Dan Aykroyd Interview
by Bob Putignano
Dan Aykroyd told me he wanted to be himself as Dan for the interview, and not Elwood Blues, thus we conducted the interview as such, often making references to his "evil twin brother", that being Elwood Blues.
BobP: Hi Dan, so how did this book all come about?
Dan: My evil twin brother (Elwood) is pretending not to be excited about the new book, but we know better. As you know Bob, the book is based on the interviews Elwood has done at The House of Blues Radio Network over the last eleven years, which is broken into three parts: "Blues Legends" "Rock Royalty" and "Keepers of the Flame". Right now Elwood is driving across the country so he can be here for the book signing and hopefully is getting ready for the performance at Sirius Satellite Radio. I hope he hears my voice right now on the radio, hey Elwood! By the way, that is some band you put together: Hubert Sumlin, Mose Allison, Bettye Lavette, Calvin Owens, David Maxwell Rob Paparozzi, Michael Hill (who has a chapter all to himself in the book) Elwood's old band mate "Blue" Lou Marini, Jerry Jemmott, and James Wormworth from the Vivino Brothers band, whew!
(BobP) I enjoyed the chapter with Bob Weir.
(Dan) A lot of people didn't realize the Dead were a great blues based band. The Blues Brothers opened along with the NRPS, for the Dead at the first closing of Winterland (which has just been released as a double DVD set with extra never before seen extra footage.) Elwood tells a story about being at the show and getting dosed in his beer, and says he almost swallowed his harmonica about halfway through a song! (laughs) Those were classic nights though
(Bob) I actually shipped my Betamax recorded to a friend in San Fran as the closing shows at Winterland were broadcast on local TV.
(Dan) Well that is archival footage right there, and its always great to see Jake moving around.
You know, all rock and roll and country comes from the blues, the link is indisputable, and that link wouldn't be alive today if you did not have modern artists who loved playing this music. Look at Aerosmith with Joe Perry and Steve Tyler, they were compelled to put out a blues record this year. You have so many new artists today who are exploring the blues as well, it's just that it's so much fun to do, and the Dead were a terrific blues band, just like the Stones are.
(Bob) Look how much bands like the Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Dead and others did for the blues as superstars of their eras, especially when it was quite bleak out there.
(Dan) The blues still needs help, you take a great artist like Kim Wilson or Brian Setzer, these guys should be selling a quarter million records, and they are not. As a co-founding board member of the eight House of Blues clubs, so when I want to put together a blues show for our venues, and if I want to fill a room, I need to book more than one blues performer. Realistically I'm going to have to book two or three blues bands together on same bill for the show to be successful. Even with the festivals and radio stations that are devoted to the blues, and even with all the records in all the bins in all the stores, the blues has not popped out in terms of a superstar's magnetism and appeal since Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was the last big blues star. Of course people have gotten close like Blues Traveler and Kenny Wayne Sheppard, and Robert Cray too, you know people who have their own following. But we need another giant, someone who will break through that can fill these arenas like Stevie Ray did. I just don't know where that person is going to come from?
(Bob) Lets not forget about Eric Clapton.
(Dan) Absolutely Clapton! All the way back from the British invasion days. Clapton is one of the most consistent players who can fill arenas. But it's that middle tier where we have to find that next Stevie Ray.
(BobP) How did the whole concept of the House of Blues Radio Hour get started?
(Dan) House of Blues Radio got started as a concept over eleven years ago when one of the co-founders of the Hard Rock Café and The House of Blues said we should have a radio broadcast, and he recruited Elwood to be the host of the radio show. As co-partner to the HOB board, I wanted them to understand the message we wanted to portray was to make it good for the blues musicians and make it good for blues music by preserving the link between blues and rock and roll....it's very important. We also figured it would be a great promotion for the HOB restaurants, and the club company. It wasn't easy but we managed to make it, even with all that happened with 9/11, the dot com bomb, and economic downturn. We are proud that we did make it, and it really amazes me that we have done it, and proven and will continue to show that we are in this for the long haul.
(Bob) As New Yorker's we know Ben Manilla from when he used to do radio at WLIR, he was always a big favorite of mine. How did you all hook up?
