DATE November 22, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Dan Aykroyd discusses his experiences as an actor,
musician, interviewer and author
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of "The Blues Brothers")
Mr. DAN AYKROYD: (As Elwood Blues) It's 106 miles to Chicago. We got a full
tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes. It's dark, and we're wearing
Mr. JOHN BELUSHI: (As Jake Blues) Hit it.
GROSS: That's a scene from "The Blues Brothers," with my guest, Dan Aykroyd,
as Elwood Blues, and John Belushi as Jake Blues. Aykroyd and Belushi created
these two blue-eyed soul men for "Saturday Night Live," then built two movies
around them. Jim Belushi became Aykroyd's Blues Brother after the death of
John Belushi. "The Blues Brothers'" success led Aykroyd to co-found nightclub
chain the House of Blues. He also hosts the program the "House of Blues Radio
Hour." And now Aykroyd has a book of interviews with musicians that were
recorded for the program. It's called "Elwood's Blues: Interviews with the
Blues Legends and Stars." Some of the musicians featured in the book are
Bobby "Blue" Bland, Charles Brown, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy and B.B.
King. Aykroyd has starred in many movies. His latest, "Christmas with the
Kranks," opens this holiday weekend. I spoke with Dan Aykroyd about his early
career, his days at "Saturday Night Live," "The Blues Brothers" and his new
book, "Elwood's Blues."
Dan Aykroyd, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now when you're doing your "House of
Blues" show, do you actually do the interviews in character as Elwood?
Mr. DAN AYKROYD (Actor; Author, "Elwood's Blues"): Well, yeah. Elwood is a
character that kind of is now an entity that stands on his own. He's like an
evil twin of mine. And he really exists as his own character. And he's a bit
resentful of Aykroyd because Aykroyd was the writer and, you know, he's always
kind of asking me, `Send the check,' but, no, I send the check and he says he
never got it. But, yeah, the interviews are all done in the Elwood character.
And thank God that Elwood is a minimalist, because the strength of the
book--and you are one of the best interviewers alive, and you know this--that
GROSS: Oh, gee, thanks.
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, the strength of interviews, of good interviews, lies, I
think, in letting the subject talk. And so Elwood's a minimalist, and this
we've achieved in this book. We've just let the legends and the stars tell
their story. That way we can focus in on truly what--the content that's
important, and that is the content of the musicians and the people who live
GROSS: What were the first records you bought? Can you remember?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, the first records, of course, were The Beatles and the
Stones. And then I think the seminal record for me was the East-West
record that Paul Butterfield did in the late '60s with Elvin Bishop and
Michael Bloomfield. And from then on, I began to go out and try to search the
bins in the record stores for blues artists and then started listening to John
Lee Hooker. And we had a tremendous booking agent in Ottawa, Canada, where I
grew up--that's the capital of that great, great nation--and my parents worked
for the government up there, and I was a kind of a son of government workers
up there. And there was a club called Le Hibou which was right on Sussex
Drive near where the prime minister lives. And we had a booker there named
Harvey Glatt, and he brought in all of the great blues stars of the age so
that, as a teen-ager, I jammed behind Muddy Waters when S.P. Leary refused
to take the drum kit. And he said, `Is there anybody out there that's a
drummer?' And I walked up and I started to play, and Muddy turns to me and he
goes, `Keep that beat going, boy. You make Muddy feel good.' I mean, this
was part of my early exposure.
And then I saw Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite and, you know, all
these great players. And it was, I guess, just through the insight of this
guy who was, you know, booking for the college crowd up there. And then
listening to the black radio stations in Boston and Detroit and New York, this
was--you know, these were sort of all part of my exposures, I guess.
GROSS: So what was in your parents' record collection? What did they listen
to, and how did that affect what you liked or didn't like?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, my dad used to pore over the newspapers and look for
record collections that were used. So he would go and he'd see that some guy
in Ottawa or Hull or where we were living there would be selling a hundred
records, and he'd just go out and buy 'em all. So we were listening to
anything from Glenn Miller to Mario Lanza, lots of Broadway soundtracks and
stuff. But I think my father really influenced my when he started to get into
the Jack Hilton, Ray Noble, Freddy Gardner, English swing band music. That
was really something because, you know, the value of horns was there. And
then later, as I started to buy, of course, it was The Beatles and the Stones
and The Animals and then the Paul Butterfield record. But my dad was into the
swing band music, as many people were in Canada at that time.
GROSS: Now I read about you that you had a pretty strict Catholic upbringing,
that you went to Catholic school. Did...
Mr. AYKROYD: Seminary.
GROSS: Seminary. Whoa, OK. So you're growing up in Canada; you're going to
a seminary and listening to blues and rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues.
Mr. AYKROYD: And seeing guys on stage in my high school imitating Mick
Mr. AYKROYD: ...imitating The Animals, you know...
GROSS: OK. That's where I'm heading. Were you...
Mr. AYKROYD: Yeah.
GROSS: Long before you became part of the Blues Brothers and you developed
this kind of alter ego for yourself, did you have a pose when you were in high
school? Did you want to be black? Did you want to be a blues musician?
Mr. AYKROYD: I...
GROSS: Did you want to be somebody who you weren't and kind of take on that
pose in real life?
Mr. AYKROYD: Sure. I wanted to be Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite.
And I used to walk around in a long trench coat, a long brown trench coat with
shades, and I slicked my hair back, and I'd try to find any little band up in
the bars up in the Gatineau and up in Ottawa and in Hull and where I was
living. And I would get on stage with them, and they'd be country bands, and
I would turn to them and say, `Well, can you do it like this?' And I would
kind of show them a basic, you know, eight-, 10-, 12-bar blues pattern, and
then we'd just take off from there. And of course I was posing as Paul
Butterfield. Yeah, absolutely.
