45 Blues Brothers Trivia Tidbits on Their 45th Anniversary
It was 45 years ago that Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi officially formed The Blues Brothers to continue the grand old tradition of white folks capitalizing on Black music. The Saturday Night Live comedians turned revivalist band transformed into what’s arguably their most famous characters: Belushi as lead singer “Joliet” Jake Blues, and Aykroyd as harmonica hero Elwood Blues, brothers with a devotion to fedoras and sunglasses and a distaste of Illinois-based Nazis.
Their appearances weren’t really comedic, but soon The Blues Brothers were singing in stadiums and running riot in Hollywood making movies and doing drugs because no one was going to catch them — they were on a mission from God, after all. In honor of the icons, here are trivia tidbits about the legendary SNL duo who made racist theater chain owners mad and helped revive some musicians’ careers, one Looney Tunes dance at a time.
The Inspiration Behind the Fried Chicken and Coke Scene
Director John Landis came up with the famous soul food restaurant scene in The Blues Brothers movie after witnessing Belushi eat four whole fried chickens himself. The “dry white toast” bit came from Landis’ experience moving out of his parents’ house and using a coat hanger over a stovetop to make toast.
Debunking the ‘Hundred Cars’ Myth
Landis corrected the wild stories about how many cars they used and destroyed during the film’s production, which wasn’t as bonkers as people believed. “There are stories that we used hundreds of cars, but no,” he said. “When you see those pileups, we took the same 20 cars and fixed them. We probably destroyed 25 vehicles by the end of the movie.”
Aykroyd Introduced Belushi to Blues Music
Back in the days of 1973, Aykroyd owned a speakeasy bar called the 505 Club in Toronto where, one night, Belushi showed up after the two had met earlier that evening at Second City. “We took one look at each other,” Aykroyd told Vanity Fair. “It was love at first sight.” Belushi was poaching talent for a new show, but instead, he was enthralled by the blues music Aykroyd was playing in his bar and became an instant fan.
Reluctancy at First
The two comedians and music lovers were soon jamming together, and when the duo joined SNL in 1975, they pitched The Blues Brothers to Lorne Michaels. Due to the fact that they weren’t outlandishly funny, Michaels only allowed them to warm up the live audience during recordings. They pressed on, however, and eventually got their first live show slot in January 1976, dressed as bees. The official band was formed two years later, in 1978.
The Book That Came With the Movie
Belushi’s wife Judy and his former comedy troupe partner Tino Insana wrote Blues Brothers: Private, a book that held a collection of Sister Mary Stigmata’s files that filled in the film’s backstory. Carrie Fisher’s character, known only as Mystery Woman in the movie, is revealed to be named Camille Ztdetelik. Jake’s mother died giving birth to him while serving time in prison for murdering her husband, and Elwood was abandoned as a baby at a newspaper stand.
Aykroyd Proposed to Carrie Fisher On Set
Fisher (who played Jake’s former fiancée) once told the story of their engagement to the Chicago Tribune: “He proposed in the trailer on set. He was forcing me to eat because I was very thin in those days, and I inhaled a Brussels sprout, and I started choking. He thought I was laughing, and then he saw that I was dying, and he did the Heimlich maneuver. Then like 10 minutes later, he asked me to marry him, and I thought, ‘I better marry him. What if that happens again?’ We had rings, we got blood tests, the whole shot. But then I got back together with Paul Simon.”
Aykroyd Wanted to Blues Up Led Zeppelin
Before the band decided to do a Blues Brothers version of Sam & Dave Stax classic hit, “Soul Man,” Aykroyd suggested they do a blues remake of “Stairway to Heaven.” Guitarist Steve Cropper remembers their bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn telling him, “These guys are rehearsing songs no one has ever heard of.” Cropper suggested “Soul Man,” and they changed the key from G to E so Belushi could hit the notes. The live song ended up at 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Movie Was Sued by a School District
The old Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois, was used as the location for the famous mall car chase scene. Shut down in 1978, the mall was donated to the Harvey-Dixmoor School District. For the film, the production team filled the stores to make them appear like they were in functional use before the stunt drivers trashed them. The school district sued Universal Pictures for more than $87,000 in damages for leaving the place looking like a total disaster, but the suit was tossed.
