The Original Blues Brothers Band
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Minglewood Hall, 1555 Madison
Doors: 6 p.m.
Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Advance tickets available at the box office and online at minglewoodhall.com.
For more information: 901-312-6058.
Last May, Memphis-born bass guitar legend Donald “Duck” Dunn passed away while on tour in Japan with soul singer Eddie Floyd.
Sunday, guitarist Steve Cropper, a lifelong band mate who played with Dunn on those final shows, will pay tribute to his friend in a memorial concert at Minglewood Hall featuring The Original Blues Brothers Band, the R&B/soul revue the two Messick High School graduates first helped form 35 years ago with comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.
“I don’t even know what I’m going to say yet with Duck being my best friend,” Cropper says of the tribute, which is also part of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music yearlong 10th anniversary celebration.
“We’re also going to mention some other brothers who weren’t in the Blues Brothers Band who were connected with Stax,” Cropper said. For instance, “(the late) Charles ‘Skip’ Pitts, the guitar player for Isaac Hayes, and Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns, who played on many, many records at Stax. It just seemed like a good time to honor our fallen comrades.”
The Blues Brothers was not Cropper and Dunn’s first band together. The two classmates first played in the Mar-Keys, whose “Last Night” in 1961 was a hit for the Stax precursor Satellite Records. They reteamed a few years later when Dunn replaced Lewie Steinberg in Booker T. & the MGs, the Stax house band that backed Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and others while scoring several instrumental hits of their own. During this time, Cropper became one of the main creative forces at Stax, scouting for new talent, writing songs and producing records.
Following the demise of Stax in the mid-’70s, the pair was recruited to join an all-star band backing up “Saturday Night Live” comics Aykroyd and Belushi in their music-themed side project, the Blues Brothers. Though the two frontmen, playing characters Jake and Elwood Blues, certainly got their laughs, when it came to the music, the group was serious business. In 1978, the band released its debut album, the chart-topping Briefcase Full of Blues, followed by the hit movie “The Blues Brothers” in 1980.
The Blues Brothers temporarily disbanded following Belushi’s death in 1982, but within a few years different incarnations of the group were playing again, with the late comic’s brother Jim Belushi and actor John Goodman often stepping in.
The Original Blues Brothers Band, featuring Cropper and Dunn, formed in 1998 with the blessing of Aykroyd and Belushi’s widow and has been a touring force ever since, particularly in Europe where the band’s brand of traditional R&B is still popular. Joining Cropper in the current lineup is original Blues Brothers saxophonist Lou Marini and a lineup of ace New York session players, including “New York’s Soul Man” Bobby Harden and 40-year R&B veteran Rob Paparozzi in the Belushi-Aykroyd roles.
“Through the years I get asked all the time by people when will we get to hear the Blues Brothers around here, and the answer is, sadly, you may never get to hear us,” says Cropper, explaining why the band so rarely appears in the United States. “It’s a shame, because this band is a powerhouse band. It’s probably the strongest band I’ve ever played in. I think Duck said the same thing when he was alive.”
These days Cropper, who moved to Memphis from rural Missouri at age 9, calls Nashville home, though at the age of 71, it is surprising how little he is there. He just wrapped up a 25-date European tour with a reunited version of British Invasion band The Animals and was busy planning other appearances, including a possible teaming with Peter Frampton, to hold him over until The Blues Brothers Band heads back to Europe for its annual summer run.
“I spent almost all my life in the studio,” he says of his late-life wanderlust. “It’s like letting the dog out of the backyard. I enjoy touring.”
One place where Cropper’s sojourns continually take him is back to the South Memphis neighborhood where he and Dunn and their friends and collaborators helped create soul music. The old converted movie theater on McLemore Avenue is long gone. In its place is a shiny new complex of buildings devoted to the company’s legacy, including the Stax Museum, The Soulsville Charter School and the Stax Music Academy.
“One of the highlights of my whole life was when I came down there earlier this winter. I did a little seminar with some of the Academy kids,” Cropper recalls. “We had about, I don’t know, 30-35 kids in the room. That blew me away. I had a ball doing it. They were so attentive and interested in everything I had to say, it just brought it all back together. It’s one thing to be remembered and be part of the museum, but seeing that academy working and seeing those young minds wanting to play music and having a passion for it, that really is exciting.”