The Original Blues Brothers Band feat. Steve Cropper and Lou Marini
(Ronnie Scott’s, early show, 21st August 2014. First of six shows over three nights. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
The Blues Brothers began in the late 1970s as part of the legendary, long-running American comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live. The various incarnations of the band have recorded about a dozen albums, and the 1980 film – which starred John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as brothers Jake and Elwood Blues, and featured unforgettable contributions from the likes of James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin – has its place as one of the very greatest feel-good movies ever.
With the death of Belushi in 1982, and, much more recently, of both bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and trumpeter “Mr Fabulous” Alan Rubin, the initial band line-up has been consigned to history. Nevertheless, the current crew showcases two original and significant members: guitarist Steve “The Colonel” Cropper and tenor saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini.
Cropper led out Leon “The Lion” Pendarvis on organ, Eric “The Red” Udel on bass guitar, and drummer Lee “Funkeytime” Finkelstein for the opening Green Onions. The tune – originally made famous by Booker T. & the M.G.’s in 1962 – was guaranteed to get the audience nodding and in the mood for a set of rocking blues. Part-way through, guitarist “Smokin’” John Tropea, trumpeter Steve “Catfish” Howard, trombonist Larry “Trombonius Maximus” Farrell and Marini marched in to provide a rich, beefy backdrop.
The rousing Peter Gunn Theme by Henry Mancini followed, and contained fine solos from Farrell and Marini. Cropper enthused, “It’s all about energy; take a bagful of that home with you”. And with that, vocalists Tommy McDonnell and Rob “The Honeydripper” Paparozzi bounded onto the stage in the black suits, hats and shades that you’d expect from Jake and Elwood, and launched into Going Back to Miami. She Caught the Katy was notable for the emotional, Randy Newman-like voice of Paparozzi and the harmonica-and-horns train effects.
Flip, Flop and Fly was distinguished by a piercing solo by Marini. A third singer, Bobby “Sweet Soul” Harden, mingled with the audience and won them over when he returned – prowling and mugging in a dazzling white suit – for the evocative song immortalised by Cab Calloway, Minnie The Moocher.
A mid-set highlight – the slow Shotgun Blues – had a beautifully restrained solo from Tropea that was punctuated by the brass section. Cropper seemed to be content to play quiet rhythm guitar while others took the spotlight, and was blown away by Tropea on Sweet Home Chicago.
The encore, Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, saw all three vocalists having a ball and high-kicking while the crowd clapped on the “on-beat”. It was the last of 15 songs that were crammed into a slick performance of just 70 minutes.
It was a perfectly respectable show by any standards, but one could have wished for a few rougher edges, a slightly less sanitised portrayal of the seamier side of life.