Singin' the Blues
Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi carry a musical torch across America as the Blues Brothers.
From the Print Edition:
The Blues Brothers, Jan/Feb 2008
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Are you ready for me?" Brother Zee is on the edge of the stage, the pulsating sounds of "Too Hot to Handle" blasting out from the band. As Zee lifts his shirt, exposing his smooth and not small stomach, the Houston crowd screams in appreciation, more for the audacity of the move than anything else. By the time the music gets into full swing, more than 20 women are up on stage dancing with Brother Zee and Elwood Blues. "I'm in love," Jim Belushi shouts, dancing with a woman from the audience in a long gown.
Belushi's tenure with the band goes back to 1992. Dan Aykroyd was receiving an honorary degree from his college, Carleton University, in Toronto. When he was told about the honor, he had responded by saying that he wanted to do something in return for the university. He offered to put on a real Blues Brothers concert, the first one since John had died 10 years earlier. His first call was to Jim Belushi, John's brother, who by that point had become a well-known film actor in his own right.
"He said that he was doing a Blues Brothers concert, and he wanted me to do it with him," Belushi recalls during an interview just hours before the Houston performance of the group. "'I don't do that thing,' and he goes, 'Oh yeah, you can do it. I want you to take over the legacy, you know, the blood.' And I said, 'No, I kind of left that stuff to John.' But he wouldn't stop. 'Well, you sing, don't you?' and I said, 'No, I don't sing any songs. I sang on Broadway and that's about it.'
"'Oh, you're a singer,' he said," Jim Belushi continues. "I sing light opera, or Second City singing, but I've never sung with a band. I don't know that stuff. That's the blues. That's what John did. I can't lift a sword, I can't eat a cheeseburger, and I can't sing the blues. I mean, he just cornered all that shit. So, I've got to find myself. But Danny wouldn't give up. 'No, I want you to do it. It'll be great.' But I said, 'I can't do it because of the John thing,' and he goes, 'He willed it to you' and I said, 'I don't remember reading that in the will,' and he just keeps going. 'There was a will. It was in the will. You didn't see the will? It said, "I will Jimmy the Blues Brothers"…come on, it's like a law firm: when one of the partners goes down, the brother or the son steps in.'
"Of course, I'm thinking, You could have brought that will to me a long time ago, but he did the whole will thing, and keeping the spirit of the Blues Brothers and Jake Blues alive, and by the end of his speech, I'm going, Yes. Yes. I'll do it. But then I said, 'But I don't sing the blues,' and he goes, 'Well, you'd better learn.'"
Belushi says he started practicing with the Sacred Hearts band in L.A., which was part of the House of Blues house band, and during the next couple of weeks, he learned three songs that he could handle pretty well: "Sweet Home Chicago," "I'm Ready" and "Hard to Handle." "I was listening to the Blues Brothers album over and over, but I figured those three songs were enough. That's all they'd let me do as a guest anyway," Belushi says.
"Then I was up in Canada doing the sound check and I was told I was going to sing 10 songs," Belushi says, "and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Belushi went on to explain that Aykroyd had been doing concerts with the original Blues Brothers' band, which had continued to tour in the years after John's death. But it was simply a show called the Elwood Blues Revue. That band, which still performs today with some of the original musicians, including Cropper and Murphy, was given the right to keep on touring by the estate of John Belushi. And that's why the band that Belushi and Aykroyd now appear with is called the Blues Brothers Classic Revue with the Sacred Hearts band. The "Original Blues Brothers Band" continues to maintain a separate tour schedule, appearing at everything from concert venues to music festivals around the world. There are also several copycat acts that are licensed to perform at such places as Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
Belushi says that his initial work with the Sacred Hearts band also led to a steady gig with the group. The band now appears 40 to 50 times a year, doing mostly corporate and charity events with some casino theater shows thrown in. Sacred Hearts also does up to a dozen shows a year as the Blues Brothers Classic Revue with Aykroyd. "I designed a show. I call it a show, not a concert," says Belushi. "It's got the overture, the big opening scene, it's got two-person scenes, it's got the girl-boy scene and then it's got a first-act scene and a second-act scene, and then it ends with a big huge ending."
Belushi says that after a few years of doing the Sacred Hearts performances, he convinced Aykroyd to appear with the band on a regular basis. Aykroyd has no other responsibilities, Belushi says, other than to show up and walk out on stage as Elwood Blues. "I've tried to make it fun for him," says Belushi. "And we do have fun."
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