The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers

America got their first glimpse of the Blues Brothers during a 1978 episode of Saturday Night Live. Jake and Elwood (played by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd respectively) brought the house down with their energizing performance, leading to more appearances on the popular show and a well-received album. In 1980, they brought the pair to the big screen in The Blues Brothers, a beloved film filled with great music and plenty of car crashes.

The origin of these fictional performers begins in Oregon, of all places, during Belushi’s stint filming the cult classic Animal House. Tired of rock and roll, Belushi was introduced to blues by a friend and loved it. After performing on a few occasions with friends, he recruited Akroyd, adapted John Lee Hooker’s sunglasses and some beatnik black suits to the act, and made history. With the release of their double platinum album Briefcase Full of Blues in 1978, popularity for the bogus band was high enough to ensure the endorsement of a feature film.

When “Joliet” Jake Blues is finally released from prison, his brother Elwood picks him up in a converted police cruiser and takes him to the Catholic orphanage where they were raised. To their dismay, the brothers learn that the church has ceased supporting the orphanage, leaving it to the mercy of its creditors who demand payment on back taxes within eleven days. To the brothers Blue, the answer seems simple: get the band back together and stage a huge gig to save the orphanage.

But their “mission from God” to raise five grand is plagued throughout their travels as they seem to make enemies at every turn, including Neo Nazis, ex-fiance’s, and the respectable law enforcement officials of the Illinois Highway Patrol.

Many of the musical performances in the film are actually done live while filming (rather than lip-synched, as was the standard), including those by James Brown and John Lee Hooker. Carrie Fisher appears in the big-screen adaptation – no surprise, as she just so happened to be the guest host on the SNL episode during which the Blues Brothers first appeared. The film also features cameos from various musical gods and goddesses, including Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin.

At the time of its release, The Blues Brothers wasn’t just renowned for comedy and great musical performances, but it also held the record for most number of cars crashed. Twelve different Bluesmobiles – each converted from a 1974 Dodge Monaco and each featuring the exact specification enumerated by Elwood – were used for the film.

The Blues Brothers did well at the box office, eventually becoming a cult classic. Two years after its release, however, Belushi was found dead in a Hollywood bungalow, seemingly putting an end to any hopes of a sequel or any more appearances. That proved not to be the case on either count. Akroyd continued to perform on occassion with a number of guest singers, most notably Jim Belushi, John’s brother. Also, in tribute to his fallen friend, Aykroyd helped to open a franchise of nightclubs around the country called The House of Blues, which continue to thrive to this day.

Finally, in 1998, Aykroyd, Jim Belushi and John Goodman (another occassional replacement for Belushi) teamed up for the long-awaited sequel, Blues Brothers 2000. Several performers from the first film revised their roles for the sequel, and there was still plenty of great music. Still, the film failed to capture the charm of the original, which still holds up today as one heck of a fun cinematic adventure.

If you count yourself as a fan of Jake and Elwood, and hold a particular fondness for this film, we’d love to hear all of your thoughts in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to this pair of performers that introduced many to the genre, and put on a show like nobody else.

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