(Dan) Ben Manilla is simply the best individual who knows all about radio production and can document the history and archival content for the House of Blues Radio show, Ben is probably the most knowledgeable blues historian in the world. He knows what makes for an exciting interview and program. Believe it or not, Elwood and Ben really get along, and as you know they have been collaborating together successfully for the last eleven years. Did you know Elwood doesn't like me too much? As I created Elwood, I am the writer, and always complains "you are the writer, you are the writer" and is always looking for money, well I send him checks, but does he ever acknowledge me? Nope. But he trusts and likes Ben Manilla, and they have created some pretty amazing insights as to what some of these artists feel when they perform this great music we all love. The Elwood's Blues book is an edited compilation of the interviews. Ben, Elwood and myself, did not write the interviews. The real stars of the book are people from the new generation like Big Bill Morganfield who is Muddy Waters son, Shemekia Copeland who as I am sure you know is Johnny "Clyde" Copeland's daughter (Johnny Copeland also has a chapter/interview in the book with Elwood), to me they are the ones who are going to take blues into to this young new century.
(BobP) Speaking of the Keepers of the Flame part of the book, I really enjoyed the Marcia Ball Chapter.
(Dan) Marcia Ball is also a great, great artist as well who has a massive musical knowledge. I think the book is sort of a necessary reading for anybody who wants to go into blues music fulltime as a live performer or a recording artist because there are so many great insights within this book. You know Bo Didley talks about protecting copyrights, Bill Morganfield talks about preserving his own reputation while paying tribute to his father while trying to step out doing his own kind of thing, and talks about being independent and putting his own signature on his music.
If you want to be well known as a dynamic performer, it's not about just doing the old stuff like Robert Johnson and Elmore James songs all the time, you have to go out there and write new stuff and collaborate with new people, and keep your musical approach fresh.
Bob: I loved Carlos Santana's comments from the book where Carlos Santana made comparisons of Jimi Hendrix's best material to The Paul Butterfield Band (with Michael Bloomfield) performances of "Born in Chicago" calling them equal to Hendrix, I thought was a powerful statement.
(Dan): Hendrix was a massive giant talent, and Carlos's comparison of Hendrix to the Butterfield band is not out of line. The East West album was a recording that turned a whole generation of white mid western kids on to blues, which made them go and research to find who those blues artist were Butterfield was covering. I remember seeing Butterfield many times up in Ottawa when I was growing up, and he certainly inspired me, and when it came time to write the Blues Brothers, Paul Butterfield was a major influence on our conceptions of how blues players should act and what they should look like, and for remembering how cool they were. Butterfield was one of the coolest and a giant, giant talent. If you look at that band with Elvin Bishop, and of course Bloomfield, and when you listen to a Butterfield cut today it sounds like it was like it was recorded yesterday. Butterfield was a massive innovator and talent, and as I mentioned a whole generation of kids owe their knowledge and their love of blues music to Paul.
(Bob) In the book, Elwood asks Bill Wyman about the British Invasion and how blues had to go to the UK and the British took the music back to America. I love it as Wyman says what British invasion? The blues was always in the USA!
(Dan) What is recognized is that the blues was always in the United States, it was brought back to the States, with more knowledge and focus and where new generations discovered it because the English bands were singing it. You know Bill Wyman's book is incredible. That history of the blues that he wrote, the Odyssey book is probably one of the greatest encyclopedia's of the form and of blues music that I have ever seen. I would say if you are going to the book store to buy "Elwood's Blues" than you should also pick up a copy of Bill Wyman's "Blues Odyssey" as that book is a dynamic piece of literature. It has all those pictures of the old labels and shows were blues all started. From the slave ships, the back porches, the gut bucket, washboards, cigar box banjos, the harmonicas, plus in the church where the organ was at, and where backup singers were added, that was all brought from the church to the front porch. And when the Spanish invented the electric guitar, and Les Paul invented the pickup, then you had people playing in big swings bands like Joe Turner, and Wynonie Harris. Then everything changes where you had electric guitar players starting to expand and explore the music. The harp players had to figure out how not get drowned out by the guitars who were getting so loud, so they had to figure out how to be heard, and started blowing harp threw the P.A. or the microphone. They would say, I'll put the P.A. here in front the microphone which will give us double amplification. The great tonal pioneers like Little Walter and Big Walter Horton who started in with the distortion, which lead into Junior Wells, James Cotton and Carey Bell. Today we have masters like Lee Oscar, Kim Wilson, Norton Buffalo, Mickey Raphael and Magic Dicke who all learned from the masters.
(Bob) I think that is wonderful about your organization donating portions of the proceeds of the "Elwood's Blues" book to the Blues Foundation (www.blues.org). What part did you have in making this happen?
(Dan) So many of the artists today like Bo Didley lost out on royalties, so anyway we can help in terms of getting people the right legal help and the right medical help was a big issue for us. There are several of these organizations around, but the Blues Foundation seems to get the money out to the right artists. Their good work directly applies to helping the musicians, especially those who lost out on their publishing. Elwood and Jake and the Blues Brothers were cover artists, and we made sure that the royalties went to the writers of the songs, and they got their mechanical royalties, and we always felt good about that, which Elwood sometimes admits he lives on (laughs).
