It’s not often that a comedy skit turns into a legendary music group, but that’s how the Blues Brothers were born.
The comedy and acting duo of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd created the characters of Jake and Elwood Blues as a skit for Saturday Night Live in 1978. It wasn’t long before it became a popular and recurring feature on the late-night show, impressive for both its comedic and musical brilliance.
But it was the pair’s 1980 movie version of Jake and Elwood’s saga that immortalized the fictional bandleaders as not only legendary comedy figures but as frontmen for one of the greatest blues and R&B bands ever put together.
Released 33 years ago this week, the movie succeeded thanks to the comic genius and chemistry of Belushi and Aykroyd, and their ability to put together an all-star line musical lineup built around the Saturday Night Live band.
The group included legendary guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, who both played with Booker T. and the MGs, Otis Redding and Sam & Dave, and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, a Mississippi-born guitar player whose resume included stints with blues greats Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Otis Rush, Etta James, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Cotton and Memphis Slim. Also in the band was keyboard player Paul Shaffer, best known as the sidekick and band leader on David Letterman’s late-night talk shows.
Belushi and Aykroyd also stayed loyal to the Saturday Night Live band, which backed up the pair when they launched the Blues Brothers on the show. The movie band included talented SNL musicians like saxophone player “Blue” Lou Marini, horn players Alan Rubin and Tom “Bones” Malone, and drummer Steve Jordan.
Of course, what made the movie and its soundtrack legendary were the guest artists who appeared in the film. Backed by the Blues Brothers band, the movie featured musical icons like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and John Lee Hooker, making the soundtrack a remarkable blues and R&B collection.
Belushi’s death two years after the film’s release ensured that a legitimate sequel would never be made. Aykroyd did team up with John Goodman for a follow-up flick titled “Blues Brothers 2000.” While the 1998 release did include legendary musicians like Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett, and a stirring performance by a young Jonny Lang, the sequel fell flat without the performing and writing chemistry once shared by Belushi and Aykroyd.
The upside is that the music created by the pair and their backup roster in 1980 is still there. While it might sound dated to some younger fans, those of us who have a deep-seeded appreciation for blues and R&B can tell you it’s timeless.
But listen for yourself. Here’s one of the most memorable tunes from the film, with Ray Charles performing “Shake a Tail Feather” with Belushi and Aykroyd on backup vocals. Enjoy:
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