Original Brothers

By Dominick A. Miserandino,
The Original Bros talk about their feel of the blues, the influence of the famous Saturday Night Alumni, life in Austria, their favorite Motown artists and more...

DM) What makes you the "original" as opposed to Belushi & Aykroyd?

JB) In our opinion, the success of the legendary Blues Brothers doesn't just root only on the popularity of Belushi and Aykroyd and the movie.

It's also their somehow unique interpretation of all-time favorite Blues and Soul songs (mostly) from the 60ies and 70ies that opened this music to a wide-spread audience covering almost all ages, colors, or social position.

It's questionable, if Belushi and Aykroyd ever saw it this way or realized it back in the late 70ies, when they started to perform as the BB's. Also, there's a big difference in between how European and American audiences see and understand the movie and the music.

Due to the fact, that neither Helmood or I are famous entertainers or comedians (yet?), we always tried to deliver a similar "message" to our own audience. This means, that we try to keep classic Blues and Soul alive by combining it with more modern elements and also some good ole' Rock.

At the other hand, we take new compositions and re-arrange them with typical style-elements of the 60's and 70's, so that our conversion sound as if they were the original and the actual original was the cover-version. (May sound a little confusing, but it's the shortest way to describe it)

The result is "Rock'n'Soul" and, as we experienced so far, also a very wide-spread audience loves this. We performed at Folk-festivals as well as at Techno-clubbings and our shows were not just accepted, but even highly acclaimed by those audiences.

And last but not least, we write our own original songs that always contain various elements of classic Blues, Soul and a portion Rock, that fit to our repertoire and go perfect with the big classic tunes as well.

Beside all that, we're true and big fans of the BB's and didn't want to confuse the audience by naming ourselves "Blues Brothers revival... tribute... double..." or whatever. From the beginning on, we divided our complete repertoire in 30% BB's, 40% others and 30% original songs.

We never wanted to end up as a pure tribute-band. Much more we always want to improve and develop our music and this in the way we understand the musical "message" of the BB's.

We didn't want to act as impersonators, fakes or whatever and we always underlined that we are "originals" ourselves.

That's why we choose "The Original Brothers" for being our band's name.

DM) What are the differences in how the see the movie?

JB) Americans were familiar with Belushi and Aykroyd as comedians from the SNL-show. Both already had success, even as "The Blues Brothers", who had a no.1 hit-single with "Soulman" in 1978 in the US and a very well selling album named "Briefcase Full Of Blues".

But like I mentioned before, in Europe Belushi and Aykroyd were hardly known then. The "Saturday Night Live Show" for example, was about totally unknown, especially in non-English speaking countries. Even Belushi's prior movies "1941" and "Animal House" didn't have enough success in Europe, to make him become really popular here.

The next thing is about the music. Artists like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin or John Lee Hooker did not have a wide fan-community in those days. Only insider knew a little more about them but their greatest hits. (James Brown, of course, was en exception).

Black Soul-music, "Stax" and "Motown", even Blues etc. were something like a white dot on the map for most Europeans, who mostly thought that American music means "The Beach Boys", "The Bee Gees", "Grease", Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and not too much more.

We shouldn't forget that many European countries didn't even have private radio or TV back then, at the end of the seventies. So people only knew what their public stations offered them.

Example Germany:
Back in the sixties, those programs were stuffed with 50ies Rock'n'Roll, translated into German and sung by German Artists. There was no time and no space for Soul and Blues on German radio. Similar things happened in other European Countries, with some exceptions of course - but not too many.

So when the "Blues Brothers" movie came out, it was announced as "The Blues Brothers - The Most destructive duo since Nitro and Glycerin". And the audience paid their attention mostly to the car chases. People didn't talk about the music or the legends of soul acting as "normal" people - they only said: "Did you see how many cars they destroyed?"

It took them several years and - I'm sorry about that, but it seems to be true - Belushi's early death, to get more into it all and understand a little more about, why this movie is still an outstanding one.

DM) A European once told me that there was no such thing as an American culture, that it was just a mix of all the other cultures. What do you think?

JB) A country's culture is always related to the peoples that live within its borders and so also a mixture of many influences.