The Reason Lou Marini’s Head Was Cut Off in the ‘Think’
During Aretha Franklin’s café performance of “Think,” Lou Marini played the saxophone while dancing on top of the counter. Unfortunately, the set had a false ceiling, causing his head to be out of shot for what he described as quite the nerve-racking stunt. “It was a little daunting,” Marini told Louder Sound. “The counter was raised up to four and a half feet and was just two feet wide, and there were pots and pans down below. The cameraman couldn’t use the angle as the top was unsealed, and the studio was in view.”
The Original Movie Script Was Way Too Long
Aykroyd managed to pump out a script for The Blues Brothers movie that came in at a whopping 324 pages. Famously bound in a San Fernando Valley Yellow Pages cover — because it was that thick — he turned it over to Landis, who took three weeks to cut it down to a reasonable length. Aykroyd’s original draft included an elaborate analysis of Catholicism and recidivism, with detailed background stories of how all eight band members were recruited.
The Almost Disastrous Prison Scene Shoot
While filming the opening prison scene in The Blues Brothers, guards accidentally started shooting at the helicopters filming aerial footage. The guards were apparently under the impression that they were spies checking out the prison to plan some future escape.
Landis Added the ‘Mission from God’ Line
In Belushi: A Biography, Landis said that he added the famous line as a homage to Aykroyd’s evangelical approach to rhythm and blues. “Danny had a passion and a vision for bringing the blues and R&B back into mainstream culture,” Landis elaborated. “His desire was to exploit his fame, and John’s, to focus attention on these unacknowledged masters of American music — and we were completely successful.”
The Movie Had a Cocaine Budget
The Blues Brothers was filmed at the end of the 1970s, when every Tom, Dick and Harry was snorting blow for breakfast. “We had a budget in the movie for cocaine for night shoots,” Aykroyd told Vanity Fair. “Everyone did it, including me. Never to excess, and not ever to where I wanted to buy it or have it.” Belushi, as it’s well-known, shared the opposite sentiment.
Belushi Raided a Random Guy’s Fridge While Filming the Movie
Aykroyd told The Guardian that Belushi disappeared one night during a shoot. “It wasn’t because he was high,” Aykroyd revealed. “It was because he was hungry and didn’t like what was available to eat on set. Finally, I saw this path going through a parking lot and into a nearby neighborhood, so I followed it. The neighborhood was dark except for one house. I knock on the door and say, ‘Excuse me, we’re shooting a movie and missing one of our actors.’ The guy goes, ‘Oh, Belushi? He came in about an hour ago, raided my fridge and crashed on my couch.’”
Steve Martin Was an Early Supporter
Before there was even talk about a possible movie, The Blues Brothers were invited to open for Steve Martin at a couple of shows in Los Angeles. Belushi and Aykroyd jumped at the opportunity, recruited their band members and recorded their successful album, Briefcase Full of Blues, live at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheatre.
Landis’ Wife Came Up With the Ray-Bans
Landis’ wife, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman, insisted that the pair, known for their sunglasses, only wear Ray-Bans. Unfortunately, the sunglasses were discontinued at the time, so dime stores were scoured to find a total of 140 pairs. Which was great because Belushi kept either losing his or giving them to women — earning him the nickname “The Black Hole.”
The Prank Played on Lou Marini
Saxophone player Marini said that Landis and the crew played a practical joke on him while filming the soul food restaurant scene. “The scene where I was washing dishes in the Soul Food Café, there were four or five guys — Landis and me, a camera guy, lighting guy and sound guy,” Marini recalls. “Landis said, ‘I want you to do the dishes, do what you like with them, get angry, throw them, break them. Whatever you do, don’t look up till I say cut.’ I was washing for an eternally long time. I looked up, and they’ve all split. I yelled, and down the end at the coffee shop, I heard them cracking up.”
