I have had the double-pack DVD of The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000 on my shelf for quite a few years. I didn’t need Blues Brothers 2000 but it was cheaper to buy the double-pack than just the original movie…
The Blues Brothers had a profound influence on me. It is possibly the movie I have seen the most – more than any other film. If not, then it’s right up there. I have seen it dozens of times.
I hadn’t watched it in years though. Possibly a decade – maybe longer…you see, my fascination with the film started when I was about eight years old. And lasted right through school until I left home – we had a copy of it, recorded from television (pause the ads!) and I would watch bits of it regularly after school. Some weeks I would get through the film in two sessions, two days in a row after school. Other times it might take the week to get through it. When I got a VCR in my bedroom (final years of high-school – flash!) I would watch it before going to sleep.
Just recently I sat down to watch The Blues Brothers again.
It all came flooding back…so many musical memories that stem from this film. I had heard plenty of blues music early on but this film gave me images of James Brown and John Lee Hooker. I recognised Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin but some of the other musicians involved were new to me. Some, like Cab Calloway were names I was hearing for the first time – as well as seeing.
The soundtrack album was crucial. Apart from the great blues standards and soul-jazz songs I guess, in a way, it was the first time I thought country music was cool too – if you can count the band’s take on Rawhide. (The line from the scene in the film where that song is performed – about both kinds of music – is on a par with the lines in This Is Spinal Tap as an endlessly quotable nugget).
Specifically the songs that were the big hits for us back in ’88 were Minnie The Moocher and Sweet Home Chicago. There were tapes playing as party music after the ceremony. And we all got up to dance when those two songs came on – then sat down when Bruce Springsteen and whatever else came on. Then got up again when the tape looped back around to the Blues Brothers.
When we got our first CD player one of the earliest compact discs in the house was The Best of the Blues Brothers – and this was my first indication that there had been life for The Blues Brothers beyond the film; that there was in fact performances and recordings by The Blues Brothers band before the movie. Skits on Saturday Night Live had seen Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi take the characters off the page and on to the stage. For real. Live with a band of session superstars, including Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper from Booker T & The MG’s.
Fast forward a couple more years and I am being asked to join a Blues Brothers review of sorts: a school band that was conceived by a teacher. To most he was just Mr. Walton but to a few in the know he was also Tim “Smokey” Walton bass player for Dusty Rhodes & The Bluesmobile. He “got the band back together” (for the first time) and we did versions of songs from the movie and from the Briefcase Full Of Blues and Made In America albums. It was good fun.
So all of this – and more – came flooding back watching the film; the great cameos, the comedy, the intentional absurdity of this classic cult hit. And Carrie Fisher (R.I.P) – not quite as special without those hair-buns to some, but to my mind it’s one of her best on-screen performances.
I knew, at the time of release (1998) that this film was a bad idea. But I wanted to see it anyway. I had an extra motivation beyond being a huge fan of the original. I had started writing reviews – music, movies, theatre, books, whatever I could get to. I could get to Blues Brothers 2000. So I did.
Just recently it was the first time I re-viewed one of cinematic history’s worst sequels. It will also be the last time.
Memories came back with this film too – specifically of being in a bar after my review had appeared and a friend of a friend approached me, challenging what I’d written, telling me that I “had focused far too much on the music”. I remember thinking that his comment was absurd – it was all the movie existed for. And it was the best thing about the film; they had overcompensated for a poor script and the fact that Belushi had died shortly after the first film. So at least there were return appearances from Aretha and James Brown and there was Wilson Pickett and B.B. King and members of the British blues revival (Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton).
They had even added contemporary players such as Johnny Lang (remember him?) and Blues Traveller (remember them?) and Erykah Badu (I hope you remember her).
In one of many repeat set-ups that is not a patch on what happens first time around we have the band go country, but instead of doing Rawhide it is a blues-adaptation of Ghost Riders In The Sky.
So I thought it was fair to discuss the music, mostly. Especially in those early reviewing days where it was all about accentuating the positive. Well, watching it again, not even the music stands up. Badu is great – even with a character that turns The Blues Brothers into green zombies (yes!) – but Blues Traveller and Johnny Lang should not have been allowed up on to the same dais that had held John Lee Hooker.
Ah, memories. I should have left Blues Brothers 2000 back at the theatre where I found it, over a decade ago. It was more embarrassing than watching an episode of Friends these days…
But that original film was (still) superb. I loved it. And can still use it as the touchstone that pointed me to B.B. King’s Live At The Regal and to James Brown and Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. It no doubt helped me understand and appreciate Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray too. And, for that matter, the early Rolling Stones…
Forward and back – American, English, traditional, stolen, embellished, derivative – blues and blues-rock in their many forms all came to me from the movie The Blues Brothers.
Click here to watch the original film trailer