John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd aren’t topnotch singers and musicians by any means, but their charisma and passion for blues music was palpable and genuine. Who would have thought that two comedians from Saturday Night Live would not only play their own music on live sketches but would start a legendary blues band that made a huge impact on the music industry? The biggest reason why the Blues Brothers weren’t a joke was because of the amount of musical talent that backed these comedians as the band was composed of well-known musicians.
Belushi and Aykroyd’s act was always split between comedy and music. The origin of the brothers was from a 1976 SNL performance where the two comedians dressed up in bee costumes to sing Slim Harpo’s song, “I’m a King Bee.” Two years later, the band released their first album. By the time the comedy film The Blues Brothers came out in 1980, the legend was already in the making.
This is a deep dive into the making of the band and what really went on behind the scenes of the movie (which is like a movie in itself!)
The Genesis of the Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers made their debut on January 17, 1976, as a sketch on Saturday Night Live. The sketch was of “Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band,” playing the Slim Harpo song “I’m a King Bee.” Belushi sang as lead vocalist ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues and Aykroyd played the harmonica as player/vocalist Elwood Blues. All the while dressed in bee costumes they wore for the already popular “The Killer Bees” sketches.
SNL’s music director, Howard Shore, had apparently jokingly suggested that Belushi and Aykroyd call their act the Blues Brothers. But that joke got all too real, and on April 22, 1978, they made their formal debut on SNL, backed by the show’s resident band. But it came to a point when the comedians wanted to take the show on the road, and so they wanted to play with a band that was really grounded in blues and soul. Basically, they wanted to be legit.
Forming the Band
It was SNL band keyboardist Paul Shaffer, who suggested that they keep some of the members of SNL’s resident band while bringing in key players with credentials in blues, jazz and R&B. With the help of Shaffer, Belushi and Aykroyd started getting together a collection of studio talents to form their band.
The SNL band members that Shaffer said were worthwhile keeping were saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini and trombonist-saxophonist Tom Malone (who used to play in Blood, Sweat & Tears). There was also guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn (from Booker T and the M.G.’s). Belushi called them up, turned on his charm, and essentially lured them into the band. But they still needed a trumpeter and blues guitarist, so Belushi got Juilliard-trained trumpeter Alan Rubin and guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy, who already performed with blues legends.
Creating a Fresh New Look
To get what would become their distinct Blues Brothers’ look, Belushi borrowed John Lee Hooker’s trademark Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses as well as his soul patch. Their resulting style of everyone wearing black hats, black suits, and black sunglasses was fresh. In many ways, it was different from the musical trends of that time.
In a 1988 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Aykroyd said their act borrowed from Sam and Dave and others. “Well, obviously, the duo thing and the dancing, but the hats came from John Lee Hooker. The suits came from the concept that when you were a jazz player in the ’40s, ’50s ’60s, to look straight, you had to wear a suit.”
This cool new blued band was just about ready to bring down the house that summer…
The Blues Brothers Rocked the House in 1978
In the summer of 1978, their now fully-formed band brought down the house down when they opened for fellow SNL comedian, Steve Martin, who was performing at the Universal Amphitheatre in California. Not only did they make a memorable appearance, but their performance was also recorded and became their debut album, called Briefcase Full of Blues. The album, released in November of that year, topped the charts.
The album reached #1 on Billboard’s top 200, went double platinum, and featured recordings of Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” and The Chips’ “Rubber Biscuit.” It was later that year that the band opened for the Grateful Dead on New Year’s Eve of 1978.
Before we get to the rest of the band’s journey and to the making of the movie, you might want to know how and why Belushi and Aykroyd even got into music…
The Cast Would Meet at Aykroyd’s Bar
After the live tapings of SNL, it was many cast members as well as the weekly hosts went to Aykroyd’s Holland Tunnel Blues bar, which he was rented out not too long after joining the cast of the show. Aykroyd and Belushi, already good friends, would fill the jukebox with songs by Sam and Dave, The Viletones, and other bands.