Mr. AYKROYD: And then my friend Derry O'Dwyer(ph), who is now a school
principal up in Cobourg, Ontario--he was pretending to be Eric Burdon. And I
had, you know, the math whiz in class in grade 11 was pretending to be Mick
Jagger. So everybody was posing, and it was all based on rock 'n' roll and
music and blues then, all of it.
GROSS: Did you sing then, or--I know you played drums.
Mr. AYKROYD: I played harp mostly...
GROSS: And harmonica. Yeah.
Mr. AYKROYD: ...and sang. Yeah. The drumming was sporadic but, you know, I
filled for bands now and again when I was growing up.
GROSS: And were you using mostly your voice, or were you--did you almost have
a persona singing voice?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, back then you tried to kind of imitate the people that
were singing, so, you know (in different voice) even today, I mean, you know,
when I sing, I try to, you know, get down and, you know, be someone else. You
know, you try to sing and try to (singing) Who do you love? Who do you love?
(In normal voice) I mean, of course you sing like the people that you want to
emulate and people that you admire.
GROSS: Every try singing like yourself?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, I have a pretty--you know, I mean, it's sort of a reedy
kind of voice. This record that Jimmy Belushi and I put out last year, which
made it to number one on the blues chart, "Have Love Will Travel," I'm
more close to my own voice on that than some of the other stuff we did as the
Blues Brothers, I guess. Yeah. But I've always kind of sung...
GROSS: I do have that right here. Do you want to pick something?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, yeah, the Junior Parker song "Driving Wheel." That's a
good cut off that record.
GROSS: OK. OK. Well, why don't we just take a pause here and hear it.
Mr. AYKROYD: Yeah, put that on.
(Soundbite of "Driving Wheel")
Mr. AYKROYD: (Singing) My baby don't have to worry. My baby don't have to
rob and steal. My baby don't have to worry. My baby don't have to rob and
steal. I give that little girl everything she needs. I am her driving wheel.
She left me this morning, said she gonna be back soon. My baby left me this
morning, said she's gonna be back soon. Well, that'll have to be late Friday
evening or early Saturday afternoon. I wrote my baby a letter. Don't want no
one to break the seal. I wrote my baby a letter. Don't want no one to break
the seal. My letter goes to my baby. I am her driving wheel.
GROSS: That's Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi singing "Driving Wheel" from their
CD "Have Love Will Travel." We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Dan Aykroyd. He has a new book of interviews from his
radio show the "House of Blues Radio Hour." The book is called "Elwood's
How did you and Belushi start the whole Blues Brothers routine?
Mr. AYKROYD: In 1973, John came up to Canada to recruit for the "National
Lampoon Radio Hour." And I was in "Second City" with Gilda Radner and with
John Candy. And John came into Toronto and he joined us on the set of the
Second City stage, and we did an improv set, and then we went back to my very
famous speakeasy called the 505, which opened after 1:00 after the Liquor
Control Board of Ontario closed most of the bars in the province. We had a
bar at the corner of Queen and River at 505 Queen Street, and all the
streetcar drivers and cops from, like, outlying regions and waiters and
waitresses and dancers would come to drink.
And I had a record on by the Downchild Blues Band out of Toronto, Donnie
Walsh, an incredible seminal artist out of Canada. And John and I were
listening to it and John said, `What is this? This is a great record.' I
said, `Oh, it's just a local blues band.' `Blues, huh? Oh, I'm from Chicago.
I hear the blues now and again. But I'm into heavy metal,' he says. I said,
`Well, John, you show me heavy metal and I'll show you the blues.' So we
started to kind of talk about it and listen. And Howard Shore was there that
night. He's, of course, the great Oscar-winning composer of "The Lord of The
Rings" trilogy music; he was the original musical director on "Saturday Night
Live." And he was in Toronto at that time and had dropped by the bar, and he
said, `Yeah, you guys should start a band, and you could call it the Blues
Brothers.' And we just went bink, bink.
And we started to correspond--I didn't go back to New York with John. He had
managed to get Gilda to go back with him. But we kept in touch on the phone,
and we started to look at material, develop material. And we did our first
gig in New York in the Lone Star Cafe, and our backup band was Willie
Nelson, with Mickey Raphael, one of the greatest harmonica players ever.
And Willie understood what we were trying to do, like so many that came along
and joined us. They understood that, OK, these guys aren't the greatest
musicians or singers or dancers, but what they are are great front men and
they love and respect the music.
So the hat and glasses are from the John Lee Hooker album "House of the
Blues"; he wears those shades and that hat on the cover there. The suits, the
black jacket and thin tie and white shirts were because, you know, a lot of
artists in the '60s kind of, you know, who were progressive and maybe were
getting in trouble with the law like Lenny Bruce wanted to look straight. And
so it was kind of trying to get that IRS look together to kind of fool the
straights, where that came from.