For example, the famous Austrian culture and it's many famous names. Everybody knows Mozart, Strauss, etc... - But even Beethoven, Schubert and many others spent a long time of their lives in Austria.

Austria was always, unlike most other European countries, inhabited by many different cultures and peoples. Slavonic, Jewish, Mediterranean, Northern, Roman, etc... mixed up and built
what is known as "Austrian Culture" with all its famous music, poetry and architecture.

In the 18th and 19th century (and also the 29th century of course), many artists and intellectuals left - or even were forced to leave - Europe and immigrated the US.

They're a specific culture developed and this one also included new influences from Afro-American, Asian and Latin origin.

The entire topic is definitely too complicated to be discussed here, but in my opinion there's no doubt, that America's got an own culture.

Due to the developments since the 20ies of this century, when distances became less prohibitive and the telecommunication became more and more simple, faster and effective, "Culture" becomes more and more something, that happens all around the world (except in those countries, that have a very restrictive stand against new developments and influences, because of religious or other reasons.)

Today, a new movie, a new CD or whatever can reach hundreds of millions within only a few days through media like TV or Radio or within seconds through the WWW.

Well, of course that's a little simplified now, but I really do think, that "culture" can not be anymore happen in just one country. Maybe some new trend starts somewhere, but it will be taken further all around the world.

That we came this far roots a lot onto the fast developing music-, film-, and media business in the US (since the 1920ies) And yes, there's always money involved, but that's the way things are going. There are many examples therefore, that if there's no money - the culture suffers heavily and can't develop itself anymore.

I hope, I made my point. Like I mentioned before, it's a very complicated topic. But it's absolutely ridiculous to say, America doesn't have an own culture.

DM) Did Belushi & Ackroyd ever contact you about your act?

JB) When Helmood and I founded the band in 1989, we first thought about naming the band "The Good Ole Blues Brothers Boys Band" just as "Elmwood" introduced the BB's in the movie at "Bob's Country Bunker".

We appeared under this name from 1990 to late 93. The funny thing about it is, that we played only some 6 or 7 songs from the BB's at that time and had over 70% of our own original songs in our repertoire.

In late 93, plans for our first CD occurred, which was planned to become a live-CD. Since we were invited to perform with the BB-band while they were touring in Austria, we kept in contact with the band-members and their manager Glen Palmer.

We asked them, if there was any problem we might be facing in the future, if we use "Blues Brothers" as a part of our bands own name. Well, the BB-band didn't have anything against it. But before we were up to start the production of our upcoming CD, I wanted to be 100% sure, that this is definitely O.K. with the copyright-owners.

So I contacted Glen Palmer and he gave me the address of Pam Jaclyn, an attorney in Portland OR and sister of Judy Jaclyn Pisano (the widow of John Belushi).

I contacted her and it turned out, that in fact no-one else ever asked for a permit to use the name. (instead of a musical production in London)

At a meeting in Portland, Dan Aykroyd, some members of the band and Mrs. Jaclyn decided, to refuse to give us a permit to use "Blues Brothers" within our name, but highly appreciated, that we officially asked for it.

Well, we weren't disappointed. Because we were already thinking about changing the name for something shorter. The old name didn't really fit onto our posters anyway.

Under these circumstances and according to the other reasons, about which I've been talking above, we took "The Original Brothers".

I informed Mrs. Jaclyn about our decision and she was satisfied with it and Helmood wrote a letter to Dan Aykroyd and also sent him our new CD.

A couple of weeks later we received a letter from Dan Aykroyd in which he pronounced his appreciation for our work and thanked us for our loyalty. (A little later, he sent us an autographed poster also.)

DM) Were you disappointed in their turning down your request?

JB) Well, a little. But we saw their reasons for their decision. At the other hand, we never wanted to be just another tribute-act or look-a-like band. So we didn't have any problems with choosing another name for our band.

And the old name was a little too long anyway, to fit onto the posters and to keep it in the minds of our audiences. The new name offered the opportunity, to use more of our own potential again.

The only thing that disappointed us a little was, that obviously, we were the only band that ever asked for such a permit (except the musical) and there are still tons of other bands performing under the name "Blues Brothers" without taking care of a permit or something like that.