Belushi had bought an amplifier and they keep instruments there for anyone who felt in the mood for an impromptu jam session. It was at this bar that Aykroyd and Ron Gwynne (who become the story consultant for the movie) developed and wrote the story of the Blues Brothers. Aykroyd eventually turned the draft into a screenplay, better known as the “tome” (or book), because it just had so many pages.
Aykroyd Introduced Belushi to Blues Music
It was also at this bar that Aykroyd introduced Belushi to blues music. His newfound interest in the genre soon became a fascination, even obsession. It didn’t take long before the two buddies began singing with local blues bands. By the time Howard Shore made a comment about them calling themselves “The Blues Brothers,” their train had already left the station.
The Blues Brothers had their own raw and “live” sound, which was different compared to the newly popular use of sound synthesis and vocal-dominated music of the late 70s and 80s. Their music was based on R&B, blues, and soul, but it also drew heavily on rock and jazz, taking a blues standard and bringing a rock sound and style to it.
Aykroyd Has His Own Band Before SNL
Their band was partly modeled after Aykroyd’s previous experience with the Toronto-based Downchild Blues Band, which was actually one of the first professional blues bands in Canada (where Dan Aykroyd is originally from, by the way). He had occasionally played with the band in the early 70s, around the time he went to Carleton University in Ottawa. While he studied there, his interest in blues developed, and he would even perform at a local café called Le Hibou Coffee House.
As Aykroyd described it, “There was a little club called Le Hibou, which in French means ‘the owl.’ And it was run by a gentleman named Harvey Glatt, and he brought… every blues star that you or I would ever have wanted to have seen…I was going to Le Hibou and hearing James Cotton, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, and Muddy Waters.”
The Real Brothers Who Inspired the Band
At the coffee house in Ottawa, Aykroyd was already jamming with the biggest names in blues. But it was the Downchild Blues Band that inspired Aykroyd to form his own. The Downchild Blues was formed in 1969 by two brothers, Donnie and Richard “Hock” Walsh, which ended up being the inspiration for Aykroyd’s and Belushi’s characters. Aykroyd’s Elwood Blues was modeled after Donnie, the harmonica player, and guitarist.
Belushi’s Jake Blues character was shaped by Hock, the lead singer. In Briefcase Full of Blues, they featured three well-known Downchild songs: “I’ve Got Everything I Need (Almost),” “Shotgun Blues,” and “Flip, Flop and Fly,” co-written and originally made popular by Big Joe Turner. All three of those songs were on Downchild’s second album called Straight Up (1973). , with “Flip, Flop and Fly” becoming the band’s most successful single, in 1974.
When Danny Met Johnny
For those who would like to know, Aykroyd and Belushi met in Toronto in 1973 at a speakeasy called the 505 Club, which was owned by then 20-year-old Dan Aykroyd. For the three years, he had been performing with Second City, which was flourishing in Toronto at the time. Aykroyd was unwinding at the bar after a comedy show when 24-year-old charges through the back door.
Belushi, wearing a white scarf, leather jacket, and driver’s cap of the sort worn by aging cabbies. The two met earlier that evening at Second City. “We had heard of each other,” Aykroyd recalled. “We took one look at each other. It was love at first sight.” By that point, Belushi was a Second City “graduate.”
That night, Aykroyd played a record. “This is a nice record,” Belushi said. “What is it?” “A local blues band,” Aykroyd replied. “The Downchild Blues Band.” “Blues, huh? I don’t listen to too much blues.” After a brief silence, Aykroyd said, “John, you’re from Chicago.”
A Platonic Love Affair
And so a true bromance began. Both were young comic geniuses from the Greater Great Lakes region, but Belushi is basically and adult teenager. When people first met Belushi, he called them “pal.” Aykroyd was more precise and disciplined. He displays a kind of Canadian aloofness and formality. Apparently, when he first meets a man, he calls him “Sir.”
Aykroyd lives and dies for blues music, and it was this true passion that mesmerized Belushi, who was clearly a man who embraced everything to its fullest (hello, he was a true addict). Suddenly, it was all blues, all the time. Within a year, Belushi’s apartment had hundreds, maybe even thousands, of blues recordings. Their friendship and John’s obsession with music only grew with time.