GROSS: When you were working doing "The Blues Brothers" movies or, you know,
working with House of Blues or even working on "Saturday Night Live," did you
ever feel like, in meeting some of the people who had been your idols when you
were coming of age, that you were now in the position of being `The Man'
because you might have been in the position of having to, like, negotiate the
deal and they might be feeling that you weren't paying enough and, you know,
when you're negotiating deals with somebody or when, you know, you're behind
the--you know what I'm saying. So did you ever feel like suddenly you were
in, like, the side that you didn't want to be on?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, I always felt, you know, whatever artists we ever played
with or worked with or that were in the movies or records, that they never
were being paid enough, and I always tried on my own to kind of supplement
that. But what I felt more was that, you know, John and I, when we did the
Blues Brothers, we were in existence to serve these great artists and to, you
know, perhaps maybe, you know, reintroduce them to our audience. And we
always felt a great reverence for James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha, and never
felt that we were their equal, but we felt that we were really in service to
And I think that's why people like Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn and Tom Malone
and Al Rubin and Marini, you know, our great band that we had--I think that's
why they joined us, and they realized that, you know, we had a great reverence
and respect for the music. And that's why they were so behind us. All of us
felt in service to these great artists, as I do feel today, like--when I was
back in Chicago, we were working on--I think it was--I guess it was "The Blues
Brothers" movie--Albert Collins came in to play at Wise Fools. And he
pulled up in his car, and he was unloading his amp and the drums, and I was
sitting waiting for him to go on stage, and I looked at him, and nobody was
helping him. And I got out there and basically was his roadie for the
evening. And that was the most satisfying--one of the most satisfying
feelings I've ever had, that I could tangibly really help this man get on
stage and play his music. And he didn't know who I was. He didn't know
"Saturday Night Live" or "Blues Brothers" or anything. I was just a guy who
was helping him to pull his equipment in out of the rain and to get on stage.
And I really feel honored that I was able to do that.
GROSS: Dan Aykroyd, what kind of acting did you do before the "Saturday Night
Live" era when you were still living in Canada?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, I did high school plays. And in college, I was a stage
manager with the Sock 'n' Buskin group at Carleton University, which is a
great school in Ottawa, Canada. I was a terrible stage manager 'cause I
wanted to be an actor. But the producers and directors of these shows had
sensed that, and they kind of let me come on stage. We did "Tom Paine"; I
played the king of France and a few other things in there. And I basically,
you know--just little stuff, did some guerrilla theater, some Ferlinghetti
and that type of stuff, you know, anything to kind of get out there and get
involved and have fun. And I gotta tell you, Terry, I mean, I have had fun.
My whole life, my whole professional life has been fun. I don't think really,
you know, I can--I don't really think I can call it work. It's just been
really, really fun.
GROSS: Now I read that you did some TV commercials before "Saturday Night
Live." Is that right?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, I was--I had a production company with Dave Thomas, who,
of course, is the genius...
Mr. AYKROYD: ...one of the geniuses behind "SCTV." We had a radio commercial
production company, and we did some radio and television commercials, you
know, in Canada when we were growing up.
GROSS: Well, you know, you've done--you did so many really funny commercial
parodies on "Saturday Night Live." Did you ever do the real thing? Did you
ever do the equivalent of, you know, the Bass-O-Matic or those Ronco
Mr. AYKROYD: Yes.
Mr. AYKROYD: Absolutely. Yeah, I...
GROSS: What did you do ads for?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, one of my first jobs in broadcasting was working for
City-TV in Toronto, which was this whole new concept in urban television that
really--basically today your news desks across America, Channel 7, 4 or 2,
wherever you want to be in network, with the graphics and the presence, the
seemingly sort of active presence of the newscaster--this is from Moses
Znaimer's City-TV. He basically changed the whole format and the whole
delivery of news in North America. And I worked for his station; I was a game
show announcer. And I also did, you know, the shock box announcing(ph), so I
actually had to do that fast rap stuff for, you know, car companies and beer
companies and all that. So, sure, I was actually doing it professionally when
I first started out. And I was hired by none other than Ivan Reitman, who we
went on to do the "Ghostbusters" thing together.
GROSS: Wow. So you were doing the real thing before you did the parodies.
Mr. AYKROYD: I was. Yeah, I was a mailman in Toronto when I first moved
there. I knew I wanted to go to Toronto, work with Lorne Michaels again. I
had gone there to do a special with him when I was 19, went back to Carleton
University, couldn't concentrate--you know, I had to be in show
business--dropped out of school, much to the chagrin of my parents. I got a
job driving mail truck in Toronto, and then I shifted to the broadcasting.
And, yeah, I was a shock box announcer for about a year there with City-TV and
hired by Ivan Reitman, and recommended by Lorne. Lorne said, `You should hire
this kid.' So Lorne Michaels has been instrumental in my career from, you
know, basically age 17.
GROSS: Let me ask about one of the parody commercials you did, and this is a
terrific video compilation of your best--or some of your best sketches from
"Saturday Night Live." And this is the one for the Bass-O-Matic. It's like a
blender that turns fish into a delicious shake.
Mr. AYKROYD: I think people remember. Yeah.
GROSS: Tell me how you came up with this...
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, my...
GROSS: ...and if relates to a real ad that you ever did.
Mr. AYKROYD: Oh, yeah. No, no, my aunt, the late Helene Goujean(ph)--she's a
lovely woman, my mother's sister. She was, in fact, the Julia Child of
Mr. AYKROYD: She had--yeah. She had a television show and a cuisine shop in
Montreal during the '60s. And she--I went to her house for lunch, and she was
a, you know, master gourmet chef, and she was very well known for it. She was
on the network, the TV up there. And she said she was making a fish soup.
And I saw--she dropped the whole fish into the blender. I said, `With the
bones and everything, you know?' And she said, `Oh, no, don't worry. The
bones--you pick the bones out like you were eating a fillet. Don't worry
about it.' And I never forgot that.
