Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Blues Brothers - Briefcase Full of Blues

Today (November 28th) marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Briefcase Full of Blues, the debut album from the Blues Brothers. Formed out of a Saturday Night Live sketch, actors Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi turned their love of the old soul and blues music into a genuine recording act. The record, a collection of covers recorded live on September 9th of 1978 at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, hit a chord with the American public as it went all the way to number 1 on the US Billboard Album chart in February of 1979 (knocking out Billy Joel's 52nd Street) and eventually achieved double-Platinum sales.

Performing as the band on this record were Steve Cropper (guitar), Donald Dunn (bass), Steve Jordan (drums and backing vocals), Tom Malone (saxophones, trombone, trumpet and backing vocals), Lou Marini (saxophones), Matt Murphy (guitar), Alan Rubin (trumpet and backing vocals), Tom Scott (saxophones), and Paul Shaffer (keyboards and backing vocals).

Side one kicks off with "Opening: I Can't Turn You Loose", a two-minute version of the Otis Redding classic from 1965. The powerful horn section heralds the coming of a fun night. I love the commentary that they make about music and how it will change by 2006. How right they were!

"Hey Bartender" was written and recorded by Floyd Dixon in 1954. Belushi, as “Jake Blues”, spins the tale of a night in a bar while Aykroyd, as “Elwood Blues”, lays down the first of a number of harmonica solos.

"Messin' with the Kid", originally recorded by Junior Wells in 1960, is about standing up to someone of higher reputation.

"(I Got Everything I Need) Almost" was first recorded in 1974 by the Downchild Blues Band.

The Chips first recorded "Rubber Biscuit" in 1956. The Blues Brothers released their version of this doo-wop song as the album's second single, and it topped out at number 37 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Aykroyd takes over the vocals on this fun, silly song. This is the source of us saying “…you go hungry…bow bow bow…” as teens.

"Shot Gun Blues", also recorded by the Downchild Blues Band, features a sauntering blues rhythm that coaxes you along into a lighter-waving sway.

Side two opens with a reggae-tinted rendition of King Floyd's 1970 hit "Groove Me".

"I Don't Know", from 1952, was first recorded by Willie Mabon and His Combo. This one features a good bit of product-based wordplay that might be lost on an audience who was familiar with those classic brands. But, for me, I liked it.

"Soul Man", written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, was a 1967 chart-topping hit (#2) for Sam & Dave. This version by the Blues Brothers hit number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 as the debut single. I have always liked the energy that the guys were putting out here; you can’t help but want to join in the fun by singing along (even mimicking Aykroyd’s deep bass vocal).

"'B' Movie Box Car Blues", written by Delbert McClinton, is up next. It opens with a smoldering guitar solo.

Next follows "Flip, Flop & Fly", first recorded in 1955 by Big Joe Turner. It opens with another harmonica solo.

The concert ends with a one minute "Closing: I Can't Turn You Loose" reprise.

I was thirteen when this album came out. While I certainly knew of Saturday Night Live at the time (my older cousin Linda and her husband watched it all the time), I don't think I had yet gotten into staying up late on weekends to catch the sketch show. That would come when I entered high school the following September. Also back then I certainly did not appreciate the blues genre as much as I do as an adult.

The cool thing about the whole Blues Brothers experience was that you had a pair of talented comedians, backed by a tight group of musicians, taking a very serious swag at performing songs they loved. The end result was lightning in a bottle. And that's one of the things I always liked about music in the 70's - anything might happen and an audience might be found in the most unlikely of places. That certainly is the case with me and the blues, and this fantastic live album. If you have Spotify, pop over there and take a trip down memory lane. It’ll put you in a good mood.


mls said...

Heck no we didn't watch SNL back then. If you were like me, you fell asleep on the couch halfway through Fantasy Island.

This album cover always disturbed me because of the tinted blue faces. However, I eventually became a big fan of the movie. And good for them for re-introducing us to this great music AND for hiring some of the Stax crew for the band!

HERC said...

Big fan of this album.

And Mark, the album cover didn't feature Jake and Elwood in blue face - it was the cover of Rolling Stone issue #285, right? Or are my album and CD covers faded?

It's such a rare occurance that I feel obliged to point it out - I featured this album before you did:
It was one of my extremely limited Album A Day posts