The Summer of Belushi
Belushi’s interest in the blues became borderline obsessive by October of ‘77 when he was in Eugene, Oregon, on the set of National Lampoon’s Animal House. At the time of the filming, Belushi was actually sober and purposely didn’t stay with the rest of the cast so as to not get sucked into the party lifestyle. This might have been one of the reasons why he went to a local hotel to see the 25-year-old blues singer/harmonica player Curtis Salgado.
After the live show, Belushi and Salgado sat down and talked about the blues for hours. Salgado’s enthusiasm really impacted Belushi. In an interview at the time, he said: “I was growing sick of rock and roll, it was starting to bore me…and I hated disco, so I needed some place to go. I hadn’t heard much blues before. It felt good.”
Belushi Was Addicted to Blues
In a way, an addict is always addicted to something, whether it’s a drug or not. In this case, Belushi became addicted to blues music – a much more positive thing to be addicted to, that’s for sure. In an interview with Crawdaddy, he explained: “I couldn’t stop playing the stuff! I bought hundreds of records and singles. I walked around playing that sh*t all the time. And then I knew Danny [Aykroyd] had played the harmonica in Canada, and I always could sing, so we created the Blues Brothers.”
That pretty much sums it up! But there’s always more the story. Apparently, Salgado lent Belushi some albums by Floyd Dixon, Charles Brown, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, among others. By then, Belushi was hooked. It got to the point where Belushi would join Salgado on stage, sometimes singing the Floyd Dixon song “Hey, Bartender.”
He Always Wanted to Play Music
John Belushi always wants to play music; ever since high school. In his teens, he was the drummer in a garage band who called themselves the Ravens. He became the drummer as his bandmates rejected his singing ability. While his former garage bandmates didn’t really see Belushi’s potential, Aykroyd had faith in Belushi.
Belushi doesn’t have a great voice, but the thing about him is that he’s not just a singer; he’s a front man. And every band needs a striking lead singer. “The alpha Illinois male,” is what Aykroyd called him. “One of those people like Teddy Roosevelt or Mick Jagger. He was just one of those great charismatics who turned heads and dominated a room.”
Their album, Briefcase Full of Blues, went double platinum, and by Belushi’s 30th birthday (January 24, 1979), he had a #1 album, on a #1 TV show, and starred in a #1 movie. He was a star.
The Idea for the Movie
The old way in Hollywood was gone; by this time, stars ran the show, not the studios. Belushi, now a huge star, said: “I say we make the thing into a movie.” Dan Aykroyd obviously agreed. So they called Belushi’s manager, Bernie Brillstein, a Hollywood big shot who looks like a Jewish Santa. His reaction: “Sounds good.”
Universal Studios won the race to produce the soon-to-be film, and the director was an obvious choice. John Landis had already led Belushi and Animal House to fame. Universal execs throw out a pitch: “John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Blues Brothers, how about it?” The man on the other end of the line was Lew Wasserman… dubbed the “King of Hollywood,” the feared and almighty head of Universal Pictures.
Executive vs. Creative
Wasserman knew a deal when he saw it: Belushi will get $500,000, Aykroyd $250,000. The studio would get a potential blockbuster and maybe even a franchise. But a few details were left unresolved. Wasserman wanted the movie’s budget capped at $12 million. The creatives were thinking $20 million. The execs wanted filming wrapped by August 1979 (six months from then).
The creatives didn’t think it was possible, let alone desirable. They saw The Blues Brothers as a large-scale production with special effects, and a cast and crew of hundreds. Then there’s the script – at that point, they didn’t even have one. So Belushi urges writer Mitch Glazer to collaborate with Aykroyd. He said: “Just go figure something out.”
Problems Behind the Scenes
The band had doubts about making their band into a movie. By this point, Belushi’s own exit from SNL was inevitable. His last season, the 4th, was messy. He was spending too much time bouncing between New York and Los Angeles. He was getting tired of SNL, and SNL was getting tired of him. The drugs weren’t helping, either.
Aykroyd called Belushi “the boss of the Blues Brothers.” Whenever a band member had a problem, he turned to Belushi. Belushi always handled it. He somehow managed to be a father, a son, and a friend at the same time. During the film’s pre-production, Belushi and Aykroyd flee to Hollywood. By March, the film’s producer, Bob Weiss, got a call. “Be on your property tonight,” is what the said before he hung up.
