I have a strange, almost perverse fascination with singing cartoons and other fictional bands: from the Monkees to Gorillaz and everything in between. Maybe it’s a symptom of a postmodern malaise, a Baudrillard-ian condition in which I can only see meaning through the lens of consumerist media images. Or maybe I just like bright colors and catchy songs. Who can really say?
I’m especially delighted when said fictional bands take on a life of their own beyond their original, fictional worlds: like when the Monkees continued releasing albums for a couple of years after their TV show was cancelled, or when Ron Dante, the singing voice of comic book icon Archie Andrews in the late-sixties cartoon The Archie Show, released a disco version of “Sugar, Sugar” in 1975.
One of my favorite fictional groups ever is the Blues Brothers, the R&B and soul revival act cooked up in the late seventies by Saturday Night Live cast members John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (aka the brothers “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues). Backed by a Who’s Who of R&B and soul players, including Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn of the Stax Records house band, the Blues Brothers recorded a pair of live albums and made one of the greatest movies of all time, objectively speaking. The 1980 motion picture The Blues Brothers told a heartwarming tale of two wayward orphans who embark on “a mission from God” to save the Catholic home in which they were raised; offered cameos and rousing performances by the likes of James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin; and presented what were surely the most exhilarating action sequences ever staged for a musical comedy.
When Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982, everyone assumed the Blues Brothers died with him. Dan Aykroyd included. “I really thought it was over when John died,” he told the Boston Globe a decade later. “Well, actually, it was over before John died. It was over after the movie and the tour. Sales started to decline and there was no further interest in proceeding with another record and we were on to other things. But it just wouldn’t die.” The idea of the Blues Brothers had somehow taken hold and fans and potential backers alike wanted to know when and how the group would ever come back.
Finally, in November 1986, Elwood Blues reunited with the original Blues Brothers band. Aykroyd was an investor in the Hard Rock Café chain of Rock & Roll-themed restaurants and Isaac Tigrett, Hard Rock founder, encouraged him to reconvene the band for the opening of the Dallas location. Sam Moore, one-half of the legendary R&B duo Sam & Dave, joined the group onstage, taking on the “Jake” role (or maybe Elwood was taking on the “Dave” role). Rock & Roll pioneers Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins also performed.
Another gig followed in April 1987, when Aykroyd and members of the band took to the floor of the American Stock Exchange to announce that the Hard Rock Café was going public. The song they played? The 1959 Motown classic “Money (That’s What I Want).”
That might have well been that as far as reunions went: a couple of fun shows in support of one of Aykroyd’s financial ventures, nothing more. But as the comedian recalled in an interview in the Summer 1988 issue of Hard Rock Times, the official organ of the Hard Rock organization, the brief reunion of the group gave him an idea. “I realized in Dallas,” he said, “that, hey, the Elwood Blues Revue and the concept of bringing other artists on to play with this super band that we assembled could be a viable entertainment vehicle.” The revival, it seemed, was only just beginning.
Elwood shows off his dance moves in this 1978 performance of the Sam & Dave classic “Soul Man.”