When the lovely Janet and I combined our record collections all those years ago, we had a small number of doubles. This was one.
There was not a band with more buzz — and you probably can define “buzz” more than one way in their case — than the Blues Brothers in 1978. Their “Saturday Night Live” appearances were must-see TV during Saturday night house parties.
Then they came out with a record, just in time for Christmas 1978. We heard it at countless house parties that winter, our senior year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
That record summons the vivid memory of a party at a small house on First Avenue, a house facing the Chippewa River, a house across from Owen Park. I can’t remember whose house it was, but I remember the Blues Brothers’ record from that party.
As the record begins, Dan Aykroyd — as Elwood Blues, of course — delivers a 30-second rap that carried plenty of truth in 1978.
In “the late 1970s going on 1985,” there was indeed was plenty of “pre-programmed electronic disco.” We never really did get much of a chance “to hear master bluesmen practicing their craft.”
But time proved Aykroyd wrong about one thing. By 2006, the blues existed well beyond “the classical records department of your local public library.” For that, thank the Blues Brothers.
Though not all “master bluesmen,” the act’s enduring legacy is having introduced classic American R&B and blues tunes to a huge mainstream audience that otherwise may never have heard them, at a time when the blues may have needed a little help from its friends.
“Briefcase Full of Blues” hasn’t been off the shelf in a long time, and I was a little surprised at what I found when I looked at it closely.
Among all those covers are two songs done first by the Downchild Blues Band on its “Straight Up” album from 1973. They were written by Donnie Walsh, who still fronts the group now known simply as Downchild. It’s from Canada. So is Aykroyd. That explains it.
“(I Got Everything I Need) Almost” and “Shot Gun Blues,” the Blues Brothers, from “Briefcase Full of Blues,” 1978. It was recorded live at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
John Belushi, as Jake Blues, does a good job on the vocals on both cuts. Paul Shaffer slides in between the powerful horns and pounds the keyboards on the former. Matt “Guitar” Murphy delivers the scorching guitar on the latter.