The genesis of the Blues Brothers can be traced back to this moment in January of 1976. Shortly after joining the cast of Saturday Night Live, Akroyd rented the Holland Tunnel Blues Bar, which quickly became the hangout of SNL's guests,… Read more
The genesis of the Blues Brothers can be traced back to this moment in January of 1976. Shortly after joining the cast of Saturday Night Live, Akroyd rented the Holland Tunnel Blues Bar, which quickly became the hangout of SNL's guests, cast, and crew members. With a jukebox stocked with blues songs and musical equipment available for anyone in the mood to jam, it was here that the Blues Brothers concept was born. SNL's music arranger, Paul Shaffer was enlisted to assist Belushi and Akroyd at assembling their own band. SNL band members, Lou Marini and Tom Malone, both horn section vets of Blood, Sweat & Tears, were immediately enlisted, as was SNL drummer, Steve Jordan. Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn, the guitar and bass powerhouse behind Booker T & The MGs and a long list of hits from Memphis' Stax Records label, were also brought on board at Shaffer's suggestion. Juilliard-trained Alan Rubin was brought in on trumpet and Matt Murphy, a veteran blues guitarist, who had played with Howlin Wolf, James Cotton, and other legends, was also brought into the fold. Bar-Kays' drummer Willie Hall, a close friend of Cropper and Dunn, was also enlisted, as was pianist Murphy Dunne. Once this stellar assemblage of musicians was outfitted with black suits and Ray-Ban sunglasses, the classic Blues Brothers stylistic image was in place.
The group's repertoire was firmly based on R&B, blues, and soul classics, but with a distinct rock sound that appealed to younger audiences. One of Belushi and Akroyd's primary models was the Toronto based Downchild Blues Band, co-founded by brothers Donnie and Richard Walsh. The group specialized in a high spirited, bar-band-esque style of jump-band and Chicago-style blues, which the Blues Brothers would also pursue, adding several of Donnie Walsh's songs to their repertoire and adopting their arrangements on several others. With a horn section that excelled at the clean, jazz-influenced sound of New York City and the rest of the band reflecting the grittier blues of Chicago and the soul sounds of Memphis, Paul Shaffer began developing additional song arrangements to beef up their repertoire. With all these musical resources at their disposal, Belushi and Akroyd synthesized these elements into their own distinctive style, toning down their comedic flare and maintaining a strong reverence for the music. Quite different from the prevailing disco-oriented, vocal-dominated music of 1977/78, the Blues Brothers were a breath of fresh air amidst the formulaic music so popular at the time. The added television exposure on Saturday Night Live soon turned the Joliet and Jake Blues stage characters into pop culture icons of the day and even led to a full-length feature film deal. While opening for comedian Steve Martin at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1978, the Blues Brothers recorded their debut album, Briefcase Full Of The Blues.
The group would go on to craft more albums, but their ride would never be the same after John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982. Akroyd attempted to revive the group with the 1998 film Blues Brothers 2000, but it enjoyed limited success.