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Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues), full name Daniel Edward Aykroyd; born July 1, 1952, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (came to United States, 1974; naturalized citizen); son of Samuel Cuthbert Peter Hugh (a Canadian government official) and Lorraine Gougeon Aykroyd; married Donna Dixon (an actress), April 29, 1983. John Belushi (Joliet Jake Blues); born January 24, 1949, in Wheaton, Illinois; died of a suspected drug overdose March 5, 1982, in Los Angeles, California (buried in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts); son of Adam (a restaurant owner) and Agnes (a cashier) Belushi; married Judy Jacklin (a writer), December 31, 1976. Addresses: Dan Aykroyd-- 8955 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048.

The Blues Brothers began as a novelty musical act formed by famed comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi to warm up audiences of the television show "Saturday Night Live," but the duo's brand of rhythm and blues proved so popular that their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, went double-platinum, selling over 2.8 million copies. Elwood and Joliet Jake Blues--as Aykroyd and Belushi respectively called their alter egos in matching dark suits, skinny ties, dark glasses, and fedoras--went on to make other successful albums and starred in the popular 1980 film The Blues Brothers. The act came to an end with Belushi's death in 1982.

Aykroyd and Belushi came from very different backgrounds. Aykroyd was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and had once been on his way to becoming a priest before he was kicked out of the seminary. Belushi was born and raised in Wheaton, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago; in his youth he was undecided whether to pursue a show-business career or concentrate on football (his talents at the latter would have paid his way through college). Neither had much in the way of formal musical training in his youth, but Aykroyd became a proficient harmonica player, and Belushi served as the drummer in a band called the Ravins when he was in high school. Belushi also made quite an impression on comedy critics with his famed imitation of rock star Joe Cocker, which he performed during his days with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago and in the National Lampoon musical stage spoof "Lemmings."

The two future blues musicians met when Belushi went to check out the Toronto version of Second City, in which Aykroyd was one of the most promising players. They quickly became friends, and in 1975 they both found themselves cast members of the ground-breaking television comedy show "Saturday Night Live." Though at first they stood in the shadow of the popular comedian Chevy Chase, after Chase left the show Aykroyd and Belushi came into their own with routines like the Coneheads and various Samurai warrior interpretations, respectively.

Meanwhile, Aykroyd had introduced Belushi to the blues, a music genre with which he had long been enamored, and Belushi came to share his enthusiasm. A prototype--of sorts--of the Blues Brothers act was first seen on "Saturday Night Live" on January 17, 1976. According to Bob Woodward in his biography of Belushi, Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi, the pair asked "Saturday Night" producer Lorne Michaels if they could do a blues number on that show. Michaels preferred that they do a bee skit--another of the program's recurring sketches, and one that Belushi despised--so a compromise was reached. Woodward describes the result: "Danny wore a fedora with antennae and sunglasses, and John dressed in his bee costume and wire-rimmed glasses. Danny played the harmonica while John sang, 'I'm a King Bee,' interrupting the song to do full body flips, landing flat on his back once. He started out singing the blues but slipped gradually into his Joe Cocker voice; it was a big hit with the audience, clearly not because they were talented musicians but because Belushi hurled himself into the part with such vehemence."

Later, in the costumes that would become the Blues Brothers' standard look, Aykroyd and Belushi warmed up the "Saturday Night" live audience before most of the shows. By that time they had invented personas and life histories for the Blues Brothers: their names were Elwood and Joliet Jake, they'd spent the earliest part of their lives in a Catholic orphanage before being adopted by black parents in Calumet City, Illinois, and they'd been playing Chicago area clubs since the age of eight. Elwood had spent time in the industrial diamond trade and washed windows; Jake had done time for armed robbery at Joliet Prison--hence the nickname. Eventually, they made their debut on "Saturday Night Live." On April 22, 1978, Aykroyd and Belushi performed "Hey, Bartender" and "I Don't Know." As Woodward reports, "the audience loved the performance, but it seemed perplexed....Was it a joke? Aykroyd played a mean [harmonica], and Belushi--even though he had a lousy voice--put his heart and soul into singing, and that was the power of the blues. But they were two of the hottest comedians in the country. This couldn't be serious."

But Aykroyd and Belushi enjoyed their new alter egos and the response they generated so much that they got their agent to set up a recording contract and a series of concert dates. On September 9, 1978, they did their first show, opening for comic Steve Martin at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, California. They also performed over the next eight nights, and during these appearances recorded their live debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, on Atlantic. Briefcase was an almost instant success, quickly reaching platinum and then double-platinum status, aided by hit singles like the remakes of "Soul Man," "Rubber Biscuit," and "Almost." Though the Blues Brothers were a tremendous success with fans, critics gave them mixed reviews. Some complained that Aykroyd and Belushi, as whites, were delivering a poor, exploitative substitute for the work of real blues musicians, predominantly black. But black soul singer James Brown told Rolling Stone reporter Abe Peck that he thought the Blues Brothers had "heart and soul." Many, like rock musician Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, took the middle ground. "Too good to be a parody, and not good enough to be good for what it was," he explained to Peck.

Nevertheless, in 1980 the Blues Brothers decided to translate their success to the big screen. The motion picture, aptly titled The Blues Brothers, was primarily written by Aykroyd and, like the Brothers' music, was a popular favorite but did not fare as well with the critics. Its simple plot involved Elwood and Jake rounding up their old band--a group of talented, legitimate musicians whom Aykroyd and Belushi had recruited to back them up during their concerts--to play for the financial benefit of the Catholic orphanage where they had spent their childhood. The movie served as a framework for the musical talents of not only the Blues Brothers, but legitimate legends like Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. The soundtrack album produced another hit for the duo, "Gimme Some Lovin'," and also resulted in a nationwide concert tour. The Blues Brothers released a third album, Made in America, later the same year, Aykroyd planned a film sequel, and the duo came out with a Best of the Blues Brothers album in 1981.

Belushi did not exactly lose interest in his alter ego, but he later became more attracted to punk music and actively promoted a band called Fear. Though Aykroyd told People that his partner was not a regular drug user, Belushi died of a suspected overdose of cocaine and heroin on March 5, 1982, putting an end to the Blues Brothers.

by Elizabeth Thomas

Blues Brothers, The's Career

Blues Brothers formed, 1978; appeared on television program "Saturday Night Live"; featured in film The Blues Brothers, 1980; recording artists and concert performers, 1978-82.

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over 16 years ago

Fun band, love the gig.