Dealing with the Script
Weiss went home to find a thick package, wrapped within the cover of a phone book. It was Aykroyd’s screenplay, then called “The Return of the Blues Brothers.” It wasn’t the typical 120-page screenplay. It was 324 pages. The script had great scenes and ideas but was written in a free-verse style. The plot was detailed, with separate storylines about recruiting each of the eight backup musicians (which we’ll go into later on).
The movie was scheduled to begin shooting in two months. So Landis, with the script in hand, locked himself away and cut, cut, cut, and cut some more. Three weeks later, he emerged with a script that was, in essence, “shootable.”
Landis and Aykroyd then head to Chicago. Universal had already placed an ad in the trades. “It’s too late. Production has begun,” the ad read.
What Kind of Movie is it Anyway?
Filming began in July 1979, and things started out smoothly for about a month. The budget was set at $17.5 million, which back then was extreme, especially for a comedy. The truth is, no one can quite agree on what genre the movie is. There’s definitely comedy in it, but there are also car chases and crashing helicopters.
And it all revolves around four huge song-and-dance numbers, each starring another music star: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Cab Calloway. The genre was confusing, but one thing was bright and clear by August: production was falling behind, and fast. And that fact had a lot to do with Belushi. He was found at his speakeasy or sometimes not found at all. Except by cocaine, which found him everywhere.
Calls Were Made
October rolled around, and Lew Wasserman got a phone call. He was pissed off. Their big-ticket production, The Blues Brothers – a movie that some call a musical, a comedy, a buddy movie, or even a vanity project – was behind schedule and burning through its budget. And Wasserman thought the budget was too big even to begin with.
So now another call is made, and this time it’s Ned Tanen, Universal’s vice president (who was in charge of production) who called Ned Tanen, the vice president, shouting “I’m getting killed here!” He orders Daniel to do something, ANYTHING. So Daniel then calls the movie’s director, John Landis. Landis then calls his film’s stars. He reaches Aykroyd, who is always easy to find and deal with, and by far the best way to reach Belushi.
Everything Revolved Around Belushi
Belushi was the most electric and popular comic actor at the time. But it wouldn’t be fair to blame all of the movie’s problems on him. He isn’t to blame for the late-developing script or the awkward action sequences. But then again, Belushi had a major impact on the production. His spiraling (and ultimately deadly) addiction to cocaine put a damper on the making of the film.
On days when cocaine got the best of him, production would stall. And when production stalled, money was burned. And when money gets burned, Lew Wasserman gets fired up. And when Wasserman got fired up, people got scared. What could have been a somewhat simple production became a nightmare for Universal Pictures. The fate of the film was hanging on the amount of cocaine Belushi consumed.
Aykroyd Never Judged Him
Still, the filming continued despite the collective worrying about the budget. And considering how Belushi was the deal-breaker, people were desperate to get to him. But only two people could get to him: his wife, Judy, and Dan Aykroyd. Carie Fisher, Aykroyd’s former girlfriend, said, “There was a sense that, no matter what John did, Danny wouldn’t abandon him, that he didn’t think John was this awful person. He was really taking care of John.”
One night, while filming on a deserted lot in the town of Harvey, Illinois, Belushi disappeared (and he did that often). So Aykroyd followed a grassy path up to a house with a light on. “Uh, we’re shooting a film over here,” he said to the homeowner. “We’re looking for one of our actors.” “Oh, you mean Belushi?” the man replied. “He came in here an hour ago and raided my fridge. He’s asleep on my couch.” True story.
Hitting Rock Bottom
By now, the filming is over-budget by the millions, and the $17.5 million original budget is a thing of the past. Filming was supposed to wrap up by mid-September. Landis, frustrated, heads to Belushi’s trailer, and that’s when he sees a mountain of cocaine. Landis described it as a scene from Scarface. He flushed it all down the toilet.
