Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Blues Brothers

Summer of 1980, I flew on a plane to Chicago, Illinois and saw "The Blue Brothers."

Who doesn't remember that experience? The catch-phrases? The imagery? The exuberance? We spent the next few years ushering bits of the movie into our collective consciousness.

"We're on a mission from God."

"No, ma'am. We're musicians."

"Oh, we got both kinds. We got country *and* western. "

"Well thank you, pal. The day I get outta prison, my own brother picks me up in a *police* car! "

The music was awesome, the slapstick was out of this world - no-one had seen anything like it. Director John Landis was at his prime and the movies haven't been the same since. Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi actually toured with members of the all-star blues band including Donald Dunn, Willie Hall, Lou Marini, Steve Cropper, Matt Murphy and Tom Malone. Other musical luminaries included Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and a man that I had an interesting encounter with.

While working at Universal Studios in 1989, I was at Telly's bar and grille in the Universal Sheraton, sucking down beer after a hard day of giving tours on the backlot. A dapper man in a white tux and tails walked into the place (no lie) and proceeded to hit the bar, order a beer and then settle down at the chain-link fence for a sit-down. No-one talked to him.

I looked at the guy, incredulous. Looked at the crowd, even more incredulous, then sat down next to him and attempted to laugh into the conversation.

"Man, you know, when you sat down here, I thought you were Cab Calloway."

He looked at me with serious eyes and said, "I AM Cab Calloway."

This hit me like a brick, because I knew that he was on the lot filming a Janet Jackson video. We talked a lot. What an amazing moment in time.

But back to the Blues Brothers. Their zeitgeist was brief, for John Belushi left this world and it was all over. At least until 1998 when director John Landis brought the franchise back to the screen in "Blues Brothers 2000." This time, John Goodman filled in the formidable space left by Belushi, but the magic just wasn't the same. The story was a mess and the freshness of the original concept from 1980 just seemed wilted. Yet, the music was powerful, featuring B.B. King, Junior Wells, Jonny Lang, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Isaac Hayes, Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Preston, Lou Rawls, Koko Taylor, Jimmie Vaughn, Grover Washington Jr., Steve Winwood, Blues Traveler and many others. In short - the movie sucked. The music didn't.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, the House of Blues franchise was launched and in 1997, the HOB at Walt Disney World opened. As a local journalist, I ended up as honorary press for the place and attended not only the opening, but also a number of fine shows in the venue. A couple of years later, my band Mohave would perform quite a few times.

So, back to The Blues Brothers. Tonight, a friend's band, The Smokin' Torpedoes, were scheduled to open for the duo, comprised of Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi and a touring band. Apart from shooting video for the band, I also looked forward to seeing the act live and in person for the first time, with the imagery of "Blues Brothers 2000" in the back of my head.

All in all - it was a fine show. The Torps never sounded better - and The Blues Brothers, well - the music was phenomenal. And for someone who has grown up with the movies of Ackroyd and Belushi, it was pretty cool to see them on-stage, holding their own with a blues band and delivering a live show for the crowd. Not to mention the fact that, without The Blue Brothers, there would be no House Of Blues. Forget the fact that Elwood is no longer the skinny beanpole that he used to be - I give him props for wailing on the harmonica and laying down on the stage floor with Belushi in a celebration of utter silliness. Along with all that - the duo gave a credible blues rave-up, something that is sorely lacking in the main music hall of the HOB, which has given itself over to more mainstream rock and roll, leaving the blues music to simmer in the kitchen adjacent to the main theater.

I may never catch this act on the road again, so it was a joy to catch it tonight. And it left me both dreamy and disgruntled. On one hand, you can never go home again. But then again - you can sure try, and with enough effort, you can rip the roof off the mother.

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