The Story of... The Blues Brothers movie and its iconic soundtrack 40 years on

17 June 2020, 16:50

The Blues Brothers with Aretha Franklin
The Blues Brothers with Aretha Franklin. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

The Blues Brothers remains one of the most-celebrated comedy movies of all time.

Released in 1980, the comedy caper starring Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd was only a modest hit at the time, but has since become a cult favourite 40 years later, largely thanks to its incredible soundtrack.

Not only is the film full of soul, blues and rock & roll classics, but it also featured cameo appearances and performances by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker and James Brown.

Let's take a look back at the making of a classic:

  1. What is The Blues Brothers movie?

    The Blues Brothers Official Trailer #1 - Dan Aykroyd Movie (1980) HD

    The Blues Brothers is a 1980 American musical comedy film directed by John Landis.

    It stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as 'Joliet' Jake and Elwood Blues, and is set in and around Chicago. The film was written by Aykroyd and Landis.

    The story is a tale of redemption for ex-convict Jake and his 'blood brother' Elwood, who set out on "a mission from God" to save from foreclosure the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised.

    To do so, they have to reunite with their R&B band and put together a performance to earn $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage's property tax bill. Along the way, they are followed by a homicidal 'mystery woman', Nazis, and a country and western band—all while being pursued by the police.

  2. Where did the characters come from?

    Blues Brothers: Soul Man - SNL

    The characters of Jake and Elwood Blues were created by Belushi and Aykroyd for their performances on US sketch show Saturday Night Live.

    After recordings of SNL, it was normal for cast members and the weekly hosts to head to Aykroyd's Holland Tunnel Blues bar, which he had rented at the time. Aykroyd and Belushi filled a jukebox with songs, Belushi bought an amplifier and they kept musical instruments for anyone who wanted to jam along.

    It was here that Aykroyd and Ron Gwynne wrote and developed the story which Aykroyd used for the Blues Brothers movie. Aykroyd also introduced Belushi to the blues, and the pair soon began singing with local blues bands.

    SNL band leader (and future Lord of the Rings composer) Howard Shore suggested they call themselves 'The Blues Brothers'.

    Pianist Paul Shaffer helped Belushi and Aykroyd to assemble a collection of studio talents to form their own band. These included SNL band members saxophonist 'Blue' Lou Marini, and trombonist-saxophonist Tom Malone. Steve Cropper and bassist Donald 'Duck' Dunn from Booker T and the MG's, were signed as well.

    The Blues Brothers recorded their first album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1978. The album liner notes revealed the fictional back story of Jake and Elwood, revealing that they grew up in a Roman Catholic orphanage, and learning the blues from a janitor named Curtis.

  3. Which singers appear in the film?

    Aretha Franklin - Think (feat. The Blues Brothers) - 1080p Full HD

    Dan Aykroyd demanded that soul and R&B stars James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin were cast in speaking parts to support songs built around them.

    However, this caused friction between Landis and Universal during the production, as the costs to get them on board far exceeded the original budget.

    As none of the artists apart from Charles had had any hits in recent years, the studio preferred the director to replace them with younger stars, such as Rose Royce.

    The Blues Brothers (1980) - Shake a Tail Feather Scene (4/9) | Movieclips

    Other musiciansinclude Big Walter Horton, Pinetop Perkins, and John Lee Hooker.

    The members of The Blues Brothers Band featured Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn (from Booker T & the MGs), horn players Lou Marini, Tom Malone, and Alan Rubin (from Blood, Sweat & Tears), drummer Willie (from The Bar-Kays) and blues guitartist Matt Murphy.

    There were also cameos from musicians Chaka Khan, Stephen Bishop and Joe Walsh.

  4. What songs appear in the film?

    The Blues Brothers (1980) - Everybody Needs Somebody to Love Scene (6/9) | Movieclips

    According to Landis, musical performances by Franklin and Brown took the most effort, as neither of them were used to lip-synching their performances on film.

    Franklin required several takes, and Brown just rerecorded his performance live. Cab Calloway also wanted to do a disco variation on his song 'Minnie the Moocher', but Landis insisted that the song was faithful to the original big-band version.

    Cab Calloway - Minnie The Moocher (feat. The Blues Brothers) - 1080p Full HD

    The songs featured on the hit soundtrack were:

    1. 'She Caught the Katy' - The Blues Brothers
    2. 'Peter Gunn Theme' - The Blues Brothers Band
    3. 'Gimme Some Lovin'' - The Blues Brothers
    4. 'Shake a Tail Feather' - Ray Charles and the Blues Brothers
    5. 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love' - The Blues Brothers
    6. 'The Old Landmark' - James Brown
    7. 'Think' - Aretha Franklin and The Blues Brothers
    8. 'Theme from Rawhide' - The Blues Brothers
    9. 'Minnie the Moocher' - Cab Calloway and The Blues Brothers Band
    10. 'Sweet Home Chicago' - The Blues Brothers
    11. 'Jailhouse Rock' - The Blues Brothers (the film version has verses by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway)

    The film also had songs by Sam & Dave, Fats Domino, John Lee Hooker and Louis Jordan.

  5. Where was the film shot?

    The Blues Brothers (1980) - Chased by the Cops Scene (7/9) | Movieclips

    Most of the film was shot on location in and around Chicago in 1979.

    The film is credited for making Chicago a popular hotspot for movies from then on.

    The shopping mall car chase was filmed in the real Dixie Square Mall, in Harvey, Illinois. The bridge jump was filmed on an actual drawbridge, the 95th Street bridge, on the southeast side of Chicago.

    The Palace Hotel Ballroom, where the band performs its final concert, was at the time a country club, but later became the South Shore Cultural Center. The interior concert scenes were filmed in the Hollywood Palladium.