‘We couldn’t make fun of our music’: The Blues Brothers overcame big questions with Briefcase Full of Blues

Share this:

When the Blue Brothers gathered on September 9, 1978, at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheater to record what would become their smash Briefcase Full of Blues, there was still some question as to whether they meant it or not — whether comedians-by-trade John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were looking to extol the virtues of R&B and blues, or simply to make fun.

The first hint came with the tough backing group they’d assembled for that night: Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn from Booker T. and the MGs; Matt “Guitar” Murphy, a former Howlin’ Wolf sideman, Willie “Too Big” Hall of the Bay-Keys; and Steve Jordan, who would later work with the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and the MGs.

But Briefcase Full of Blues wouldn’t be powered along by their participation alone. Belushi and Aykroyd took the whole enterprise, despite how much fun it sounded, very seriously.

“In the early days, a lot of the press reported that John and Dan were making fun of the music,” Cropper tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “Duck and I read that and said: ‘What? We couldn’t make fun of our music.’ We had to do some interviews and let them know how serious they were. Dan studied hard to learn how to play harmonica. John had been a rock and roll drummer long before he became famous as comedian. It ended up being one the best collections of blues musicians I’ve ever seen.”

What resulted was an irony-free celebration, one that translated into millions of album sales alongside a smash hit film. In no small way, Cropper adds, the Blues Brothers’ energetic recasting of these classic songs helped keep them relevant through a period when disco and punk ruled the airwaves.

“We had to keep this music alive, to educate a younger generation on this music,” Cropper tells us. “Soul and blues and jazz, those are the greatest staples that the American people have invented. But there’s more to it than that. Eddie Floyd [now a touring member of the Blues Brothers Band] and [the late Stax drummer] Al Jackson, they told me a long time ago: It is also about entertaining people. You are not going to be interesting to people just standing up there. They can hear that on the radio. You’ve got to get them swinging and swaying with you.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
Share this:
Close