Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Blues Brothers

An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic

by Daniel de Visé

The story of the epic friendship between John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the golden era of improv, and the making of a comedic film classic that helped shape our popular culture

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date March 19, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6098-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date March 19, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6099-7
  • US List Price $28.00

“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.

Praise for The Blues Brothers:

“The definitive one-stop history of the Blues Brothers band, the film and a touching dual biography of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, which Aykroyd refers to in the book as one of the great friendships, the ache still heard years after Belushi’s death.”—Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

“Races along on a whoosh of marvelous details and crackling anecdotes.”—Kyle Smith, Wall Street Journal

“At its essence, it’s the story of a great American bromance, a partnership that was kept alive by one man’s creative discipline before crashing on the rocks of another man’s addictions . . . This is a well-researched book. Better, it’s a well-told story, one that rarely loses its focus on the larger picture.”—Ty Burr, Washington Post

“Droll and rigorous . . . Bracingly thorough.”—Ed Potton, Times (UK)

“The perfect book to set the record straight . . . The story behind this classic film is rich in detail, as De Visé’s thorough and painstaking research reveals . . . Authentic as well as meticulously researched. It is also an eminently readable story of how a paper-thin spin-off from a cult TV show has endured so long. Highly recommended.”—Ian Lomax, Jazz Journal

“The birth story of a surprisingly enduring musical action comedy provides the framework for a detailed and insightful examination of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s partnership in The Blues Brothers . . . Plenty of fascinating material in this fresh examination of success and tragedy.”—Shelf Awareness (starred review)

“An outstanding chronicle of Belushi and Aykroyd’s magical, comical bond . . . A superb social history of the 1970s in America . . . An excellent time capsule that captures—via the bond between Aykroyd and Belushi—the electric joy of making special connections, the exhilaration of riding the arc of a flourishing partnership, and the pain of inevitable loss which, for all of us, remains the price of allowing others into our lives.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

“A completist’s account of the genesis of Aykroyd and 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, Canadian half, Aykroyd.”—Globe & Mail

“While the background of the two whirlwind comedians is compelling and well-told, the rubber really hits the road as the feature film begins coming into focus. The book recounts anecdote after anecdote about the process, the characters, the stunts, and the guest stars, each more eye-gogglingly impossible than the last.”—Zac Johnson, All Music

“Exhaustive, illuminating, funny, tragic, and propulsive . . . De Vise sets the scene with impressively detailed chapters on the lives and careers of Akyroyd and Belushi.”—Paul Whitelaw, Big Issue

“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)

“[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

“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

“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

“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

“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

Praise for King of the Blues:

Longlisted for the PEN America Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography
Named a Best Arts Book of the Year by Library Journal

“A fluent read of a major artist’s evolution . . . de Visé has dived deeply into the world of an American master and discovered that the guitar god was mortal after all . . . The author is at his best when homed in on King’s sound.”—Preston Lauterbach, Wall Street Journal

“A comprehensive and unfiltered look at the complex musical giant . . . De Visé tells King’s fascinating story with great detail and fluid prose . . . King of the Blues helps encapsulate his incredible life and his enduring legacy.”—Jackson Clarion Ledger

“Adds flesh and blood to the standard cultural codification of King as icon. It presents a career full of ambition and a life informed by longing, with triumphs and setbacks, discrimination and canonization.”—Houston Chronicle

“A full-blown hero’s journey . . . Filled with interviews with King’s relatives, band members and managers, the resulting biography feels at once intimate and encyclopedic, offering a full picture of the man behind the myth.”—AARP

“B.B. King, who died in 2015 at age 89, gets the royal treatment from his biographer, and rightly so . . . Essential.”—David Wesley Williams, Chapter 16

“As blues royalty and one of the 20th century’s most influential musicians, B.B. King has long deserved a well-considered biography that places his achievements in a cultural and historical context. This is it . . . Interweaves tales of American history, pop culture, racial relations, music theory, and much more to fully demonstrate King’s significance . . . Magnificent . . . The thrill is here, as B.B. King finally gets his due in this first meticulous account of his historic life.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist De Visé amply demonstrates his masterful storytelling and research skills in this definitive look at legendary blues musician B.B. King . . . An intimate portrait of a cultural luminary . . . Even readers who aren’t fans of the blues will be engrossed by this nuanced look at an American icon.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The definitive biography of blues master Riley ‘B.B.’ King . . . Engaging. The book expertly interweaves King’s music career into the U.S. social fabric, especially the civil rights movement. With this fast-moving, informative, evenhanded, and exhaustive biography, de Visé vividly captures King’s life.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“De Visé tells King’s story in the context of his swirling times, intertwined with profiles of historic people and events musical and otherwise. A fine portrait of an iconic musician.”—Booklist (starred review) 

“B.B. King was a marvelous man and an international ambassador for the blues. King of the Blues tells the extraordinary story of his life in great detail, and a wonderful story it is. A fitting tribute to a great artist.”—John Landis, director of The Blues Brothers, Animal HouseTrading Places, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller

“Like hopping onboard B.B.’s tour bus for a ride straight to the heart of the blues. Told me about the B.B. I knew and a few other B.B.s as well. I loved them all.”—Shemekia Copeland, three-time Grammy-nominated Alligator Records recording artist

“The name B.B. King now resonates with longevity amongst blues lovers and music enthusiasts alike. With more than six decades of noteworthy expressions of a great American art form, B.B. King’s guitar playing and singing hold a strong place with an unmistakable sound of his professional and effervescent personality. Get a head start within these fine pages for an intimate trip with B.B. King’s lifetime attachment to creativity. B.B. is truly King of the Blues, oh yeah!”—Billy F. Gibbons, guitarist and singer, ZZ Top

“Mr. de Vis¬é meticulously dives deep into why and how young Riley, who graced this planet from a world of extreme complications, was able through his talent, relentless drive and humility, to rise to the deserved title ‘King of the Blues.’ Get your records out and enjoy the read. I did!!”—Robert Cray, five-time Grammy-winning blues guitarist and singer-songwriter

“B.B. King, one of the great bluesmen of all time. Can any other person hold one note on the guitar and make it say so much? Daniel de Visé’s book on B.B. King is a great read.”—Joan Armatrading, three-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and guitarist

“B.B. King was the stone truth, the man who took down home uptown and, yes, the undisputed king of the blues. This, his first full and authoritative biography, is both right on time and long overdue. Dan de Visé has done a solid for music lovers everywhere.”—Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer prizewinning national columnist and author

“De Visé writes beautifully. His command of narrative is compelling. The level of detail he amassed is awesome.”—Charles Sawyer, author of The Arrival of B.B. King: The Authorized Biography

“Extremely thoughtful, thorough and insightful.”—David Ritz, biographical collaborator with B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin, and biographer of Marvin Gaye