After a short scuffle, “John hugged me and started sobbing and apologized. He and I are sitting there, both crying, and I’m going, ‘John, this is insane,’” Landis later described of the event. Finally, and carefully, Tanen said to Wasserman, “Lew, there is a core problem, a basic problem with John Belushi, and we’re just getting through it.” Wasserman’s response: “Finish the movie. Get on with it.”
On His Best Behavior
Filming may have been a sh*t show, but Belushi was on his best behavior when in the presence of the other musical stars like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Even others on the set were star struck by them. Lou Marini, one of the band’s horn players, saw Aretha Franklin taking a cigarette break and went up to her, saying, “I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your work.”
She turned to look at him, glanced at the number on the football jersey he was wearing. “Sixty-nine, huh?” she said and walked away. By the time they were going to shoot the movie’s climactic scene, the one where Belushi and Aykroyd are supposed to do cartwheels, dance steps, and all that jazz – some problems obviously occurred.
The Weeks Coming Up to the Release
A kid rode past Belushi on a skateboard, and Belushi asked to ride the board. He did, and he fell off. The producers find him clutching his knee in serious pain. In the end, they had to pull teeth to get a doctor to come in fast on Thanksgiving weekend to inject him with pain-relieving chemicals and wrap him up. Belushi had to bite the bullet through the finale.
In the weeks approaching the theatrical-release date (which was June 20, 1980), Landis screened The Blues Brothers for major theater owners. Most of them said, “This is a black movie, and white people won’t see it.” Also, the film was two and a half hours, not including the intermission! Landis had to cut at least 20 minutes off of it.
It Ended Up Making $115 Million
As it turns out, since the theater owners considered it a “black movie,” they didn’t get nearly enough theater bookings as they would have liked. Ted Mann, who owned Mann Theaters, said directly to John Landis: “I don’t want any blacks in Westwood.” According to Mann, “Mainly because of the musical artists you have. Not only are they black. They are out of fashion.”
A typical big-budget movie gets booked into about 1,400 movie theaters. The Blues Brothers got about 600 bookings. Add the frequent heckling reviews, i.e., “a ponderous comic monstrosity,” and the fact that they exceeded the budget by $10 million, and you can say that the skies were looking grey.
In the end, The Blues Brothers made $115 million. It became one of Universal’s most enduring hits. By genre, it is the 9th- highest-grossing musical and the 10th- highest earner among comedy road movies.
The 1998 Film
There are actually two Blues Brothers Movies. John Landis, rather bravely after the fiasco of the first one, directed the sequel to The Blues Brothers in 1998, which was called ‘Blues Brothers 2000.’ Moviegoers and critics weren’t big fans of the sequel, even though it was much more ambitious in terms of musical performances and had an even more extensive roster of guest artists than the first movie.
The story in the sequel picks up 18 years later when Elwood is being released from prison, and learning that his brother died. Elwood sets on reuniting his band and recruits some new singers, like John Goodman and Joe Morton. All the original band members were found, including Aretha Franklin and James Brown.
Sincere or Ironic?
It took a while for people to figure out whether The Blues Brothers band was a sincere tribute or a tongue-in-cheek joke. And I think even today, people aren’t sure. But believe it or not, Joliet Jake and his silent brother Elwood were among the most popular groups of the late 70s, and they became a true phenomenon.
Complete with hit records, sold-out concerts, and a feature film, the gang in their vintage black suits, ties, fedoras, and sunglasses delivered passionate renditions of classic soul hits. Let’s give credit where credit is due and look at each of the band members that formed the group that introduced soul and blues classics to a new generation of listeners.
Starting with Paul Shaffer…
Paul “The Shiv” Shaffer
Before Paul Shaffer became the musical director (and sidekick) on David Letterman’s late-night talk show, the SNL keyboardist not only suggested the band’s members, he was also the group’s musical director. He arranged the blues and soul covers to hit the right balance between the New York-based horn section and the Memphis/Chicago-based guitarists and bassist. But Shaffer didn’t get to be in the 1978 feature film.
Why? Because Belushi didn’t like that, Shaffer was splitting his efforts between the Blues Brothers and Gilda Radner’s Broadway show. So his role was played by actor-musician Murphy Dunne. After Belushi died in 1982, Shaffer started to work on Letterman’s show and for decades, his Letterman groups were known as the World’s Most Dangerous Band and/or the CBS Orchestra. The groups even included a couple Blues Brothers alumni.
