Laughter and music are good for the soul hence the longevity of the "Soul Man," an iconic figure in a black suit, black hat and dark sunglasses.
This man is otherwise known as a Blues Brother or, as Cab Calloway introduced Jake and Elwood in the classic film, The Bluuuuuues Bruthas!
Born during Saturday Night Live’s infancy, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi reignited a celebration of classic soul and rhythm-and-blues music and spun those brief musical sets into hit albums, tours and a feature film packed with car chases and cameos by legends like Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker.
There’s something classic about a tall guy and a shorter, heavier guy in black suits and hats that seems to work. Audience members can more easily personify with them -- sort of like how a hero dons a costume, Judy Belushi Pisano, John’s widow, said.
The characters of Jake and Elwood are still taking the stage to the sound of Otis Redding’s "Can’t Turn You Loose," though they’re now played by Canadians Wayne Catania and Kieron Lafferty. The Official Blues Brothers Revue has the blessing and fingerprints of Judy Belushi Pisano and Dan Aykroyd and is coming to Yoshi’s San Francisco on Friday and Saturday, June 29 and 30.
Wayne (a.k.a. Jake) gave me the lowdown on the concerts.
Corey Andrew: How did this revue come together?
Wayne: We ended up being asked by Judy to come and audition for "The Blues Brothers Revival," which was a musical they put on in Chicago. When that show finished its run in Chicago, we talked about bringing the characters Jake and Elwood to a live concert setting with their antics and the great music they play.
We started doing that, and it was so well received that it kept growing. Over the years it’s been building and growing, and here we are. It’s still growing. It’s an amazing show. It gives a lot of the details of who wrote all the great music as well as all the antics Jake and Elwood go through. It’s not like musical theatre; it’s like going to a Blues Brothers concert.
Corey: When was the last time someone told you that you looked like Belushi?
Wayne: It happens frequently. I’m kind of used to it.
Corey: Is that how you got into this in the first place, because of the resemblance?
Wayne: I’ve always been a musician. I was a drummer first, but I’ve played guitar. I was in a band, and I was recording and making records and promoting stuff. It did keep coming up, that people wanted to get their picture with me. It wasn’t because of my band. They thought I looked like John. He has an incredible number of fans out there.
People kept saying, "You outta do this." I knew of the Blues Brothers, of course, and knew the movie and loved it. Someone gave me "Briefcase Full of Blues," and I put it on and it was amazing. It all flashed in front of me. I went, "Wow, I do want to do this." I haven’t looked back. It felt right, and it still does. I’m so lucky to be able to do it. I love the character of Jake. We keep having fun together.
Corey: The music is an important part of the show. Can you talk about your band?
Wayne: The musicians are amazing. They do come from the same mold as the music they play. Now, we have Paul Shaffer on board. He’s our musical director. Paul was an original Blues Brother and first arranger. He is such a big part of the music, and most people don’t know that. It’s an honor to have him. The little details and nuances that make that music breathe like it’s supposed to, the right flair and accentshe’s been contributing to the show that way. Fortunately, we’re lucky to be hitting the stage with him. We have two incredible female singers, Precious and Ebonie Taylor, who come from the Queen of Blues Koko Taylor’s family. They’re natural.
Corey: Does that give you the opportunity to pay tribute to great musicians the Blues Brothers played with, like Cab Calloway, Aretha and Ray Charles?
Wayne: Oh, yes. There’s such a catalog of music, that you can’t play it all in one night. We pick and choose and rotate, and hopefully we please everybody. There are a lot of great tunes, and we do pay tribute. We pay tribute to Koko Taylor as well as Cab. Their music lives on.
Corey: Did Judy give you any advice on the performance aspects?
Wayne: Yes, Kieran and I refer to it as Blues Brothers Boot Camp. Dan had given Kieran tips on Elwood and Judy who is very familiar with both characters in a very deep way informed us a lot on both characters. We learned a lot about our characters, what makes them tick and work. We’ve been working with Judy on writing a television pilot based on Jake and Elwood, on the road. We have a good idea where the characters come from and what makes them breathe. They’re such likable characters. I like Jake.
Corey: How can you not? What’s one of your favorite things about him?
Wayne: There’s never really a dull moment in Jake’s life, and he always seems to see the good in everything. There’s not any negativity in Jake. He might mess up but all in a good way for good reasons. He is a bright, shining soul. Jake rocks on, and when he plays and sings, that’s what moves him. Always has.
Corey: Do you have a preferred brand of sunglasses for the show?
Wayne: Yes. We’re pretty authentic. When Dan and John created the characters, they wore Ray-Bans. They’re a vintage style they weren’t back then a Wayfarer model. Jake always wore tortoise shell; Elwood wore black.
Corey: Is there a trick as to how the hat stays on during a cartwheel?
Wayne: Yeah, you have to get a good seal going. I’m always in costume well before the stage and getting into mode. By the time I get on stage, I’ve already worked up a little sweat and that creates a seal on that hat, and it stays on.
Corey: Not just a Jake thing but also a classic Belushi thing is the classic eyebrow raise. Was that something you had to work on?
Wayne: That was all pretty much there. That is a John thing but definitely is a Jake thing as well, the eyebrow over the glasses.
Corey: The big tribute concert to John in Joliet a couple months ago seemed like a lot of fun. How was it for you?
Wayne: That was amazing, to share the stage with Paul, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, "Blue Lou" Marini and Tom "Bones" Malone was just amazing. Those guys are the real deal, and you can hear it in their playing. They’re such nice people to work with. Pinch me. Make sure this is not a dream. It was a lot of fun. They also love Jake and Elwood. It’s probably going to be mixed and edited and released on DVD and CD at some point I’m sure.
Corey: I think an important aspect of those characters is that tight relationship. What is the camaraderie like with you and Kieron?
Wayne: We really do live our lives in a lot of ways like Jake and Elwood. We enjoy each other’s company. I can’t imagine being with anyone else on stage.
For more information on the Official Blues Brothers Revue concerts at Yoshi’s visit yoshis.com/sanfrancisco.
Corey Andrew has been interviewing comedians and writing about comedy for the last decade and a half. In 2011, he published the book, Laugh Lines: Conversations with Comedians. Corey was a writer and performer with Midwest sketch troupe, The NonProphets, before moving to the Bay Area with his family a few years ago. If you have ideas for future columns about comedy, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at twitter.com/coreywrites.