And then, you know, many years later I was sitting with Paul Simon and Lorne
Michaels and Elaine(ph), and Chevy and John and I were there. Belushi,
Simon--Paul Simon--me, Lorne and Chevy. And we're sitting there, you know,
and we were just kind of laughing over things, and I was thinking about that.
And, you know, we were eating a meal, and I thought, `Yeah, I got this idea
for, you know, a scene, you know, Bass-O-Matic.' And when I said that, Paul
Simon, you know, who's probably one of the most brilliant people ever in
entertainment, he started to really laugh. And it's hard to get Paul to
laugh, you know, because he's so intellectual, so smart. You know, you gotta
be at a certain level. When he started to snort, I said, man, I got something
if I can make Paul laugh this easy. And I went away and I wrote the scene
based upon that night and my aunt's real experience with the fish in a
And I remember a woman wrote me a letter; she was very upset that I would
change the molecular state of the fish from solid to liquid, you know, on
television. She was really, really upset about that. And I wrote her back
and I said, `Well, you know, this was actually the way that my aunt made fish
GROSS: Well, let's hear Dan Aykroyd advertising the Bass-O-Matic on "Saturday
(Soundbite of "Saturday Night Live")
Mr. AYKROYD: How many times has this happened to you? You have a bass.
You're trying to find an exciting new way to prepare it for dinner. You could
scale the bass, remove the bass's tail, head and bones and serve the fish as
you would any other fish dinner. But why bother, now that you can use Ronco's
amazing new kitchen tool, the Super Bass-O-Matic 76? Yes, fish eaters, the
days of troublesome scaling, cutting and gutting are over, because Super
Bass-O-Matic 76 is the tool that lets you use the whole bass with no fish
waste, without scaling, cutting or gutting. Here's how it works. Catch a
bass, remove the hook and drop the bass--that's the whole bass--into the Super
Bass-O-Matic 76. Now adjust the control dial so that that bass is blended
just the way you like it.
(Soundbite of blending noise, laughter)
Mr. AYKROYD: Yes, it's just that simple.
(Soundbite of laughter and applause)
Unidentified Woman: Wow, that's terrific bass.
GROSS: Dan Aykroyd will be back in the second half of this show. His new
book is called "Elwood's Blues: Interviews with the Blues Legends and Stars."
You can see his "Saturday Night Live" sketches on the video "The Best of Dan
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. AYKROYD: All right. Lonnie, Junior and the band, the girls and I,
we're going to do a little song for you now, a little Mack Rice number. Hey,
all you married men, if you're tied up, you better stay tied up, because it's
cheaper to keep her.
(Singing) It's cheaper to keep her. It is cheaper to keep her...
Mr. AYKROYD: One, two, one, two, three, four.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Actor: (Singing) Come on, baby, don't you want to go...
GROSS: Coming up, Dan Aykroyd talks about working with John Belushi. Also,
Ken Tucker reviews a new CD by Kimya Dawson.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Actor: (Singing) ...back to that same old place, sweet home
Chicago. Six and three is nine; nine and nine is 18. Look there, brother
baby, and see what I seen.
Mr. AYKROYD and Mr. BELUSHI: (Singing in unison) Hi-de-hey, baby, don't you
want to go back to that same old place, sweet home Chicago. Come on, baby,
don't you want to go? Oh, come on, baby, don't you want to go back to that
same old place, sweet home Chicago.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Dan Aykroyd. One of his
many "Blues Brothers" spin-offs is a radio show called the "House of Blues
Radio Hour," in which he interviews many musicians. Interviews from the
program are collected in Aykroyd's new book, "Elwood's Blues: Interviews with
the Blues Legends and Stars." There's another pair of famous brothers Aykroyd
co-created for "Saturday Night Live": the Czech brothers, the Wild & Crazy
Guys, which also featured Steve Martin.
(Soundbite of "Saturday Night Live"; laughter)
Mr. AYKROYD: (As Czech brother) Ah, that ...(unintelligible) bar was really
something tonight. It was no difficulty to see many swinging Americans
enjoying each other a great deal.
Mr. STEVE MARTIN: (As Czech brother) And here is a thing I will tell you.
The two most swinging foxes have the hots on for us and are coming here
tonight to let us hold on to their big American breasts.
(Soundbite of laughter, cheers and applause)
Mr. AYKROYD: (As Czech brother) Why not? There's nothing preventing them.
After all, there's no other pair of Czech brothers who cruise and swing so
successfully in tight slacks.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MARTIN: (As Czech brother) We are two wild and crazy guys!
(Soundbite of laughter, cheers and applause)
GROSS: I hope you don't mind talking about this because I'm sure you've been
asked so much. But the sketch that you did several times with Steve Martin,
the Wild & Crazy Guys, the two...
Mr. AYKROYD: (As Czech brother) I don't mind, Terry. It's all right.
Mr. AYKROYD: (As Czech brother) Please. I enjoy talking about these great,
great times. And you, as an American female, should know I am no threat to
you. I am so distant from you now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AYKROYD: (As Czech brother) But if you were close to me, maybe then you
might have to fear what I would do.
GROSS: How did you come up with the characters?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, Steve had this guy called sort of the European continental
character. He was very suave and very continental. And then I had this, you
know, Czech engineer who had moved to New York City and was kind of
disoriented in the culture. So we blended his character and my character and
came up with the Wild & Crazy Guys.
GROSS: Well, who had you observed that inspired this character, who thinks
he's a real, like, American swinger, and he's just...
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, mostly...
GROSS: He gets--yeah.