Tom “Bones” Malone
Tom Malone and Paul Shaffer have been a musical team for a very long time. They were together in both the Saturday Night Live band and Letterman’s CBS Orchestra. The nickname Bones comes from him being a trombone player, but he also played saxophone and trumpet with the Blues Brothers. He was responsible for many of the horn arrangements, both live and in the studio.
Before his SNL and Blues Brothers work, Malone played in big bands and even played with Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Malone has been an in-demand session musician throughout his entire career, having worked with artists like Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Buddy Rich, Tina Turner, Carly Simon, Meat Loaf, and Lou Reed.
Jordan was the band’s drummer but didn’t appear in either of the movies. Jordan was the founding percussionist, coming from the SNL resident band. Jordan began his musical career as a teenager and, by the late 70s, he was already in his SNL tenure. He toured with the Blues Brothers, appeared on both live albums that were done with Belushi, and recorded tracks for the film’s soundtrack album.
But he wasn’t in the 1980 movie due to other commitments. Jordan explained (on ‘WTF with Marc Maron’ podcast) that he would rather make music than be in movies. He chose to go to Japan with the New York-based 24th Street Band instead. He was replaced by Stax drummer Willie Hall in the movie. Jordan also went on to play in the CBS Orchestra, and after a few years went did some drumming on the Rolling Stones’ 1986 LP ‘Dirty Work.’
Lou “Blue Lou” Marini
Like Malone and Jordan, Marini was also a New York-based musician brought aboard SNL’s band in the early days. The saxophone player famously stepped out of a tomb to play a solo during Steve Martin’s “King Tut” on SNL. Interestingly enough, that musical sketch was performed on the same night that Belushi and Aykroyd made their TV debut as the Blues Brothers.
Before SNL, Marini was a member of Blood, Sweat, and Tears and played on Lou Reed and Frank Zappa albums. After becoming an official Blues Brother, and appearing in both films and on every audio track, his high-profile work only increased. He went on to play tenor sax on Aerosmith’s “Chiquita” and played in the horn section on records by Meat Loaf, B.B. King, the J. Geils Band, Aretha Franklin.
Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin
Alan Rubin’s bandmates said that he got his nickname from Belushi due to his brash, but humorous, sense of entitlement. The trumpeter backed up the attitude not just with the hat and glasses, but he came from New York’s Juilliard School of Music. He was accepted at 17 only to quit before graduation to play lead with Robert Goulet’s band.
He made his way to SNL and then joined the Blues Brothers. Like in any big group, there are bound to be disagreements. The Blues Brothers’ most significant clash was between Rubin and Steve Cropper (who’s next on the list). Rubin was the trumpet player on Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and backed Frank Sinatra’s band. Rubin continued to record and perform with his Brothers until his passing in 2011 from lung cancer. He was 68 years old.
Steve “The Colonel” Cropper
None of the members is more important to the history of pop music than Steve Cropper. Belushi nicknamed him “The Colonel” because he was landing hit singles before he and Aykroyd were teenagers. Cropper is a triple threat: a guitar player, a songwriter, and a producer. He was a member of Booker T. and the M.G.’s, played with just about all of the soul greats of the ’60s.
He co-wrote Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood,” and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Cropper was one of the creators of the Memphis soul sound. He later played on Ringo Starr’s and John Lennon’s solo records. And all this was before he joined the Blues Brothers. And you can probably imagine how much convincing it took to get him on board.
Donald “Duck” Dunn
Dunn joined Booker T., and the M.G.’s in 1964 and it’s his bass playing on Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love,” Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose” that you heard. The last one later became the Blues Brothers’ intro tune. Dunn is one of the most respected and influential bass players in the history of music.
Dunn backed Elvis Presley, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and more (as if those names aren’t impressive enough). His nickname “Duck” came before the Blues Brothers. His father gave it to him when they would watch cartoons together. Duck’s name might be cute, but the pipe-smoking bassist was reserved, and his sense of humor was witty. He enjoyed his line in the movie: “We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline.” Dunn died in 2012 at the age of 70.
