It exploded into a national phenomenon
It’s 2020 which means the seminal blues-based jukebox musical The Blues Brothers is turning 40-years old. The hugely popular, and hugely expensive musical romp is remembered as one of the most fun films ever made and stands as a testament to the creative genius of the late John Belushi. In the week The Blues Brothers was released the comedy legend starred in the number one film in the country, the number one TV show in the country, and was singing lead for the number one band in the country.
The group was born out of the New York City bar Dan Ackroyd owned when he was Belushi’s castmate on Saturday Night Live in the mid-1970s. The two friends would spend countless late nights drinking and listening to the classic blues records they stuffed the jukebox with. From there the idea evolved into a sketch on SNL, before it exploded into a national phenomenon.
Ackroyd and Belushi went about collecting one of the finest groups of musicians ever assembled to back their musical vision and came away with a veritable all-star band of blues touring and studio musicians. Along with pianist and musical director Paul Schaeffer, the brothers in black suits went about rounding up the SNL horn section, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn from Booker T and the M.C.’s, Matt “Guitar” Murphy who played with Etta James and Willie Dixon among many others, and Julliard trained trumpet ace Alan Rubin.
It was the drive and energy of Ackroyd and Belushi that birthed the group, but it was the credibility of the players they surrounded themselves with that made them one of the best selling blues bands of all-time. It was on the backs of the popular SNL interludes, and the overwhelming success of the band that the classic comedy musical was built. As much as Ackroyd, and even more so Belushi were the stars of the show, it was the tremendous musicianship of the group that afforded them a show worthy of their star.
The 1980 film The Blues Brothers was almost a victory lap for the successes of the band. One more big performance to put the guys in front of its biggest audience to date. On a mission from god, just like they are in the movie, Ackroyd and Belushi brought the gospel of Sam & Dave, Muddy Waters, and Memphis Slim to the mainstream masses, and they did it with a reverence for the craft and panache unseen before them.
Dan Ackroyd is fond of saying that The Blues Brother Show Band is the third-best blues revue of all-time behind only the mythic James Brown, and the iconic Tina Turner and the numbers are definitely there to back up that claim. The Blues Brothers have sold as many records and as many tickets as any of the greats and have cemented their legacy as one of the best Blues Bands ever. Plus, their movie boasted the legacy of having the most cars destroyed in a single movie before it’s sequel Blues Brothers 2000 was released.
The Blues Brothers is a movie made with a real love for the music and not just an exploitative notion of making money. It was produced and released by people who really put their heart and soul into the finished product and that shined through in every scene. Four decades after its release the film is still turning people on to some of the most iconic music in history through its hilarious story and super slick song and dance numbers. If you have never seen The Blues Brothers celebrate the films 40th Anniversary by checking it out and if you have seen it, do a friend a favor and make them watch it with you and spread the magic.