This is my contribution to the next installment of Turntable Talk, hosted by Dave at A Sound Day. For this round, we are discussing the Live Album. “What’s your favorite? Do you even like them?” Is there an act that actually come out better on live releases than studio ones?”
This may seem a little ridiculous coming from a guy who has seen a lot of live concerts, but I have never really been a fan of live albums. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy seeing live shows, but I’d rather listen to studio albums. So when this topic was presented, I really had to think about whether there was even a live album I could pick.
I had it narrowed down to Aloha from Hawaii from Elvis, which is truly spectacular or Live Bullet from Bob Seger. However, one day on my drive in to work, the 70’s on 7 channel played Soul Man by the Blues Brothers. I decided to focus on their two classic live albums – Briefcase Full of Blues and Made in America.
The Blues Brothers were made to play live music. In 1978, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi donned black suits, black hats, and sunglasses and treated the Saturday Night Live audience to Floyd Dixon’s Hey Bartended and Sam and Dave’s Soul Man. This was 2 years before their movie was even released. Their performance got them road gigs opening for Steve Martin and the Grateful Dead.
With the help of pianist-arranger Paul Shaffer, Belushi and Aykroyd started assembling a collection of studio talents to form their own band. These included SNL band members saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini and trombonist-saxophonist Tom “Bones” Malone who had previously played in the group Blood, Sweat and Tears. At Shaffer’s suggestion, guitarist Steve “The Colonel” Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn the powerhouse combo from Booker T and the MG’s and subsequently almost every hit out of Memphis’ Stax Records during the 1960s, were signed as well.
Belushi wanted a powerful trumpet player and a hot blues guitarist, so Julliard-trained trumpeter Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin was brought in, as was guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy who had performed with many blues legends.
For the brothers’ look, Belushi borrowed John Lee Hooker’s trademark Ray Ban Wayfarer Sunglasses and soul patch.
Their style was fresh and in many ways, different from prevailing musical trends: A very raw and “live” sound compared to the increasing use of sound synthesis and vocal-dominated music of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Briefcase Full of Blues was recorded in 1978 while the group opened for comedian Steve Martin. The album was so popular it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 and went double platinum. The album consists of ten songs including Big Joe Turner’s “Flip, Flop, and Fly,’ Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man,” The Chips “Rubber Biscuit,” (which features a fantastic vocal by Aykroyd), Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender,” Junior Wells’ “Messing with the Kid,” and a Belushi favorite, The Downchild Blues Bands “I Got Everything I Need Almost.”
From the Album – Hey Bartender, Soul Man and Rubber Biscuit were released as singles. Hey Bartender didn’t chart, Rubber Biscuit went to #37, and Soul Man reached #14.
In 1980, The Blues Brothers film was released. The second album released was the soundtrack of the film, which contains a mix of live and studio cuts. With the success of the movie, Atlantic Records recorded a second live album entitled “Made in America.”
This album was recorded while the band was out playing a 22 date tour while supporting the movie.
The album opens with their cover of the Bar-Kays Soul Finger, which allows Elwood (Aykroyd) to introduce the band over the intro. Other soul/blues classics on album include Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love?,” a medley of The Contours “Do You Love Me,” and James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn,” “Jimmy Reed’s, “I Ain’t Got You,” The Robins’ “Riot in Cell Block Number 9,” and Sonny Boy Williams’ “From the Bottom.”
The album features a Randy Newman cut entitled “Guilty.” What’s neat about this is that Elwood laments that his brother is guilty and he needs to find him a good lawyer, which allows the band to segue right into the Perry Mason theme song. It is obvious that Aykroyd is having fun scat singing along with this cut.
The highlight for me, despite all these great songs, is the fact that side two opens with Green Onions. The fact that Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn are playing on a song that they played on in the mid-60’s brings it all full circle for me. It is a treat indeed.
As I look back over the many blues classics featured on these albums, I wonder what they might sound like if they had been recorded in the studio. I won’t lie, I would love to hear that! However, what we get encapsulated in these two albums are two nights of live music. The energy and electricity of the band mixed with the fun and lively vocals, all played against a background of some very happy people in the audience singing along.
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were far from accomplished musicians. But they surrounded themselves with the best of the best and that led to some amazing music captured for us on these two albums.