Based on Real Live Shows
Aykroyd interviewed a bunch of bands to learn from their experiences and the mad shit people do at gigs, and that is how the scene at Bob’s Country Bunker — where patrons throw bottles at the band performing behind a stretch of chicken wire — came about.
The Movie Gave Some Big R&B Singers a Much Needed Boost
In Belushi: A Biography, James Brown (who plays Reverend Cleophus James) said that the movie helped him reach a younger audience with his music. Aretha Franklin hadn’t had a Top 40 hit since 1976, and Landis said that it was easy booking all of the musicians except for Ray Charles, who was pretty busy at the time.
The Movie Gave Money to Chicago’s Orphanages
In order to get the Mayor of Chicago to let them film their musical movie, Belushi and Aykroyd offered to donate $200,000 to the city’s local orphanages.
Aretha Franklin Wanted to Sing a Different Song for Her Scene
Landis told The Hollywood Reporter that Aretha Franklin was game to do the movie but wanted to sing “Respect” instead of “Think.” Landis explained that the song chosen was written into the script because it helped further the plot. The Queen of Soul did, however, get to sing her iconic number in the sequel film.
Jake Blues Kisses Better Than Han Solo
Carrie Fisher said in Belushi: A Biography that between kissing Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back and Belushi’s Jake Blues, she favored the little man with the sunglasses.
The Origin of the Bluesmobile
Judy Belushi wrote in her book about her late husband that she came up with the idea of calling it the Bluesmobile. “We bought this old Dodge Polara because it seemed to have the right kind of blues attitude. After a few days, I got a call that the car was ready. I just turned to John and Danny and said, ‘Okay, I’m gonna go pick up the Bluesmobile.’ And none of us had ever called it that. It just came out. But they just looked at each other, smiled, and hissed, ‘The Bluuuuuuesmobile.’”
The Makeup Artist Cameo
The guy asking Elwood Blues for some Cheez Whiz at the residence is Layne “Shotgun” Britton, the movie’s makeup artist.
The Movie Is Vatican-Approved
Right before they had to film the big concert scene, Belushi reportedly saw a kid with a skateboard and asked if he could take it for a ride. The actor fell and hurt his knee, and the studio had to rush in an orthopedist to treat Belushi’s banged-up leg and administer painkillers to get him through the shoot.
The Movie Was Dismissed By Many Theaters for Starring Black People
At the time, most major movies were screened at somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 theaters nationwide. The Blues Brothers only landed in 594 theaters. Landis couldn’t believe that so many theaters in the U.S. were passing on a movie starring two of SNL’s most famous comedians, but it turned out that it was all because of some good ol’ racism. “Most of them said, ‘This is a Black movie, and white people won’t see it,’” the director remembers. Ted Mann, owner of the big West Coast chain Mann Theaters, straight up told Landis that he didn’t “want any Blacks” in his white upper-class theaters and neighborhoods.
What Aykroyd Would Change About the Sequel
Aykroyd has admitted that Blues Brothers 2000 was flawed and revealed what he really wanted to do with the movie. “What I should have had in Blues Brothers 2000 is Queen Latifah as my girlfriend and dancing partner,” he told The Daily Beast. “She would have been the Blues Sister. But we were trying to get the thing made. And there was pressure from the studio, pressure to get the thing made, pressure to do things their way. I wanted to have Queen Latifah and Elwood on the road together as both romantic and business partners. But that will have to be another time, in another universe.”
The Blues Brother Photo That Caused a Controversy for Chicago’s Mayor
When a photo was leaked to Us Magazine featuring Belushi and Aykroyd alongside Mayor Jane Byrne in one of their signature hats and sunnies, it caused quite a stir among certain Chicagoans. Aykroyd shared his theory with the Chicago Tribune: “It looked gangster to people. And it was this stereotypical image of Chicago that people didn’t like, and they jumped on her. But that was all misunderstood. The inspiration for the costume was IRS agents, Hasidic diamond merchants. Not so much Chicago.”
Aykroyd Took a Woman on a Date in One of the Movie’s Cop Cars
The actor said that they bought so many Chicago police cars for the movie that he ended up having his own to drive around. “I remember I picked up this girl, this ballerina from the Lyric Opera; I took her on a double date with one of the producers,” Aykroyd reminisced to the Chicago Tribune. “I pulled up in front of the Pump Room in my Chicago police car and just handed them the keys. I was 27 years old, and it was a wonderful time, and I had no idea what was ahead of me.”
Aretha Franklin Did Not Care for All the Lip-Synching
Landis said that Franklin’s only real complaint during the production was the lip-synching bits. “Like many great artists, she never sang a song the same way twice, so there were issues getting her to match her lips,” Landis explained. “But she pulled through. I knew she’d be a wonderful actress even though she ended up making only two movies in her whole career. Both Blues Brothers movies.”
The Random Dancers That Ended Up in the Movie
The dancers in the Ray Charles scene were a bunch of strangers the crew had recruited while searching the streets of Chicago. Landis figured that he could make Belushi and Aykroyd look less awkward (since they weren’t professional dancers) by hiring a couple of non-professional dancers to add to the scene.
The Deleted Scene Explaining the Magic Car
In The Blues Brothers DVD featurette, Aykroyd revealed that they shot a scene explaining how the Bluesmobile gained its supernatural abilities. The car was supposedly kept in some power transformer room. Landis only cut it from the original because he didn’t think it needed any explanation.
How Chicago Became a Regular Location for Movie Productions
In 1979, Chicago wasn’t home to big Hollywood productions. Some movies were filmed there, but no large-scale productions like The Blues Brothers. Belushi managed to convince Mayor Byrne to let them film their movie in the Windy City, and that’s pretty much how Chicago became a regular movie location.
The Studio Was Worried About the Big Blues Stars in the Movie
Contrary to what most would think, Universal wanted new talent instead of big and famous R&B stars to feature in the film. Of course, a lot of that had to do with the budget, but the movie was eventually granted $17.5 million to feature whoever they wanted.
Belushi Had a Babysitter On Set
Not only did Landis ask Fisher to help keep Belushi away from the drugs and the people doing drugs, but the troubled actor also had Richard “Smokey” Wendell looking out for him. Wendell was a former Secret Service agent who helped Joe Walsh from The Eagles sober up. Belushi proved so incredibly difficult to handle that Wendell retired soon after.
Landis and Belushi Had a Big Fight
Landis has told the story many times over of how he walked into Belushi’s trailer one day and found him with a “Tony Montana mountain of coke.” This led to Landis flipping out, flushing Belushi’s big bag of blow and confronting him over his substance abuse. Belushi apparently burst into tears and admitted he had a problem.
Filming the Car Chases
During production, Landis flew in 40 stunt drivers every weekend to get those car chases down. A total of 13 different Bluesmobiles were used, 60 old police cars were bought for $400 a pop, and it took a mechanic months to rig the car that fell apart in front of the Cook County Administration Building.
There’s a Japanese Blues Brothers Band
The BBBCB outfit has a couple of videos and live performances online, proving that Japan can nail rhythm and blues too.
They Opened for the Grateful Dead
At the last ever Winterland concert in 1978, The Blues Brothers got to open for the Grateful Dead. Their entire 49-minute set can be watched online.
Chez Paul Was a Real Restaurant
Featuring the Muppets
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Involvement
To drop that Ford Pinto from a helicopter at around 1,200 feet, Landis had to test and get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. There were concerns that the car might be too aerodynamic and crash into a public space, but the stunt went off without a hitch.
The Blues Brothers Manga Franchise
Nerima Daikon Brothers is a Japanese manga and anime musical comedy series greatly influenced by The Blues Brothers. The show follows two brothers who like to spontaneously burst into song.
The Old Joliet Prison Staged a Blues Brothers Con
In 2022, Aykroyd and Jim Belushi performed at the first Blues Brothers Con held at the Old Joliet Prison in Chicago. The event is said to have recreated Bob's Country Bunker and the Soul Café from the movie and had the Bluesmobile on display.