Mr. AYKROYD: ...it was guys I met in bars over here, you know? The guy who
told me the story about running from the tanks--you know, he was a Czech, you
know, immigrant, and he told me about running from--you know, during the
Dubcek era running from the Soviet tanks. And I was just rapt and enraptured
by his story here, you know--and how, as a student, he'd challenged the tanks
and ran from the--(mimicking Czech man) `I ran from the tanks, and here I'm in
New York.' And, I mean, it was sort of a--you know, kind of a real swinger
character that I met in a bar. So I don't know where he is now, what his name
is, but he's definitely responsible for me starting to originate that
GROSS: What did he tell you about the foxes?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, you know, he was--his whole modus operandi was the gold
chains and the polyester shirts and, you know, the whole thing about the--you
know, his existence was to try to get some great foxes to come home with him.
And, you know, I wasn't into the swinging scene, but I was, you know, in New
York, kind of single and living at that time. And he was just one of these
characters I was just--made me agog: `My, do they really exist? I mean, how
could a woman even talk to this guy for more than 10 minutes?' You know,
you'd just want to run from him. But I didn't. I sat there and I pumped him
for whatever he had to do. I think he was selling plumbing fixtures at the
time. He was like a very sophisticated--in terms of his education, he was an
architect and an engineer, but he was selling plumbing fixtures. And he was
really fascinating. And I just--you know, it was one night in a bar that I
met this guy, and from that, you know, you get the wild and crazy guy.
GROSS: Can I ask you about the character you came up with of Fred Garvin:
Mr. AYKROYD: The Fred Garvin: Male Prostitute, came solely out of I was
living in New York with Rosie Schuster, who was one of the great writers on
the show, and we had a romance. We were living together as, you know, a kind
of, I guess, unmarried couple or whatever you want to call it. People do that
in this country, don't they? And we were living together, and I used to do
that at home to try to--as sort of--as foreplay. And from that, you know...
GROSS: Describe the character, in case any of our listeners are not familiar
Mr. AYKROYD: (Using Fred Garvin voice) Well, Fred, he's a pretty
straightforward guy, who's got his--wears his sexuality on his sleeve, ready
to please a woman any way he can. But he's got certain physical infirmities
that prevent him from--oh, eeh, ah--hernias and all that kind of thing.
And I would do this, and she would laugh and just, you know--and then we
decided, `We gotta write this up.' So we wrote it up for Margot Kidder. So
Rosie and I wrote that together based upon us just living together and kind of
laughing because, you know, I mean, look at me. You know, I'm not Ramon
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AYKROYD: And so I made up for it with humor. And...
GROSS: Well, it's just really funny because it's a--it's like a male
prostitute, but the guy looks incredibly straight and square.
Mr. AYKROYD: (Using Fred Garvin voice) Well, we always wears the plaid...
GROSS: Yeah, he's got the plaid jacket.
Mr. AYKROYD: (Using Fred Garvin voice) Yeah, he wears the Austrian hat with,
yeah, the glasses and the shirt. Absolutely, yeah. But there's no--hey,
Terry, let me tell you right now, give it a whirl. Give it a whirl because
you might enjoy what you don't see.
GROSS: Did you ever laugh uncontrollably during a sketch and not--you know,
and kind of lose what you were supposed to be doing?
Mr. AYKROYD: I--no, I was--we really--John and myself and Billy, we
really--that was something at "Second City" that we--we were really taught not
to do that because you don't want to break the integrity of a scene, and that
was really important to us. And that discipline carried over to "Saturday
Night Live." And I was not one of the ones that broke up. Yeah, I mean,
later on we used to see people do it and that, but it was something that John
and Billy and I really didn't--you know, we didn't like it when it happened.
I think during the Nerds, where I'm the fridge doctor(ph) there and I come
over, and, you know, Billy's there with Gilda, they were cracking up, and I
can understand why they were cracking up. But, you know, it was something we
prided ourselves in not doing. If we could prevent ourselves from cracking
up, we really prided ourselves. And after, like, a scene or the show, we'd
go, `Well, boy, that was tough to get through that one,' because, you know,
we--the temptation was there to just laugh at your fellow performers. But I
think the "Second City" training really lasted.
GROSS: How did you know--like, at what point did you figure out that you
could do voices?
Mr. AYKROYD: Very early. About three years old, I was imitating the
announcers on TV. And my dad cut off the top of a hockey stick and tied some
tape around it and put a cord on the bottom and gave me, you know, a fake
microphone when I was four years old. And, you know, of course, in primary
school and I school, I imitated all the teachers. And then I met guys who
could imitate the teachers better than me, and then we sort of formed, you
know, these imitation squads. And, you know, my grade 11 math teacher, Father
Paul Baxter, God rest his soul--I was not one of his favorite students--there
were 10 of us that did him. And we would have--and one time we all came
dressed as him to school in the white lab coat with the little Coke-bottle
glasses. And, like, he had kind of a backward walk. He kind of wheeled back
to the blackboard. And he had this voice like this, just (mimics Baxter),
`OK, jokers, smarten up,' you know? And that's where it all really started.
And then it was 10 of us doing him, and he got a little amusement out of it,
but it didn't last long.
GROSS: My guest is Dan Aykroyd. He has a new book of interviews from his
program the "House of Blues Radio Hour." The book is called "Elwood's Blues:
Interviews with the Blues Legends and Stars." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Dan Aykroyd. He has a new book
of interviews from his program the "House of Blues Radio Hour." The book is
called "Elwood's Blues."
I don't know if this happens to you, but sometimes when I'm preparing an
interview, I'll read something about someone, and I'm not sure if they really
said that or if it's really true because it sometimes isn't. So let me read
you something that I read that you had said, and you can tell me if it's true.
