According to "Don Kirshner" (actually Saturday Night Live bandleader Paul Shaffer
in disguise), the Blues Brothers' history was as follows: "In 1969, Marshall Checker, of the legendary Checkers Records, called me on a new blues act that had been playing in the small, funky clubs on Chicago's South Side....Today they are no longer an authentic blues act, but have managed to become a viable commercial product." In reality, however, vocalist Jake and harpist Elwood Blues were music lovers John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, two of SNL's brightest stars who created their respective aliases in early 1976 to warm up crowds before performances of the hit series. The Blues Brothers made their national TV debut with Belushi and Aykroyd outfitted in the bee costumes they often wore for another sketch, performing (naturally enough) Slim Harpo
's "I'm a King Bee," and in the months to follow they grew in popularity, appearing on the program with increasing regularity.
The Blues Brothers' band included top Memphis session men like guitarist Steve Cropper
and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, who together appeared on many of the original Stax label recordings of songs in the group's repertoire; later incarnations also featured notables like bluesman Matt "Guitar" Murphy
. While opening for comedian Steve Martin
in Los Angeles in 1978, the Blues Brothers recorded their debut live LP, Briefcase Full of Blues; the album quickly went platinum, launching Top 40 hit covers of "Soul Man" and "Rubber Biscuit." They also toured in 1980 to promote their feature-length movie, The Blues Brothers, a sprawling musical comedy featuring cameos by everyone from Cab Calloway
to Aretha Franklin
, as well as their second LP, Made in America; two more Top 40 hits -- "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "Who's Making Love" -- appeared that same year.
In 1981, The Best of the Blues Brothers was released, further solidifying their massive popularity; however, on March 5, 1982, Belushi died in Hollywood of an accidental drug overdose, and the Blues Brothers' saga was effectively over. Or so it seemed; as the movie remained a cult favorite and old Saturday Night Live sketches continued to run in syndication, the group's "legend" continued to grow, and, in 1988, Cropper
, Dunn, Murphy
, and other players re-formed the Blues Brothers Band for a world tour, often backing singer Eddie Floyd
. In 1992, they even cut a new LP, Red White and Blues, which featured a guest appearance from Aykroyd/Elwood. Around the same time, Aykroyd also mounted his House of Blues franchise, an international chain of upscale blues joints; he, actor John Goodman, and Belushi's brother Jim also appeared on occasion in a new Blues Brothers lineup. Finally, in 1998 a second movie, Blues Brothers 2000, was released to negative reviews and poor box office returns. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi