Were The Blues Brothers a real band with musical influence or a comedy act? I think the answer is yes to both, which in my opinion is why we all know who they are. They are polarizing in many ways in blues circles. A purist may see The Blues Brothers as a comedy team that used the music as a stage for schtick. But for many people this fictitious pair of brothers was the gateway into blues and soul music. I know that it was certainly my first exposure to the music of Sam and Dave, John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Wilson Pickett, Robert Johnson and Ray Charles. The mere mention of Elmore James in the dialogue sent me searching far deeper than the movie soundtrack.
I am definitely of the opinion that The Blues Brothers have a place in blues music history. For starters the members of the band were the absolute "A List” players. With names like Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Steve Jordan, Lou Marini, Tom Malone, Alan Rubin, and Paul Shaffer it is difficult to dispute that musically this band was as good as it gets. This list of musicians have been on records that have sold tens of millions of copies. Most of them went on in their careers to sustain high profile work.
What makes The Blues Brothers such an interesting blues band is the combo of quality musicianship and a fun presentation. It is the perfect recipe for success and influence. The music was performed at the highest levels with solid vocals while being fiercely entertaining. All too often blues music is taken very seriously and the fun gets lost along the way. I think a great example of this recipe in the rock world is the original line up of Van Halen. They were a musical force that was fronted by a character like no other in David Lee Roth. The combination of charisma, virtuosity, songs, and entertainment is an undeniable cocktail, when the balance is just right.
It is difficult for most bands to succeed without an interesting image of some sort. The suits, hats and sunglasses have been a part of pop culture for over 40 years. It is one of the most recognizable images in music and film. I don't think it is a stretch to say the image of The Blues Brothers is as big as the Kiss makeup. It is unmistakably linked to one band and is simply iconic.
When the sum of the parts are examined it's easy to see why this band was so impactful to so many people. The musicianship, image, setlist and presentation covered every base. The music was good enough to stand on its own without any of the garnish. After all, it was a tribute band with some of the finest musicians in the world playing nothing but time tested old blues and soul songs. In my humble opinion, their version of Sweet Home Chicago is the definitive version of the song. There are of course other great covers of it, but none of them are as fun as The Blues Brothers.
The fun factor and image were through the roof. Jake and Elwood were perfect characters with bad dancing and choreography that somehow was more entertaining because it was often out of sync. The Blues Brothers Band was a musical powerhouse, playing timeless hits, fronted by two of the biggest comedians of the era, all packaged into an unforgettable image. It was lightning in a bottle, both visually and sonically. A rare occurrence in any style of music, but even more so in blues. The blues is not a genre known for taking itself lightly, yet somehow this band made the blues fun which in turn shined a blinding light on the genre that exposed an entire generation to this great music form. If that isn't influence then I don't know what is. I think when looking at the numbers of people that were exposed to blues through this movie and its soundtrack it would be hard to find an artist to compare it to. Perhaps Chuck Berry, The Stones and Eric Clapton had the same reach in exposing the masses to the blues. If those are the peers, that is some pretty good company!