he was introduced to it. To him, it was an antidote to the boring arena rock and lame disco of the late ‘70s.
The SNL bit grew into a movie and finally an international franchise of restaurants and merchandise. It’s easy to be cynical, but keeping the blues alive and in the mainstream is important. Few today do it better than Aykroyd.
The Blues Brothers have always been more authentic than they’re given credit for. Their original band included some of the best soul and blues musicians of the 60s and 70s. This included legends like Otis Redding and Booker T alumni Duck Dunn on bass and Steve Cropper on guitar. The current band doesn’t have that legendary stature, but they’re still strong, playing a tight combination of white soul and Chicago blues. Aykroyd is also an underrated harmonica player. He’s a good-to-great player in the vein of legendary Little Walter.
Musicianship and Entertainment
John Belushi (God rest his soul) was a better singer than his brother Jim, who now plays with Akyroyd, but he’s still serviceable. What he lacks vocally he makes up as an entertainer. He and Aykroyd both ran around the stage all night, bantering with the crowd and telling jokes, both in pure actor form.
That added to the show, but the foundation was the music. Covers of Muddy Waters (“I’m Ready”) and Howlin’ Wolf (“300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy”) were pure joy for hardcore blues fans like me. Otis-Redding-via-The-Black-Crowes “Hard to Handle” towards the beginning of the set rocked pretty hard and was a showcase for the band, Aykroyd was at his comedic best on “Rubber Biscuit” and “Polk Salad Annie,” and Belushi’s voice was strong on Paul Butterfield’s “Born in Chicago.”
The show ended with typical Blues Brothers style. After a perfectly timed run through of their signature song, “Soul Man,” the band and the audience counted down to the new year together. They finished with a celebratory “Aud Lange Syne” and a raucous version of Motown classic “Money (That’s What I Want).”
Keeping the blues alive
There’s a touching scene in the Blues Brothers 2000 movie where Dan Aykroyd lists a litany of blues musicians whose legacies he wants to fight as hard as possible to keep alive (memorably, he names Sonny Boy Williamson, number one and number two). That’s an important job.
As one of the only people doing that today, he and the Blues Brothers deserve to be celebrated.