Matt “Guitar” Murphy
Matt Murphy was brought on board to electrify the group’s take on Chicago blues. Born and raised in Mississippi, the Blues Hall of Famer moved to Chicago before by the age of 20 and started playing his guitar with Howlin’ Wolf not long after. Murphy played blues, R&B, and rock ’n’ roll giants, like Little Junior Parker, Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Memphis Slim, Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, and James Cotton.
When he joined the Blues Brothers in 1978, Aykroyd and Belushi knew they were working with an amazing player. The fictionalized version of Murphy is the on-again/off-again love interest of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, in both movies. Murphy eventually began a solo career in the 90s. He later died of a heart attack in 2018 when he was 88.
Tom “Triple Scale” Scott
Tom Scott, the saxophonist, was featured on every Belushi-era track but wasn’t seen in the 1980 movie. His sax playing is heard throughout the soundtrack, most notably on “Shake a Tail Feather” with Ray Charles. The reputable Los Angeles session player and solo fusion bandleader already put out 10 of his own records before even joining the Blues Brothers.
He played the famous sax solo on Wings’ “Listen to What the Man Said” and wrote the ‘Starsky & Hutch’ theme song. He was brought into the Blues Brothers by Tom “Bones” Malone,” specifically for their Los Angeles shows in 1978. He left the band in 1980, reportedly due to salary problems. In the 80s and after, Scott became heavily involved in TV work. He was a reliable music director for awards telecasts, including the Oscars, the People’s Choice Awards, and the Emmy Awards.
Murphy “Murph” Dunne
There was already a Murphy as well as a Dunn in the Blues Brothers band by 79, so why not add a Murphy Dunne? When Shaffer wasn’t going to be in the 1980 movie, the group took on the Chicago native as both an actor and a musician. Dunne had projects that blended music and comedy such as the Conception Corporation and Lenny and the Squigtones.
Unlike the other band members, “Murph” had acted in movies before, including Mel Brooks’ ‘High Anxiety,’ ‘Oh, God!’ and ‘Tunnel Vision.’ Dunne stayed with the band for the post-movie tour and appeared on the ‘Made in America’ live album. From the 80s to today, Dunne has appeared on a number of TV shows, including ‘Simon & Simon,’ ‘Murphy Brown,’ ‘Night Court,’ ‘Frasier’ and ‘Mad About You.’
Willie “Too Big” Hall
Willie Hall also joined the Blues Brothers for the 1980 film, becoming the band’s drummer when Steve Jordan went to Japan instead. Hall wasn’t a stranger to filling in. In 1977, when Booker T. and the M.G.’s reunion record, ‘Universal Language,’ was being made, Hall became the band’s drummer after their founding percussionist, Al Jackson Jr. was murdered in 1975.
Recommended by Cropper and Dunn, Hall was an obvious choice. He drummed for artists like Johnnie Taylor, Rufus Thomas, and the Staple Singers. His most notable collaborator was Isaac Hayes. Hall’s biggest claim to fame was drumming on the “Theme from ‘Shaft.’” But he isn’t just an R&B drummer, his work has spanned rock, (Bonnie Raitt, Roger McGuinn), disco (KC and the Sunshine Band), and country (Earl Scruggs, Billy Joe Shaver).
The End of Belushi
The day before he died, John Belushi asked his long-time manager Bernie Brillstein for money. Brillstein said no, assuming it was for drugs. Later that day, when Brillstein had another visitor in his office, Belushi returned and asked for money again. This time, Brillstein complied, not wanting to spark an argument in front of another person. The next day, on March 5, 1982, Belushi’s fitness trainer and bodyguard, Bill Wallace, found Belushi dead in his bungalow.
The cause of death was drug intoxication involving cocaine and heroin. Just that morning, Belushi was visited separately by friends Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, and Catherine Evelyn Smith. Two months later, in an interview with the National Enquirer, Smith admitted that she was with Belushi the night of his death, and she was the one who gave him the fatal speedball shot. Smith was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. A plea bargain then reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter. She served 15 months in prison.