(Bob) I also understand that there will be more collaboration between the House of Blues Radio show and the Blues Foundations largest events that being the International Blues Competition for unsigned musicians and the W.C. Handy Awards?
(Dan) Now we have an obligation to provide our facilities and resources to these groups. (BobP) I think that is so special, especially coming from individuals like yourself who can get the blues message and story out to a greater amount of people, as that is so important.
(Dan) We at the House of Blues want to help the artists, there are a lot of them in trouble, and I would like to see them benefit economically.
(BobP) As being a part of a Blues Society here in NY, over the years we have had to run benefits for several artists. I have only been on the inside of this business for the last five years, and before being educated to some of the harsh realities that some of these artists experience, I always thought many of these musicians were at least comfortable. As you know, that is just not the case.
(Dan) Hopefully that this is changing, Ray Charles was one of the pioneers from the blues business who managed to get his own masters and managed to keep control of his own fortune, B.B. King has worked hard for his money and has managed to conserve, it's those stories we want to hear.
(BobP) Ruth Brown too.
(Dan) Ruth had trouble, but hopefully it's straightened out, and she now benefits. (BobP) Elwood did a great job in the book on Ruth Brown.
(Dan) Ruth has been a good friend to the House of Blues Radio Hour, and today a Ruth Brown show will knock you to the back to the room!
(BobP) Ruth just completed four weeks at Le Jazz au Bar here in New York City and she was magnificent. I saw her twice, and on the last night she just broke down and cried backstage, where I had the opportunity to interview her. She told me that she just couldn't believe that it was just a few years ago the doctors told her she would never sing, so to complete the four week run, was just an incredible experience for her.
(Dan) Incredible is right, I was there too. And young performers should get out and see Ruth Brown, and Koko. It doesn't matter of you are into crunch or heavy metal, go out and see the originals as this is where the bands that you love got their chops. Crunch guitar got their origins from basic blues.
(BobP) We have a big week ahead of us with the book signing on Nov 4th at Barnes & Nobles, and then there is that live broadcast and performance on the same eve on Pat St. John's blues program at Sirius Satellite's studio. Will you be around that? (Dan) Yes I will be around for all that activity, as what we are celebrating is the careers and music of the blues greats, and the "Elwood's Blues" book where we were able to put together the interviews in the book, as they are the real stars of the book. Most of them are still out there and performing, and we need to spread the word that they are there for audiences to enjoy. Buy their records and see their shows! (BobP) And buy their records from the stage. (Dan) That's right, that's is what we have to do now. And hopefully our efforts will help a little bit.
(BobP) How did the whole Sirius broadcast come about? (Dan) Sirius wanted to take a lot of our House or Blues breaks and put them on air for us, they have been a good friend of the House of Blues Radio Hour, and have played some of our Holiday specials. I love the concept of Satellite radio, its kind of liberating, I think it could really explode and cover a lot of areas where listeners are left out. These big radio companies have stopped covering certain forms of music like blues, and I think Sirius is all radio for all people.
(BobP) It's quite a show we have planned on Thursday. Will Elwood be ready?
(Dan) I'll make sure he shows up! (big laughs)
(BobP) One last question: What are Elwood's biggest influences in the blues, do you know?
(Dan) Elwood grew up during that time in Chicago when the Butterfield Blues Band was starting to really kick, during the times of the Checkerboard Lounge. At the beginning of the Blues Brothers movie Elwood was hanging out at Blues on Halstead, Elwood also had the good fortune to see Big Walter Horton in a bar who was one of the last great honkers, and managed to get him into the movie, as well as Pinetop Perkins, and John Lee Hooker too, and in the second movie he got Junior Wells to perform, so Elwood has quite a pronounced knowledge of harmonica players, and has jammed with many people. He also calls many blues people his friends, just growing up being in Chicago in the late '60's and '70's, and being around that movement where Butterfield and the English Invasion started the crossover, it all touched him in that very special way, so he has taken that music with him right on up till today.
(BobP) Dan I want to thank you for your time, please keep carrying the torch for the blues, as we need folks of your stature out there supporting this great music.
(Dan) Oh yeah, and we need the audiences out there, come and see the shows!
(BobP) And listen to the House of Blues Radio Network, and buy the book, and check out the broadcast at Sirius later this week.
(Dan) And get Bill Wyman's book too!
Bob Putignano, President of NY Blues and Jazz Society www.NYBluesandJazz.org & www.BluesandJazzSounds.com
Bob Putignano www.SoundsofBlue.com
Radio Host WFDU's "Sounds of Blue"
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society