When John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd decided to bring their famous Saturday Night Live characters Jake and Elwood Blues to life in the name of cinema, The Blues Brothers was born.
What started as an off-chance meeting between two young comics in a Toronto bar in 1973 eventually became a film so incredibly unique that decades later The Blues Brothers still holds up as one of the greats, exposing many generations to the remarkable sonic waves of blues and soul.
Taking a delve into The Blues Brothers reveals so many nooks and crannies; impassioned love letters to both Chicago and the vibrant rhythm and blues community.
Belushi and Aykroyd started working together as members of the original cast of Saturday Night Live, and it was there that their insatiable chemistry grew and after some time working together, Aykroyd introduced Belushi to blues music. Although it was the comedy that was at the forefront of Bulishi and Aykroyd’s connection, their chemistry was set alight due to the immense passion for blues music that they shared. And while the two were certainly far from world-class musicians, their ever-growing popularity allowed them to play with some of the world’s best.
The pitch for the film was as simple as can be: “John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Blues Brothers, how about it?” Aykroyd’s original 324-page screenplay was transformed by John Landis in just a few short weeks and saw a huge ensemble of gifted musicians take to the screen. The result of this was far more than a smash-hit musical comedy; it would bring attention back to the raw and all-consuming sounds of soul, rhythm, and blues.
Behind the lead vocals of Belushi, and the harmonica playing of Aykroyd was one of the most remarkable musical casts ever assembled. The band included SNL band members saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini as well as trombonist-saxophonist Tom Malone. Perhaps the most grizzled cogs in the Blues Brothers machine were guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, the powerhouse combo from Booker T and the M.G.’s who are responsible for the landslide of hits which came out of Memphis’ Stax Records throughout the 1960s. Also added to the bill was trumpeter Alan Rubin, as well as guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy, each who had performed with their fair share of blues legends.
The film sees The Blues Brothers, two amateur musicians and petty criminals, take on a mission from God to reform their old band and raise funds to save the orphanage from which they grew up. While at first the talent of their backing band might be seen as understated throughout the film, their contributions went far from unrecognised.
However, it was the legendary names which joined the cast which declared the film as a true celebration of blues’ rich culture and remarkable community. Aretha Franklin, James Brown,Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker all make appearances as a diverse array of characters and perform some of their most-loved songs.
While it is hard to put the music aside from this film, there is far more to be loved. Filmed entirely in Chicago, The Blue Brothers emits the city’s unique aesthetic, featuring real places and landmarks which still remain tourist hotspots as a result of the film.
Of course, the film would not be complete without the iconic Bluesmobile, a 1974 Dodge Monaco sedan. The “decommissioned Mount Prospect police car” was purchased by Elwood Blues at an auction after he had traded his previous car for none other than a microphone. The car is featured in a number of high-speed car-chases which are still deemed by many as some of the greatest in film history.
What remains so clear throughout the film’s duration is that both Belushi and Aykroyd have a passion for music which goes far beyond a genuine fascination; a deep-cut obsession which influenced so much of their work. The Blues Brothers is a true musical and cinematic masterpiece which will shine brightly as a diamond in the rough for many years to come.