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Blues Brothers: Jake and Elwood's Secret Life

"I can't shake the screwy feeling I've seen Jake and Elwood before . . . I mean, who are they?"

February 22, 1979
dan aykroyd and jim belushi blues brothers
Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi Elwood and Jake Blues of The Blues Brothers on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Annie Leibovitz

Once again, here's the straight poop: every hapless hambone stranded in this sorry life should at least have a main squeeze who knows how to clean his clocks, an unholy soul band that this twosome can do the Do to, and a copacetic little gin mill where they can work this blissful bit of juju.

Now that's a sweet little vision, but it's not the Big Picture. The Big Picture, unfortunately, is that there is a wealth of chowderheads, mean-spirited stiffs and marginally adjusted jerks out there upon whom such a blessing would be squandered. I'm not trying to sit in anybody's lunch, so to speak, but some people in this world wouldn't know a good time if they chipped a tooth on it. For this reason, I feel at this moment that most of the people who reside in the totemlike town houses of Manhattan's moneyed Turtle Bay area should never be privy to a piece of heaven like Jake and Elwood's legendary Big Apple hideaway, the Blues Bar.

You see, Turtle Bay is a cool, crusty enclave in the east 40s where every Saturday night soiree seems more like one of those reptilian Tuesday cocktail quip-a-thons where the icy hors d'oeuvres never get touched, where the tart white wine goes down like Janitor in a Drum, and where every chattering mannequin is auditioning for a fat cat's lap. "What a marvelous collection of contemptible crumbs," I'm thinking to myself when my good-natured chum, Miami, pulls me over into a corner and rules that it's definitely time to slip out of this mortuary and go where folks know how to get on the good foot.

"So wherezat?" I slur.

"The Blues Bar," he whispers desperately.

"Huh?"

"You know, Jake 'n Elwood's hangout."

"Jake and El—oh, you mean the Blues Brothers!" I say, brightening considerably at the memory of their unbridled treatment of "Soul Man" on Saturday Night Live earlier this evening. "They hang out at some place in the city? You mean there really is a Black Rhino Club?"

"Nah," he hisses, "the Rhino thing is just a routine on the show. But Jake and Elwood get loose at the Blues Bar on certain nights – and tonight's one of'em!"

"Where is this place?"

"You'll see."

The ride to our arcane destination is a long, bleary bumpalong through some pretty nasty neighborhoods. At length, we pull up to this forlorn little saloon with pitch-black windows.

"There's nobody around here. This place has been shut down for years," I protest as Miami pushes me out of the taxi.

"That's what you think, joy-boy," he chuckles as he taps on the side door and barks, "Big Jake summoned us!"

When the door swings wide, I sober up in a hurry. Looming in the doorway is a big drink of water in a taut T-shirt and shades, the guy flexing biceps the size of my waist. It's Matt "Guitar" Murphy, onetime member of James Cotton's band and now thundering alongside Steve "The Colonel" Cropper in the Blues Brothers band.

"Come on in, Miami," Murphy laughs, "and bring your funny-looking pal. The beer's ice cold and we got a lotta nice snug-geets in here t'night."

"Snug-geets?"

"That's what Matt calls his women," my friend explains as we wade into an ecstatic dancing crowd that fills every inch of the small, cozy room. A jukebox stocked with every jump blues and R&B single of any lasting significance is blaring a Sam and Dave tune and the walls are plastered with faded snapshots of the Blues Brothers posed in front of most of the gas stations, roadhouses and jails between New York and Calumet City, Illinois. In the majority of the photos, the sunglassed group is either holding someone, or being held, at gunpoint.

"Who took these shots?"

Miami looks at me like I'm a dunce. "Fans – who else?"

"And who's asking!?" roars a voice behind me.

Shaken, I turn to face the Black Rhino himself, Joliet Jake Blues. Built big, badassed and close to the ground, Jake is decked out in his customary baggy black serge suit, sweat-stained white shirt and ribbon-thin black tie. Rising behind him is broad-shouldered Elwood, his younger brother, sidekick and silent confidant, who's a mite less formally attired in these wee hours, having stripped down to a sleeveless T-shirt and black vest. But both men are wearing midnight fedoras and shades that, even in the red light, accent their sinister barroom pallors.

"Is this clown a friend of yours?" an unsmiling Jake snaps at Miami, who nods cautiously, introducing me. "Well, I hope he came here to listen to the blues, get shitfaced drunk and fall down on the floor," Jake rules as Elwood shifts his stance threateningly.

I nod very cautiously.

"Well then," Joliet laughs, giving me a mighty bear hug, "lemme fill the biggest mug I can find for ya!"

Stunned, I stand amidst the melee as my hefty host hunkers over to the bar and tells Keith Richards, one of the guest bartenders (along with Richard Dreyfuss and Atlantic Records Senior Vice President Michael Klenfner) to fetch a tall draft. But the biggest jolt comes when silent Elwood steps forward, extends his hand and speaks, asking me if I enjoyed Briefcase Full of Blues. "S-s-sounded pretty decent to me," I sputter, and as we shake on it I notice a heavy gold chain trailing from his handcuffed wrist to a black leather briefcase. Suddenly, Jake is back with my beer and suggesting very strongly that I drink it in one gulp. As my eyes water from the effort both men vanish in a puff of truly rank cigar smoke.

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