Jake And Elwood are two mysterious pieces of work," the huge, mustachioed Klenfner later concurs. "Either one is capable of appearing or disappearing at any damned moment, but silent Elwood's the queerest case – he's gone in a flash and nobody knows where the hell he went. Elwood's never too comfortable, especially around groups of people, but then he could be rolling around naked in a tub of whipped cream and still not feel comfortable. So he just splits. It drives me so crazy I've thought about getting one of those Batman-type spotlights to shine in the air at night whenever we need to contact him. Instead of a bat symbol silhouetted against the sky, we'd either project a giant pair of sunglasses – Ray-Bans No. 5022-G15 – or his silhouette. I don't know, it's a problem I haven't solved yet."
Well, it must be the only one. Klenfner's new act has produced a runaway hit single ("Soul Man") and a platinum album that contains some of the most exhilarating music of an especially bleak winter. The Blues Brothers and their record have been dubbed a "novelty" in this disco-dominated era, and, considering its long heritage of work with blues and R&B artists, Klenfner is especially pleased their aggressive R&B sound triumphed on the Atlantic label.
"I think their second album is gonna do even better," he enthuses. "We've got the best band working anywhere, and on the road Jake and Elwood prove they have the chops to— "
"But Michael," I interrupt. "There's one thing that bothers me about the Blues Brothers. I can't shake the screwy feeling that I've seen 'em some place before. I mean, exactly who are they? Jake, for example, looks a fuck of a lot like John Belu—"
"Now listen," Klenfner says gruffly. "I don't know any more about them than you do. All I know is they sound great and act awful goddamned strange.
"I'll tell you this: they're gonna be on the bill on the New Year's Eve show at the closing of Winterland out in San Francisco. Why don't you fly out? I can promise you a great show and a great time, but as for getting the Blues Brothers' inside story, you're on your own. Far as I'm concerned, what you hear is what they are."
What A God-damned good band!" Bill Graham yells to Klenfner over the din of an afternoon soundcheck rendition of "Jail-house Rock." Holding on to his own crumpled, gray version of a Blues Brothers hat, he darts around the vacant, drafty floor of Winterland issuing orders.
"So what the hell did you expect?" Klenfner bellows back as Jake and Elwood put the group through their paces. "Naturally we got the best!" At this point the band members are a well-rehearsed bundle of nerves. Few major reviews have yet appeared on Briefcase and the Brothers & Co. feel like interlopers on a bill that places their act between a short set by the New Riders of the Purple Sage and an all-night epic concert by the Grateful Dead. Camped on the sidewalk outside are hard-core Deadheads, and the only indications that this anxious hippie throng might have any familiarity with the Blues Brothers are a couple of dazed backpackers wearing battered plastic coneheads.
"Three hours till we open!" Graham shouts as the horns persevere. Led by Tom "Bones" Malone on sax, trombone and trumpet, the distinguished lineup (Lou "Blue Lou" Marini, tenor sax; Alan "Mr. Fabulous" Rubin, trumpet; Tom "Triple Scale" Scott, tenor sax) is skintight by the second take when they're joined by Steve Cropper, Matt Murphy, keyboardman Paul Shaffer and the funky ballistics of bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and drummer Steve "Getdwa" Jordan. Jake decides to grab the mike and leans way back for a growling assault on the "Jail-house" chorus while Elwood punctuates the proceedings with some honkin' blues harp.
But in a finger snap it's a wrap, and the band mills around the hall as mammoth breakaway plastic bags full of balloons are hoisted to the ceiling in preparation for the New Year countdown. Meanwhile, Jake and Elwood have now dematerialized. It takes the rest of the afternoon to locate the dingy hotel room they're holed up in, but my reconnaissance pays off. Their reticence virtually dissolved by a late breakfast of tepid Muskatel and some overripe seafood, both open up for the first in-depth interview of their convoluted career.
"Elwood!" Jake howls, drawing his partner's catatonic attention from the high-school football game flickering on the TV. "How do you think the Blues Brothers are gonna do tonight? Do we have a chance against the Dead and all the Deadheads?"
Elwood hesitates before speaking, flashing me a wounded glance.
"Jake, I gotta say no way, man. They're gonna blow us off the stage."
"It's a nightmare," Jake agrees. "They'll be screaming, 'Grateful Dead! We want Garcia!' "
"'Get offstage, you swine!' " Elwood joins in. " 'Get fucking lost!' "
"Oh no they won't!" scolds a shadowy female figure in the next room. She is laying out their black suits and slipping extra pairs of sunglasses in their breast pockets; Foster Grants for Jake, Ray-Bans (No. 5022-G15) for Elwood. I realize it's Jake's spectral spouse, known only as the Blues Wife. "You guys are wrong!" she begs. "They'll be screaming Colonel, Bones, Joliet, El-wood!"
"I'm not so sure," Elwood sighs. "Right about now I'd like a bottle of Night Train wine – with a little spike of Sterno in it – to cheer me up. But hell, that swill is up to a buck-seventy a fifth!"
"Key Largo was another great brand," Jake chimes in wistfully. " 'Just one sip/And you will know/That you're on the island/Of Key Largo.' So what do you wanna know?" he asks, pointing a menacing finger at me.
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