And if it is true and it's too personal, you can tell me that as well. But I
read that when you were 12, you were diagnosed as schizophrenic and that you
heard voices in your head and that you had to kind of keep that under control.
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, it was more of a Tourette's thing than schizophrenia. I
was analyzed as Tourette's and Asperger's, which I still have a little bit
today. You know, I mean, I grew up being pulled one way by my mother, who was
very, very strict, and then being relaxed by my father, who was very passive.
And I had the Tourette's pretty badly there, and I went to a therapist about
it and, at 12 years old, was able to have the luxury of sitting down with a
therapist and talking through all kinds of things: books, music. And she was
quite influential in kind of evening me out.
Now back then, you know, of course--now today, you know, they just give kids
pills, but back then we didn't have the benefit of all the sophisticated
medication. Whether it works or not, I don't know. I think time will tell on
that. But it was not so much--I think when I said that, I was kind of going
to the extreme. It wasn't so much the schizophrenia part of it, but it was
the Tourette's-Asperger's, which can be associated with hallucinogenic voices
and that. And I still have a little touch of that today, but, you know, I've
been able to kind of defeat it without pharmaceutical medication. And I just
find, in my research and reading today, that there's a lot of people who have
this kind of mild condition. And some of them get over it, and some of them
spins out where it affects them quite negatively.
GROSS: If you don't mind my asking, what were some of the symptoms when you
were 12? And were these things that you had to fight against to do the
Mr. AYKROYD: Yeah, mostly...
GROSS: ...of acting and writing you wanted to do, or did they feed that it
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, it was mostly physical ticks, you know, and nervousness
kind of thing, that kind of thing and, you know, like grunting and ticks and,
you know, kind of the classic Tourette's type syndrome, that type of thing.
But by the time I was 14, it was allayed, and I really haven't had too much
occurrence, except on the Asperger's side, where I have a fascination with
police and I always have to have a badge with me. You know, there's this guy
in New York who has radical...
GROSS: It's--yeah, go ahead.
Mr. AYKROYD: ...Asperger's. He is a guy who goes down into the subway, and he
pretends to be a motorman, and he gets on the trains in uniform and drives the
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, you know, that's--yeah. That's a radical form of
Asperger's. Well, me, I have a fascination with law enforcement and the
police. I guess my grandfather was a Mountie and that. So, you know, if I
don't have a badge on me, I feel naked.
GROSS: Well, I can't tell if you're kidding or not.
Mr. AYKROYD: And that's it. No, no, it's true.
GROSS: I know you studied criminology when you were in college.
Mr. AYKROYD: I did. I studied criminology. I had a great professor there.
And that study of criminology really helped me when I wrote "The Blues
Brothers" because the Blues Brothers were classic recidivists, could never
stay out of trouble, always looking for, you know, borderline sociopathic
hedonists. And I wrote papers on motorcycle outlaw clubs. I wrote papers on
the Detroit Mafia. I wrote papers in college--and when it came time to write
"The Blues Brothers," I was well-armed with criminological terms and knowledge
from my great professor, Professor Hatt(ph), at Carleton University.
GROSS: So have you broken the law yourself, outside of speeding tickets?
Mr. AYKROYD: I was popped for marijuana possession in Marseilles, Illinois,
oh, jeez--God, it's so long ago now. You know, I had a--I smoked it because I
had a little problem with the back there. And I smoked it because it had the
effect of adding vasodilation to the bottom of the back. And so the cop
stopped me at a stop sign, and he said--you know, he plucked out the bag and
said, `What's this?' And I said, `Well, it's just a little pot to help me
drive across country.' He said, `Wow, I did all these--I used to do acid,' he
said. `I did acid and all this. Drugs are bad, drugs are bad.' And he took
me in and we sat down, and I said, `I'd like to see what you have in your
drawer.' And I looked in the drawer, and they had, really, much better stuff
than I was carrying.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AYKROYD: And I said, `Can we trade?' And he said no. And it turned out
to be quite a nice evening. I talked with the young chief of police there,
and he said, `Ah, we see this stuff all the time.' I said, `What's going to
happen to me?' He said, `Ah, you'll get a $50 fine, and you won't even have
to pay it. I mean, God, you know'--so I gave it up.
But what was quite alarming was I was driving across country, and it was on
"Dan Rather" that night on the CB--you know, `Partner of John Belushi popped
for marijuana.' And then I was so afraid and so paranoid. I kept hearing
over the radio, you know, `Dan Aykroyd popped for possession of marijuana and
arrested,' and all that. I didn't know where to go. So where did I go? I
ran to Hunter Thompson's Colorado estate, and I said, `Hunter, Hunter,' you
know, they'--and he said, `Oh, forget it. You should've had speed, you
should've had pills, you had all kinds of stuff. Come on in. Sit down.' I
had a shotgun in the trunk; I had a riot shotgun, which luckily I had broken
into two pieces. When the cops searched my car, they saw I was a safe, you
know, citizen and all that. And you know what? He still has that gun today
because I said, `I didn't want to drive to California with that.' And so he's
still got that shotgun today. But, otherwise, other than that one arrest
there, nah, pretty much straight, legal.
GROSS: When you became part of "Saturday Night Live" and you had this really
talented, young cast suddenly becoming famous and wealthy and having access...
Mr. AYKROYD: Not so wealthy. No, we didn't get wealthy.
GROSS: Not so wealthy? OK.
Mr. AYKROYD: No, no. No.
GROSS: But having...
Mr. AYKROYD: It was 275 a week.
GROSS: Oh, wow. OK.
