The Blues Brothers
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. ~ Jason Ankeny
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Pop - Released August 21, 2012 | Rhino Atlantic
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Blues - Released November 1, 1978 | Rhino Atlantic
The Blues Brothers began as an affectionate joke-cum-tribute to R&B music, and taken in that spirit it retained its entertainment value, even after this live album topped the charts, sold two million copies, and produced hit singles in "Rubber Biscuit" and "Soul Man." The guardians of popular music have always been entirely too reverent and humorless, however, and it wasn't long before they were leveling charges of rip-off against the Brothers and complaining that John Belushi couldn't sing as well as Otis Redding. So what? No one seems to have noticed that Belushi was as obsessive about citing his sources as Frank Sinatra is about naming his arrangers -- you'd have thought those critics would have appreciated the footnotes. The beneficiaries of Belushi's encomiums didn't mind the increased exposure or the renewed royalty checks ("I suggest you buy as many blues albums as you can," Belushi told the audience), and even today, what comes across in these performances is the sincerity of feeling -- that and some tasty playing from a top-notch band. ~ William Ruhlmann
Pop - Released December 1, 1980 | Rhino Atlantic
Like the Grateful Dead or the Minutemen, the Blues Brothers are a band that, regardless of their own quality, ultimately did more harm than good by influencing an endless stream of horrible imitations. This pet project of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd featured top session players and had great taste in song selection, but Jake and Elwood also spawned thousands of terrible white R&B cover bands and made possible the soulless House of Blues franchise. Made in America is easily the band's weakest album; Briefcase Full of Blues has a sincere grit and energy and the Blues Brothers original soundtrack is filled with vibrant guest spots from ringers like Aretha Franklin and James Brown. On this third release, however, after the propulsive opening salvo of "Soul Finger" and "Who's Making Love?," everything slows down and the highlights become thin. "Do You Love Me" is clumsy and "I Ain't Got You" is by the numbers. Most of the famous session players from the first two LPs remain as Jake and Elwood's crack backup band. Bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and guitarist Steve Cropper from Booker T. & the MG's are still the soul of the Blues Brothers, and Matt "Guitar" Murphy rips out a mean solo once in a while. Of course, this remains musical director Paul Schaffer's baby, so nothing gets too raw. "Who's Making Love?" was the hit single, a rousing version of Johnnie Taylor's 1968 R&B smash that is as good as it gets musically on Made in America. As for the stars of the show, Aykroyd's stage raps are usually hilarious, a deadpan mix of jingoistic politics and junkie hep-talk, but Randy Newman's depressing torch song "Guilty" is harrowing in Belushi's hands, as the theme of self-destruction is all too appropriate for his life at the time. It's eerie to hear the audience cheer him on after a line like, "Got some whiskey from a bar/Got some cocaine from my friends." Made in America was the last official Blues Brothers release before Belushi's 1982 death, but Aykroyd saw fit to resurrect the band 15 years later with Jim Belushi and John Goodman vainly trying to fill the real Jake's big shoes. ~ Fred Beldin
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