‘That’s the band I want’: Levon Helm played a role in the Blues Brothers legend

A New Year’s Eve show by Levon Helm and his RCO All Stars so impressed a member of the audience that he eventually swiped several members to form the basis of the Blues Brothers.

John Belushi was there that night and, roughly a year later, five members of the RCO All Stars — Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn (Booker T and the MGs), “Blue” Lou Marini and Tom “Bones” Malone (Blood Sweat and Tears, Saturday Night Live band) and Alan Rubin, a Julliard-trained trumpeter — had formed the nucleus of the blockbuster Blues Brothers-related album, film and concert enterprise.

“That band, including the Saturday Night Live horns, had recorded and done two world tours with Levon Helm and the band called the RCO All Stars,” Cropper tells Michael Berry. “We were playing New Year’s Eve at the Palladium, and John Belushi happened to be there. And what sparked in his head, as best I can tell, was: ‘If I go on the road, that’s the band I want.’”

Fate stepped in when fellow SNL alum Steve Martin had a late-1970s novelty hit with “King Tut.” Requests to tour followed, Cropper says, and the need for an opening act arose. After a call to Belushi, the Blues Brothers Band was born.

The resulting studio effort Briefcase Full of Blues would sell nearly three million copies, Cropper adds. Live at the Palladium NYC, New Years Eve 1977 from Helm and the RCO All Stars was finally issued in 2006.

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