Mr. AYKROYD: There was no wealth on "SNL."
Mr. AYKROYD: The wealth came later.
GROSS: But, still, it was kind of fame and the kind of power that fame brings
and affairs and access to drugs probably.
Mr. AYKROYD: Yeah.
GROSS: I mean, you know, some people don't get through that very well is, I
guess, what I'm leading to.
Mr. AYKROYD: No. No...
GROSS: You seem to have gotten through it pretty well.
Mr. AYKROYD: ...John didn't.
Mr. AYKROYD: John didn't get through it.
Mr. AYKROYD: And many other of my friends didn't get through it. I--the most
valuable aspect of it was the creative satisfaction, really, of being able to
go out and write something and have it produced that next week or that--you
know, or at the end of that week. That was really the value of it. You know,
as far as the coke and the powders and the pills, I never was much into that.
As I say, you know, I had a little smoke and that, but more--I don't know. I
was focused more on the creative satisfaction of it than anything else. And,
you know, some of my compatriots, they were given the means to go to these
extreme pleasures, and they did. And it cost them dearly. I warned them. I
warned Chris Farley and I warned John and I warned River Phoenix. I warned
them all. I said, you know, `These are lethal substances, and, you know, you
gotta moderate.' But, you know, these were all captains of their own ships.
You can only suggest and try to influence. You can't change behavior, you
know, if--these people have control of their own lives and destinies and are
not going to yield that control. So...
GROSS: When you would warn Belushi, who was such a close friend of yours...
Mr. AYKROYD: Oh, how about flushing vials down the toilet? How about, you
know, scraping, you know, things off the dresser? How about just destroying
powders? How about intercepting dealers? How about watering it down? How
about, you know, trying to get him to smoke a joint instead of do a line.
All, I mean, actively--I mean, Judy and I were totally and actively involved
in trying to deflect, you know, these people who wanted to serve him, these
sycophants who wanted to serve him. You know, we really took an active--and I
think we kept him alive maybe longer than he might have--you know, longer than
he might have been.
GROSS: And, in return, would he get angry with you?
Mr. AYKROYD: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, are you kidding me? You flush a vial
down the toilet, yeah, you know, he'd be crazy, crazy. And then, you know,
you'd just have to calm him down and take him for a walk and, you know--a lot
of baby sitting there, a lot of baby sitting, which I'm finished with now. I
ain't going to do that for anybody anymore, you know.
GROSS: How did you know then, like, what the right thing to do was and how
far to go?
Mr. AYKROYD: Well, the right thing--when you see these dealers, you know,
trying to please him for no money and stuff, I mean, I took people aside and
said, `You love this guy? You love his work? Well, don't destroy him. You
know, come on. You want to be his friend, keep this stuff away.' And, you
know, I remember taking out there--I remember Duck Dunn when we were doing
"The Blues Brothers" movie. You know Duck Dunn was the great bass player for
Stax/Volt. He was in our band, and he's still today one of the greatest
players. We were in The Alley, our club across from "Second City," the old
sneak joint where we had our bar, where we used to celebrate after shooting
"The Blues Brothers" movie at night. We had so much night shift there. And a
dealer came by, and Duck Dunn took out his belt to him and whipped that guy
all the way to the sidewalk. And I love that. That was beautiful, just
beautiful, because he knew the guy was coming to do John harm. That was great
enforcement right there.
GROSS: Must have been tough to remain really close friends with Belushi when
Mr. AYKROYD: Never.
GROSS: ...heading in such different directions.
Mr. AYKROYD: Never tough.
Mr. AYKROYD: No, we were all his friends. That was no problem. It was tough
to put up with some of the stuff, you know, that, you know, he was doing and
GROSS: Are you writing now?
Mr. AYKROYD: Not writing too much anymore, no. I'm only sort of focused
right now on our House of Blues. We're opening one in Cleveland, Ohio, on
November 28th. My band will be playing with the Lamont Cranston Band out
of Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of these great regional bands that should be
more famous than they are. We're the third-largest concert business in North
America now, next to Clear Channel and AEG. We have--going to have eight
nightclubs. We have 20 concert sheds. The radio station on 200 stations
almost now--a radio...
GROSS: Did you expect this, that this is what you would be doing?
Mr. AYKROYD: I never thought that "The Blues Brothers" would lead to an
actual, tangible bricks-and-mortar institution, you know. I never thought
that. And I'll tell you, every one I want into one of those places, I think
of John. And every time I walk into one of those places, I say, `John, man,
you know, we built this place for you.' He would have loved it.
GROSS: Dan Aykroyd, it's just been great to talk with you. Thank you so very
Mr. AYKROYD: Thank you, Terry. I'm a great fan. And as I say, you know,
FRESH AIR and your show is my favorite radio to be stopped on the New York
state--by troopers to.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AYKROYD: So next time a trooper stops me, I'll say, `Can we stop and
listen to Terry for a second?' And I'll get him in the car with me.
GROSS: Thank you so much.
Mr. AYKROYD: Take care.
GROSS: Dan Aykroyd's new book is called "Elwood's Blues: Interviews with the
Blues Legends and Stars." He's in the new movie "Christmas with the Kranks,"
which opens this holiday weekend. And you can see his "Saturday Night Live"
sketches on the video "The Best of Dan Aykroyd." Here's Aykroyd and Belushi
in the film "The Blues Brothers."
(Soundbite of "Rawhide" from "The Blues Brothers")
Mr. AYKROYD: (Singing) Move 'em on.
Mr. JOHN BELUSHI: (Signing) Head 'em up.
