New Heathens

Belushi’s Timing

Because I clicked "like" on my all-time favorite movie, The Blues Brothers, Facebook reminded me that it was 30 years ago today that the great John Belushi died. It's worth remembering what a kick-ass job Belushi did playing Jake Blues, and appreciating the fact that -- comedian or not -- dude rocked hard.

I remember a TV interview with late trumpeter Alan Rubin (the original Mr. Fabulous) where he remembered defending Belushi when people asked if the Blues Brothers were a joke.

"This guy's timing was incredible," Rubin said. "I have tapes of rehearsals with John singing and his timing, you just wouldn't believe."

One of my favorite BB tracks is this slow burner called "Shotgun Blues," and it shows off those perfectly timed vocal punches that Belushi could deliver. Dan Aykroyd, a.k.a. Elwood Blues, said Belushi insisted on having a hotshot lead guitar player in the band, so they hired Matt "Guitar" Murphy to augment a frontline that included legendary guitarist Steve "The Colonel" Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn from Booker T. and the MGs. Murphy shines on this tune, but it's Belushi -- ravaged voice and all -- who hangs cool and brings it on home.

A fact I love about Belushi in the Blues Brothers is that it's really him flipping. Those handsprings down the aisle at the Triple Rock Church in front of the the Reverend Cleophus James (Brown)? All Belushi. That quick flip at the end of Can't Turn You Loose right before the band kicks into Everybody Needs Somebody to Love? Belushi. No stuntguys. The wildman did it himself.

One of the points Bob Woodward made in his biography of Belushi is that his colleagues felt that when he was high on cocaine, it threw off his incredible, natural timing. Belushi stayed clean when he performed with the Blues Brothers, and Woodward reported he was such a hard-liner about it that he told bandmembers, "If you're wired, you're fired!"

Belushi was aimless when he speedballed himself to death in a seedy LA hotel. He was far away from (Sweet Home) Chicago, where he was born, and New York City, where he became a star. He was frustrated about a bummer experience he'd had making the movie "Neighbors." But great stuff was around the corner. His best buddy Aykroyd had reportedly written him a part in a new script he was working on called "Ghostbusters."

Pause for a moment here to think how much fun it would've been to watch Bluto Blutoski chase ghosts.

In the end, the biggest timing blunder Belushi ever made was leaving the stage too early.

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