The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic

The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic

The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic
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Amazon editor's pick: Best biographies and memoirs, March 2024

"This is a well-researched book. Better, it’s a well-told story, one that rarely loses it focus on the larger picture — the many forces that came together to create comedy by the baby boom generation for the baby boom generation — while engaging the reader in a close-up view of two very different, very funny men." —Ty Burr, Washington Post

"[R]aces along on a whoosh of marvelous details and crackling anecdotes." —Kyle Smith, Wall Street Journal

"[De Visé] has compiled the definitive one-stop history of the Blues Brothers band, the film and a touching dual biography of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd." —Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

"[D]roll and rigorous . . . bracingly thorough." —Ed Potton, The Times of London

“They’re not going to catch us,” Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues tells his brother Jake, played by John Belushi. “We’re on a mission from God.” So opens the musical action comedy The Blues Brothers, which hit theatres on June 20, 1980. Their scripted mission was to save a local Chicago orphanage; but Aykroyd, who conceived and wrote the film, had a greater mission: to honor the then-seemingly forgotten tradition of rhythm and blues, some of whose greatest artists—Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles—made the film as unforgettable as its wild car chases. Late and vastly over budget, beset by mercurial and oft drugged-out stars, The Blues Brothers opened to tepid reviews at best. However, in the 44 years since it has been acknowledged a classic: inducted into the National Film Registry for its cultural significance; even declared a “Catholic classic” by the Church itself; and re-aired thousands of times on television to huge worldwide audiences. It is, undeniably, one of the most significant films of the 20th century.

The story behind any classic is rich; the saga behind The Blues Brothers, as Daniel de Visé reveals, is epic, encompassing the colorful childhoods of Belushi and Aykroyd; the comedic revolution sparked by Harvard’s Lampoon and Chicago’s Second City; the birth and anecdote-rich, drug-filled early years of Saturday Night Live, where the Blues Brothers were born as an act amidst turmoil and rivalry; and of course the indelible behind-the-scenes narrative of how the film was made, scene by memorable scene. Based on original research and dozens of interviews probing the memories of principals from director John Landis and producer Bob Weiss to SNL creator Lorne Michaels and Aykroyd himself, The Blues Brothers vividly portrays the creative geniuses behind modern comedy.

“An award-winning journalist chronicles the story of the iconic 1980 film and the bond between its two stars . . . Exhaustively researched, highly informative . . . A complete portrait of a classic film and the zeitgeist of its era.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"De Visé (King of the Blues) presents a compelling, comprehensive look at how a 'clean-cut teetotaling jock' and a Canadian Catholic seminary dropout became the Blues Brothers. . . . Narrator Johnny Heller’s gritty voice is a perfect match to the rough, raucous story." —Library Journal (starred review)

"Dan de Visé explores in great depth the relationships and circumstances that led to the film’s creation, and its sombre aftermath. . . . a definitive account of The Blues Brothers’ creation." —Paul Whitington, Irish Independent

"[O]ffers a completist's account of the genesis of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's act and the drug-fuelled comedy world and culture out of which it emerged. It's also the most detailed biography yet of the pair's quieter, brainier half, Aykroyd." —The Globe and Mail (Canada), "30 new fiction and non-fiction books to read this spring"

"It was a good book. Whipped through." —Bill O'Reilly, news commentator and author of Killing the Witches

"Great book. Great movie." —Barry Mitchell, "Barry's Beach Reads," World News NowABC-TV

"41 new books for summer reading," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Such a bonkers movie is inevitably the result of a bonkers making-of story — one that Daniel de Vise’s impeccably researched, clear-headed, highly entertaining book does full justice to. . . . Not only nirvana for Blues Brothers nerds but a fascinating snapshot of a cultural moment and a touching study of an unlikely friendship. Black hats off!" —Ian Freer, Empire

Toronto Star editor's pick, "The 30 books we can't wait to read this spring"

"A lively and authoritative tribute to a comedy classic, [with] incisive biographical portraits of its two leads." —Nathan Smith, Sydney Morning Herald 

“[A] boisterous romp . . . A loving ode to a comedy classic.” —Publishers Weekly

“Takes readers into the chaos of the making of the film and its aftermath. The narrative becomes even more riveting as filming of The Blues Brothers kicks off, and it’s also more tragic as it shows the steady decline that ultimately led to Belushi’s tragic death in 1982. Will be popular with fans of pop culture and aficionados of film and TV history, as it not only covers the creation of The Blues Brothers but also serves as a dual biography of Aykroyd and Belushi.” —Library Journal

“Daniel de Visé has done a remarkable job of pulling together a credible telling of a complicated story. The Blues Brothers is a riveting examination of this remarkable band, its compelling characters and the music they cherish. Equally importantly, de Visé seems to have managed to embrace the humor, humanity, love and tragedy that makes the story of the Blues Brothers a worthwhile tale.” —Judy Belushi Pisano

"Daniel de Visé has written the perfect book to set the record straight. The book is part dual biography and part work of social archaeology and traces the journey that Belushi and Aykroyd took via school, college, comedy circuit and television (principally Saturday Night Live) to culminate in the making of the movie. It also chronicles Belushi’s untimely death two years later. The story behind this classic film is rich in detail, as de Visé’s thorough and painstaking research reveals." —Ian Lomax, Jazz Journal

"[A] diverting celebration." —Irish Times

"Engaging. . . . As its title implies, de Visé’s entertaining — if that is the right word — canter through Belushi and Aykroyd’s lives and times covers a fair number of bases. Several myths are scotched along the way." —D.J. Taylor, The Spectator 

