Musical Legends Unite in The Blues Brothers
The Who’s Who of Musicians in the Blues Brothers
The cult-like popularity of The Blues Brothers continues to burn brightly, even after 40 years. But did you know that the movie was stocked with a who’s-who of musicians?
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd based their characters on musicians from the Holland Tunnel Blues bar in New York City. But many of the musicians in The Blues Brothers were not well known at the time.
Matt “Guitar” Murphy (Paul Shaffer)
After drummer Steve Cropper and bassist John Lee Hooker helped the Blues Brothers tip their black fedoras to Stax, the group got a little extra oomph when guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy joined the band. He’s a blues hall of famer who spent his years shoulder-to-shoulder with Howlin’ Wolf and has played on albums by Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Memphis Slim.
He’s also performed with the Letterman house bands and led several rock and roll hall of fame induction ceremonies. And, though he didn’t appear in the original Blues Brothers movie, he did play Marco and a member of the Louisiana Gator Boys in the sequel. Currently, the 82-year-old still leads his own shows and performs with an updated version of the Blues Brothers for charitable and political events.
Willie Hall (William Hall)
Whether celebrated as a sincere tribute or viewed as tongue-in-cheek put-on, the Blues Brothers journey that John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd began on SNL grew into a real multimedia phenomenon complete with hit records and sold-out concert tours. Drummer Willie Hall anchored the band, adding soul to its R&B sound. He also backed many of the soul artists who recorded at Stax in the ’60s, including Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.
The drummer also toured with soul revivalists the Bo-Keys and appeared in 2008’s movie Soul Men with his late Blues Brothers co-star Isaac Hayes. He was the subject of the 1998 documentary Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, included in some DVD editions of the film. He was the beloved husband of Nelma, devoted father of Norma Bradford and Fred Hall, and loving grandfather to their children and grandchildren. He will be missed.
John Lee Hooker (John Lee Hooker)
Known by his stage name “Duck,” drummer Lou Marini grew up in a musical family and started playing professionally at an early age. He worked extensively as a session musician, appearing with artists such as Aretha Franklin and B.B. King, as well as jazz musicians Miles Davis and Buddy Rich.
After stints in Memphis and Cincinnati, Hooker settled in Detroit, where he made his first recordings under pseudonyms to avoid legal trouble. He adapted his style to the changing times and crossed over to rock ’n’ roll and folk, eventually recording with Canned Heat in 1971.
Despite some initial skepticism, Belushi and Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers became a cult phenomenon, introducing many soul hits to a new generation of fans while giving gifted session musicians an opportunity to shine on-screen and on-album.
Steve Jordan (Steve Jordan)
Jordan had a strong resume as drummer prior to his stint with the Blues Brothers. He had been a member of Booker T and the MG ’s, a band that backed many of the soul legends who recorded at Stax Records in the ’60s. He also toured and recorded with Stevie Wonder, playing on several of his resulting albums.
Some critics claimed that Aykroyd and Belushi were delivering a poor, exploitative parody of black blues musicians. Others, like blues singer James Brown, took the middle ground, saying that the duo had “heart and soul.”
Jordan went on to play drums for the Stones both live and in the studio after his stint with the Blues Brothers. He has also worked with other musicians, including John Mayer, as a drummer, cowriter and producer.
Ray Charles (Ray Charles)
Despite having lost his sight as a child, blind musician Ray Charles forged one of the most legendary musical careers in history. He fought off a seventeen year drug addiction, and scored a series of hits in the ’70s. He also recorded country music and duets with artists including Mickey Gilley and Hank Williams Jr. Then came John Landis’s 1980 film The Blues Brothers, in which he played the owner of a down and out music store.
Some complained that Belushi and Aykroyd were portraying the music of black musicians poorly, but others praised them for bringing Charles’ groundbreaking style to a wider audience. In fact, many of the artists portrayed in the film went on to record their own blues records. They remain active today, often playing live concerts for charity and political causes.