Mr. AYKROYD: (Singing) Head 'em up.
Mr. BELUSHI: (Singing) Move 'em on.
Mr. AYKROYD: (Singing) Move 'em up.
Mr. BELUSHI: (Singing) Head 'em on.
Mr. AYKROYD: (Singing) Rawhide. Cut 'em out.
Mr. BELUSHI: (Singing) Ride 'em in.
Mr. AYKROYD: (Singing) Ride 'em in.
Mr. BELUSHI: (Singing) Cut 'em out.
Mr. AYKROYD: (Singing) Cut 'em out. Ride 'em in, Rawhide.
Mr. BELUSHI: (Singing) Yeah!
(Soundbite of bottles crashing)
BAND: (In unison) Rawhide!
(Soundbite of cheers and applause)
Mr. AYKROYD: Theme from the TV show "Rawhide." Thank you.
(Soundbite of boos and bottles crashing)
GROSS: Coming up, is she still playing anti-folk music? Rock critic Ken
Tucker reviews a new CD by Kimya Dawson. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Kimya Dawson's "Hidden Vagenda"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Kimya Dawson attained a certain degree of prominence as part of the so-called
anti-folk music band The Moldy Peaches, which combined personal lyrics with
political commentary. She has a new solo album called "Hidden Vagenda." Rock
critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. KIMYA DAWSON: (Singing) My mother says that the rain is angels who are
crying up in heaven. I believe that 'cause when sad things happen, it starts
raining. It's been raining.
KEN TUCKER reporting:
It didn't surprise me to read that Kimya Dawson keeps an online diary to which
both fans and strangers write and receive replies and sometimes free copies of
her carefully crafted but homemade-sounding solo CDs. Dawson's open demeanor,
confessional, confiding, encouraging, scolding when she feels it's necessary,
leads her to make deceptively simple, willfully primitive music. Dawson seeks
and finds wisdom and motivational advice everywhere, as can be heard on
"Singing Machine," which name checks everyone from Jay Leno to Ali G to Julian
(Soundbite of "Singing Machine")
Ms. DAWSON: (Singing) Please switch to "Jay Leno" from "Da Ali G Show" to see
some kids that we know do what they do on TV. Sometimes I wish I was there,
but mostly I just don't care. I cry and laugh and forth and back. It's all
good comedy. And there's no rhyme or reason for the changing of the seasons.
Sometimes the winter lasts for months. Sometimes it lasts for days. The
world is an amazing place. There's gaping holes in outer space. Sunburned
for the first time, skin is peeling off my face. And Bruno said what Ander
said, some producer said to young Lennon...
Unidentified Man and DAWSON: (In unison) ...they can't all be ballads till
Ms. DAWSON: (Singing) Bruno said what I'm...
TUCKER: I know it's always dangerous to equate a song lyric with
autobiography, but it's impossible not to believe that the fact that Dawson's
family has run a day-care center and that she has worked there herself doesn't
inform a brutally abrupt piece of music, like this song about escaping
domestic abuse called "Moving On."
(Soundbite of "Moving On")
Ms. DAWSON: (Singing) She was reunited with the father of her kids and said,
`It wasn't me. It was the birds. I know not what I did.' She said, `You
filled the bathtub with my blood when you bashed in my head. You can go to
hell. I'm moving on. You can go to hell. I'm moving on.' Then she saw her
mom, who said, `I love you, sweet baby.' She said, `That night he beat me
until I started to bleed. He starved me till I had to dance for money in the
street. You can go to hell. I'm moving on. You can go to hell. I'm moving
TUCKER: Dawson has a great gift for summarizing lives in a matter of a few
detail-crammed verses. Take, for example, the way she images a life spent
with a guy she used to be fond of, who may have proposed to her and who may
have provided her with an opportunity to avoid a miserable union and get a
good talking blues song out of it.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. DAWSON: (Singing) I imagined Nick Valensi wrapped his long, long arms
around me, and they went around my body almost seven times. And he said,
`Baby, I've been thinking, and I think I will quit drinking. And I think on
my next birthday, I'll turn 35, and I will settle down with you. We'll make
sweet love the whole night through. You'll convert into a Jew
(unintelligible) for your former life.' And I said, `Nick, although you're
handsome, I'll hold out for Isaac Hanson.' And he'll get his braces back
when I become his wife. And me and Hanson will go dancing. Me and
Hanson--true romance. Me and Hanson--take a chance. Lock the door. It's
party time. All our babies will be born November 17th, I'm sure. We will get
a cookiepuss from the local ...(unintelligible) store. And then our brothers
will come over for a big game of Red Rover, everybody holding hands: `Break
the chain, break the chain. Break the chain, break the chain.'
TUCKER: Once you get past Kenya Dawson's soft, chalky voice, her simply
strummed guitar and accompaniment, such as a toy piano, you realize that a lot
of the hidden agenda of "Hidden Vagenda" is to talk quite frequently about
death. `My friends keep dying,' she sings on the opening track. She follows
it up with a song that begins with the line, `It seems like everyone I knew
was dying.' A bit later on, "Lullaby for the Taken" contains a few
beautifully unsettling verses about the death of her grandmother.
But there's a core of strength, common sense and clear-eyed reason in her
music that combines with the gentle prettiness of so many of her melodies.
There's nothing innocent or feigned about this music. The result, complete
with occasional bluntness and sweetly trilled four-letter words, rendered
Dawson an artist who's decided to tap into childhood's honesty to achieve
GROSS: Ken Tucker is film critic for New York Magazine. He reviewed "Hidden
Vagenda" by Kenya Dawson.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.