LE Newsletter - November 12, 2009


  Dan Aykroyd's Got The Blues

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Brad Wheeler

(November 09, 2009) 'I just urge any young guitar player or drummer or bass player, or anyone out there that's playing today or who plays Guitar Hero or plays in the basement or anyone who wants to hear fine musicianship - these are going to be the nights to see it." Dan Aykroyd is not only on the phone, he is on. He's talking - no, preaching - about Canada's durable blues band, Downchild. The Toronto-based group is marking its 40 years of making robust, leaping Chicago electric blues with a national tour that includes shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal hosted by the 57-year-old entertainer and winemaker, who (with John Belushi) based his popular Blues Brothers act on Downchild's co-founding siblings.

Downchild's singer Richard (Hock) Walsh died in 1999, but the guitarist and harmonica-tooting Donnie Walsh is still at the helm. "These are going to be special nights," enthuses the ghost-busting comedic legend. "We've got James Cotton, we've got Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, we've got Colin Linden."

And we've got a blues-ed up Dan Aykroyd.

If I were to describe you, I might call you an actor, a comedian and a frustrated bluesman.


But, you've played with Muddy Waters, your Briefcase of Blues album from 1978 was a hit, and you blow harmonica on Downchild's latest album, I Need a Hat. Maybe you're not so frustrated after all.

I was able to collaborate with the best people in the business. John [Belushi] and I weren't the best musicians or vocalists, but we had ability there. And we had good dancing ability and we had the chemistry that was able to pay reverence and draw inspiration from the great showman.

The Blues Brothers idea was inspired by Downchild. How did it come together?

Belushi and I had a meeting one night. I guess it would have been back in 1973. We concocted our idea to put our band together, because John said he liked to sing and I played a little harp.

This meeting took place in Toronto, at the speakeasy you ran, right?

Club 505, at 505 Queen Street East. We were listening to Almost and Shotgun Blues and Flip, Flop and Fly. John said "that guy's voice, who is that guy?" I said "that's Hock Walsh, and Donnie Walsh, of Downchild, the pre-eminent blues band of this city and of Canada. That's the real stuff right there."

You were no blues novice - you knew about the real stuff. What was it that Downchild had?

Well, primarily the musicianship. It was the skill, the master ability on harmonica and the master ability on guitar. And it was the way Hock phrased things, and the playfulness of the lyrics in a traditional blues way.

You based your Elwood character on Donnie Walsh. In return he named his boat "Elwood." With the Blues Brothers recording three of his songs, the royalties Walsh received probably paid for the boat.

The one thing John and I did not do was to go around scooping up publishing rights. All of the artists who wrote the songs got all of their royalties. I hope Donnie will be able to buy 10 boats.

Your Elwood character was on a "mission from God." With the chain of House of Blues clubs you co-founded and your House of Blues Radio Hour, you took on a mission yourself, to spread the blues.

It's now in other people's hands, not so much mine, but we do our part. I think the mission is in good shape.

And how's your shape?

Overall, 87-per-cent. [Laughs] I'm all right, sure. I feel like a train backed over me every morning, but the brain is okay. I'm going forward - I haven't given up yet.

Dan Aykroyd hosts Downchild and guests at Montreal's Metropolis, Thursday; Ottawa's National Arts Centre, Friday; and Toronto's Massey Hall, Saturday.