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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One element that has changed for Belushi is his own appreciation of the blues. "I mean, I was ignorant of what the blues were all about," he says. He remembers being at a Sacred Hearts gig in Los Angeles and listening to an "old gentleman" play the classic blues song "Reconsider Baby." He asked one of the Sacred Hearts band members who the old guy playing the Eric Clapton song was. "He like rolled his eyes at me, and said, 'Jim, you gotta sit down so we can talk this over. That's Lowell Fulson. He wrote the song." Belushi says that now, apart from John Coltrane and a few other jazz artists, he only listens to blues music.
When asked if he had come around to the anthem in the Blues Brothers movie about being on a mission from God, Belushi just laughs and says, "Yeah. I'm on the mission. I'm one of the disciples. I'm deep into keeping the legacy of Jake Blues alive…. But it is like that connection between gospel and the blues. It is a spiritual experience; that's what I'm seeing with Danny. And I mean, I'm having a ball too.
"The audience loves it when Danny walks on that stage. They go nuts. They still like it. He's the legacy and I'm the blood," Belushi says. He acknowledges that's he's gotten a little more familiar with the whole genre of the blues, enough so that he can sit down with musicians like Steve Miller and discuss the blues knowledgeably.
"That's what Danny has brought to my life," Belushi says. "I'm really, really grateful that he's in my life. I mean, he was like a brother to John, and when John was gone, he was really the only one that turned to me and said, 'Hey Jimmy, how are you?' He's always been…like a brother to me in that way. It took a while, but now he's a dear, dear friend."
Belushi, too, can't shake the horror of that day when John died. "Hey, when there's a sudden death in the family, whether it's a car accident or a casualty of war, or a drug overdose, when it's a young person like that, it's like throwing a hand grenade into the family, and the shrapnel goes through everybody. And when it's public, it only makes it worse. You could have lost a brother, I could have known you for years, and you might never tell me. But for me, it's everywhere I go. People just say, 'I loved your brother.' And I always go, 'I loved him too.' You just can't hide from it."
In a way, Belushi finds a connection to John onstage with the Blues Brothers, and he finds a place in himself that responds to his brother's spirit. "It's a personal place of fun. [It] takes me to a place, well, it's a joyous place," Belushi says. "We do dedicate a song to him, to keep him alive. To keep the spirit alive. It's like he started the law firm and I'm trying to keep the law firm alive. I mean, he willed it to me, so I'm trying to honor it and not blow the estate he left."
But the Blues Brothers are even more than that for Jim Belushi. "When I started this, it was like when they open up your chest to get to your heart and massage it. It just cracked me open and opened me up and pumped me full of life. When I'm out there singing with Danny and singing with the Sacred Hearts, it changes my body chemistry. It changed my passion toward my craft as an actor. That's why I hate to use the word spiritual, but it was a spiritual awakening for me…. I'm eternally grateful to Danny, who included me in this world, and for helping me heal all my aloneness. There's just a spirituality to it that I don't question."
If you're attending a Blues Brothers performance, watching Belushi doing back flips and dancing like a 15-year old—not the 53-year-old that he is—you can't help but understand that being onstage takes him to a mental and spiritual and physical place where he might not otherwise be. As one band member told him, "You know, Jim, watching you onstage reminds us of the reason we started this in the first place."
Gary Becker, a member of the board of directors of the Houston Children's Charity, is watching the sound check on Saturday afternoon in the empty ballroom, the only sounds coming from musicians on the stage, and a few waiters and waitresses setting up the tables. "I've been trying to get the organization to hire these guys for three years. I just love their music." A week later, after the show, Becker says the event had raised more money, $1.2 million, and more people had attended than ever before, at least in part because they wanted to hear the Blues Brothers. "Everything about them was perfect. Their professionalism. Their attitude. I knew that their appeal was strong in the 35- to 45-year-old crowd," says Becker, who ran a concert promotion company for years. "But they also appeal to the 60- to 65-year-old crowd. You have to have that because you don't want anyone walking out on the artists."
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