"Daniel de Visé has written an entertaining account of a pop culture masterpiece by interviewing the survivors." —Andrea Palazzo, Il Messaggero (Italy) 

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"[T]he author goes to phenomenal lengths to detail not just the making of the Blues Brothers film (which is a bonkers story in and of itself), but goes back to the beginning, detailing the upbringings of the two actors, their explorations into a burgeoning comedy scene, their rise at SNL, and all the blues that's fit to print."—Zac Johnson, AllMusic 

"Four of the most riveting memoirs and biographies on our shelves," Irish Independent

The 10 Books You Should Be Reading This March, InsideHook

“This thorough account of the Blues Brothers’ origin story is as fun and riveting as the comedy classic itself. From the act’s beginnings in the raucous early days of Saturday Night Live to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s serious love for the blues and each other, Daniel de Visé chronicles this unique chapter in film history like a virtuoso.” —Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia and So Fetch

"If you’re wondering whether the subtitle of this book oversells it a bit, as far as I’m concerned, the answer is a resounding 'No.' . . . If you’re a devotee of the movie or a fan of the early Saturday Night Live, you’ll enjoy this thorough, authoritative, and lively book." —Rich Lowry, National Review

"[A] a superb social history of the 1970s in America, where political turmoil reigned, the counterculture clawed its way into the mainstream, and edgy comedians began to replace rock stars as some of the decade’s most interesting commentators and figures." —Michael Causey, Washington Independent Review of Books

"[A]n exhaustive, illuminating, funny, tragic and propulsive account of the Blues Brothers’ ascent into pop culture immortality. . . . De Visé covers every aspect of its often-chaotic production in tremendous, riveting detail. Imagine the making of Apocalypse Now, but on the streets of Chicago." —Paul Whitelaw, The Big Issue, U.K.

“Daniel de Visé has brought the iconic comedy friendship between Belushi and Aykroyd brilliantly to life in this thoroughly researched, beautifully written book about one of the funniest movies ever made. I loved every page.” —Josh Karp, author of A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever

"The Blues Brothers brings a hefty dose of humor, heart, and music in charting the life, death, and resurrection of the iconic band. Author Daniel De Vise (King of the Blues) brilliantly makes the past come alive with his well-rounded biography of Belushi, Aykroyd, and the band that defined their careers." —Phillip Zozzaro, Seattle Book Review

"[A]n excellent parable for the decade. . . . This book is recommended for readers who appreciate innovative late-night comedy and non-comic book blockbusters." —J. Kemper Campbell, Lincoln, Nebraska Journal-Star

"Daniel de Visé takes us on the 'roller coaster' that was the filming of the movie, and also Belushi’s personal life. The journalist cleverly combines the double biography of the two stars of The Blues Brothers, and the story of this 'rhythm and blues and Catholic hot pursuit.'" —Éric Heintz, Soul Bag (France)

"The Blues Brothers isn’t just a book about a movie; it’s a love letter to the power of laughter, music, and the enduring bonds of friendship. Whether you’re a fan of the film or simply intrigued by the intersection of comedy and culture, this is a must-read that will leave you laughing, singing, and perhaps even shedding a tear for the unforgettable journey of Jake and Elwood Blues." —Live for Films

"Daniel De Visé has done this wonderful and raucous film truly proud with a fascinating account. . . . [T]he definitive telling of the making of The Blues Brothers." —Buzz Magazine (U.K.)

"A pleasure to behold. . . . As much fun as this book is, it’s like watching Titanic. You’re enjoying it so much that you almost forget about the tragic ending." —Bookreporter

Father's Day Gift Guide, Forces of Geek

“Aykroyd and Belushi’s singing, dancing, car-crashing mission from God came about because of their ferocious devotion to the blues. That same passion flows through Daniel de Visé’s riveting, meticulously detailed book, in which the creation of one of Hollywood’s most wonderful oddities is chronicled like never before. A worthy tribute to a raucous masterpiece—and as flavorsome as four fried chickens and a Coke.” —Nick de Semlyen, author of Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ‘80s Changed Hollywood Forever

"[An] absolute blast of a book . . . full of incredible research and fascinating details." —Literary Review (U.K.)

“Here is the true story of a human sunflare. In case we forget that we’re as organic as the sun, that blazes of naked spirit once rose wherever the mysteries of nature and chance threw humans together whose madness, passion, conflict and love could combust in real life—till everyone was lit and became a part of the dazzle. This is how it works. This is how we burn. This book is on a mission from God.” —DBC Pierre, author of Vernon God Little, winner of the Booker Prize

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"There are those, including, bizarrely, the Catholic Church, who think The Blues Brothers a comedy masterpiece and Belushi a great lost talent, and those who reckon the paper-thin plot is carried by musical cameos that embarrassingly outshine its leading men and that Belushi was an overrated and over-indulged mess. The former will love De Visé’s enjoyably rollicking in-depth analysis. The latter may conclude that he’s gifted his subject a much better book that it deserves." —Pat Carty, Business Post (Ireland)

"Entertaining . . . There’s lots of fun celebrity gossip in The Blues Brothers . . . However, it’s the nagging what-ifs that remain after Belushi’s death — imagine Ghostbusters with Belushi or a proper Blues Brothers sequel, not the wretched Blues Brothers 2000 bomb — that provide a bittersweet undertone to this memoir." —Alan Small, Winnipeg Free Press

"With the feel of a class reunion or like paging through your high school annual, this book will very much appeal to readers who can still quote the movie or sing its songs. Start The Blues Brothers, and you’ll be hooked." —Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm