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Editorial Content for The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic

Contributors

Reviewer (text)

Ray Palen

Not only is THE BLUES BROTHERS a comprehensive exploration of the fictional blues singers Jake and Elwood Blues, it’s also a fascinating look at the careers of its portrayers, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Daniel de Visé gives us so much to savor in this book, especially when it comes to his treatment of the late, great Belushi. It is sobering to see how everyone within his orbit during his meteoric rise knew that he was going to flame out shortly. But what a ride it was!

The history is taken chronologically, which I love when we are dealing with such a lengthy period of time. However, the Prologue opens with the moment the world meets Jake and Elwood. It was on April 22, 1978, during the third season of “Saturday Night Live.” The opening sketch started with Paul Shaffer doing his Don Kirschner impression as he introduced the two Ray-Ban sunglasses-wearing, black-suited brothers from Joliet, Illinois. At first, the audience didn’t know what to make of it. Was it a comic bit or not? Their first song, “Hey Bartender,” was backed by a professional-sounding band, and the boys brought it home. The Blues Brothers were born!

"THE BLUES BROTHERS is a pleasure to behold and is expertly researched by De Visé. So step back in time to what many people consider a better, more innocent, fun-loving age and immerse yourself with the legends known as The Blues Brothers."

John Belushi’s quick wit and knack for improv comedy put him on the map and launched a career that began with the Second City troupe in Chicago. His time there even found him visiting the start-up branch in Toronto, which is where he met Dan Aykroyd. He then did his Joe Cocker impersonation for the off-Broadway show “Lemmings,” which also starred Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest. He loved New York City and caught the eye of NBC producer Lorne Michaels, who was putting together a cast for a late-night sketch comedy show. His first hire was Gilda Radner, also an alumnus from Second City Toronto, followed by Belushi and (thanks to Belushi’s recommendation) Aykroyd.

Even though Aykroyd’s journey was different coming from Canada, he and Belushi hit it off right away like kismet. Soon they found themselves in competition with Chase for the spotlight on “SNL” during an inaugural season where none of them thought there would be a second.

Belushi hated doing the recurring Bees sketch, but it was suggested that he turn it into a rock number with a band of bee-costumed musicians as they performed “I’m a King Bee.” It was a hit, and it got Belushi and Aykroyd thinking about the characters they had created on a lark: Jake and Elwood Blues. This brings us to the moment depicted in the Prologue when The Blue Brothers made their triumphant debut on “SNL.” It helped launch the careers of Belushi and Aykroyd in music and film, and eventually led to their departure from the show for Hollywood.

Belushi already had found much success with Animal House and was signed on for the Steven Spielberg film 1941, where he also got Aykroyd and John Candy small roles. Although it bombed at the box office, Belushi and Aykroyd were inspired to write a script for a Blues Brothers movie. It took a long time to move from concept to screen, and the stories about the John Landis-directed film are legendary. The numerous cameos included Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker and Cab Calloway. The Blues Band was made up of some of the best musicians out there, including legendary blues/rock guitarists Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn.

The movie was overblown, overlong and overbudget, and some screen tests said that it was too muddled and “too black” for a white audience. Belushi and Aykroyd scoffed at the criticism and stuck to their guns. Thirty minutes were trimmed from the director’s cut, and The Blues Brothers became one of the highest grossing pictures of 1980. It is still considered a cult classic with some of the best music, comedy and stunts/car chases ever recorded on film.

As much fun as this book is, it’s like watching Titanic. You’re enjoying it so much that you almost forget about the tragic ending. On March 5, 1982, John Belushi died from a drug overdose at the age of 33. Even with this morose bit that needs to be experienced to truly appreciate their legacy, THE BLUES BROTHERS is a pleasure to behold and is expertly researched by De Visé. So step back in time to what many people consider a better, more innocent, fun-loving age and immerse yourself with the legends known as The Blues Brothers. Hit it!

Teaser

“They’re not going to catch us,” Dan Aykroyd, as Elwood Blues, tells his brother Jake, played by John Belushi. “We’re on a mission from God.” So opens the musical action comedy The Blues Brothers, which hit theaters on June 20, 1980. Much delayed and vastly over budget, beset by mercurial and oft-drugged-out stars, the film opened to outraged reviews. However, in the 44 years since, it has been acknowledged a classic. Based on original research and dozens of interviews probing the memories of principals from director John Landis and producer Bob Weiss to Aykroyd himself, THE BLUES BROTHERS illuminates an American masterpiece while vividly portraying the creative geniuses behind modern comedy.

Promo

“They’re not going to catch us,” Dan Aykroyd, as Elwood Blues, tells his brother Jake, played by John Belushi. “We’re on a mission from God.” So opens the musical action comedy The Blues Brothers, which hit theaters on June 20, 1980. Much delayed and vastly over budget, beset by mercurial and oft-drugged-out stars, the film opened to outraged reviews. However, in the 44 years since, it has been acknowledged a classic. Based on original research and dozens of interviews probing the memories of principals from director John Landis and producer Bob Weiss to Aykroyd himself, THE BLUES BROTHERS illuminates an American masterpiece while vividly portraying the creative geniuses behind modern comedy.

About the Book

The story of the epic friendship between John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the golden era of improv, and the making of a comedic film classic that helped shape our popular culture.

“They’re not going to catch us,” Dan Aykroyd, as Elwood Blues, tells his brother Jake, played by John Belushi. “We’re on a mission from God.” So opens the musical action comedy The Blues Brothers, which hit theaters on June 20, 1980. Their scripted mission was to save a local Chicago orphanage. But Aykroyd, who conceived and wrote much of the film, had a greater mission: to honor the then-seemingly forgotten tradition of rhythm and blues, some of whose greatest artists --- Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles --- made the film as unforgettable as its wild car chases.

Much delayed and vastly over budget, beset by mercurial and oft-drugged-out stars, The Blues Brothers opened to outraged reviews. However, in the 44 years since, it has been acknowledged a classic: it has been inducted into the National Film Registry for its cultural significance, even declared a “Catholic classic” by the Church itself, and reaired thousands of times on television to huge worldwide audiences. It is, undeniably, one of the most significant films of the 20th century.

The story behind any classic is rich; the saga behind The Blues Brothers, as Daniel de Visé reveals, is epic, encompassing the colorful childhoods of Belushi and Aykroyd; the comedic revolution sparked by Harvard’s Lampoon and Chicago’s Second City; the birth and anecdote-rich, drug-filled early years of "Saturday Night Live," where the Blues Brothers were born as an act amidst turmoil and rivalry; and, of course, the indelible behind-the-scenes narrative of how the film was made, scene by memorable scene.

Based on original research and dozens of interviews probing the memories of principals from director John Landis and producer Bob Weiss to Aykroyd himself, THE BLUES BROTHERS illuminates an American masterpiece while vividly portraying the creative geniuses behind modern comedy.

Audiobook available, read by Johnny Heller