We took the hard way, but we're satisfied now. It would have been much easier to get bookings and raise some money for productions, if we still were some "Blues Brothers #857" - act. But like I said, it's only a job then, it's like if you go to work and manufacture something. We wanted to invent our own original music and that's exactly what we can do and what we actually do as "The Original Brothers". Even though we still play "Soulman", "Gimme Some Lovin" and "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love".

DM) What inspired you to form the "original brothers"?

JB) Helmood and I had a band back in the mid-80ies that played only original songs. By chance, we ran into a flock of American tourists and they shouted out: "Hey! You're the Blues Brothers!" (although, we didn't wear hats, shades, etc...)

To be honest, neither Helmood nor I knew any details about the movie at that time, but naturally we became curious. So we went to see the movie a couple of weeks later and we were shocked by the similarities between the characters played by Belushi and Aykroyd and ourselves.

In Europe the majority of the fans still only knows the movie itself and the soundtrack. But as we were musicians, we started to collect all information we could get.

We "discovered" the whole story of the BB's and the band (there was no "Saturday Night Live" ever in Europe) and of Aykroyd and John Belushi, who was only known for his parts in "Blues Brothers" and a little bit for "Animal House" here in Europe. (BTW: The German translation for the movie-title "Animal House" was "I guess a horse kicks me" - and who wants to see a movie with a title like that?)

We wanted to play some of the BB-songs with our band but the other musicians weren't convinced. So we put together a completely new line-up by placing a newspaper-ad that said: "Jake and Elmwood are bringing the band back together."

Two months later we started to perform and since then, with still growing success.

Well, I hope these answers are understandable. After all, I'm Austrian and although I'm in the States quite often, my English writing could be a lot better.

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to drop me a line. There's a good chance that we'll come to the US either by the end of the year or early next year.

Currently we're playing some one-off concerts in Austria until October. Then we'll be touring in Germany.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like, that we'll get our new CD ready until September as we planned to. It's always the same: If you don't have enough gigs, you don't have the money to produce a new CD. If you have enough gigs, you don't have the time to.

DM) So, when you started the band, you didn't see the Blues Brothers at all?

JB) We already had our own band at the time when we saw the movie the first time, but this band had a different name and we only played our own compositions. After we saw the movie and found out more about the characters, the music and the entire background, we felt like it was our duty, to play some of their music as well and to continue the so called "Mission".

So we collected some other musicians, like a complete horn-section (absolutely required!) and some soulful, female backup-singers and got the thing going.

DM) What did you think of the newest Blues Brothers movie, Blues Brothers 2000?

JB) Dan Aykroyd always wanted to do a sequel. When he wrote the original script for the first movie, he already completed the script for the sequel also.

After John's death, everything changed. But Aykroyd kept on planning a second movie. Many rumors about a new film were to be heard in the past but nothing happened. It was also to be heard, that the studios in Hollywood didn't want Aykroyd to produce a new movie and so didn't give him the money therefore. It seem like, they didn't want to have any damage done to the

In fact, now that we know BB2K it looks like, they were right. Though some people told me, that the movie becomes better if you see it over and over again I doubt, that many people even long for seeing it just a second time.

I was personally shocked when I saw it. And to be honest, I didn't see it again. But I can see what Aykroyd wanted to show and how he wanted to draw a bridge to the nineties (or the next millenium). Unfortunately it didn't really work out and I doubt, that he managed it to open the minds and ears of another generation to Blues and Soul unless they liked it before anyway.

At the other hand it doesn't look like, that the image of the first movie-suffers from the new one. It's still an outstanding piece of movie- and music-history (and of American culture of course).

And true Aykroyd fans like BB2K anyway. I think another title would have been much more suitable for this movie: "Elwoods Return"

DM) What music do you listen to at home?

JB) I'm open-minded for every kind of music. My private collection (about 500 CD's, 300 LP's and some 300 Vinyl-Singles) contains mostly Blues, R&B, Soul, Hip-Hop, Rock'n'Roll, Rock but also many examples of other styles. But I do not really like Techno, Trash and other things (always with certain exceptions), that do not require musical skills from their performers.


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