DATE December 31, 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
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
We're ending the year with our series Last Laughs featuring some of our more
entertaining interviews from 2004. Our guest Dan Aykroyd was one of the
founding cast members of "Saturday Night Live." Along with another Not Ready
For Prime Time Player John Belushi, Aykroyd created The Blues Brothers, two
blue-eyed soul men who dressed in black. Aykroyd played Elwood Blues and
Belushi was his brother Jake. "The Blues Brothers'" success led Aykroyd to
co-found the nightclub chain the House of Blues. He also hosts the program
the "House of Blues Radio Hour." And now he 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 include Bobby "Blue" Bland, Charles Brown, Ray Charles, Bo
Diddley, Buddy Guy and B.B. King.
Aykroyd has also starred in many movies. His latest is "Christmas with the
Kranks." Terry spoke with him about his early career, his days at "Saturday
Night Live," and "The Blues Brothers." Let's start with a song from the
original "Blues Brothers" film.
(Soundbite of "The Blues Brothers")
Mr. DAN AYKROYD: (As Elwood Blues) We're so glad to see so many of you
lovely people here tonight. We would especially like to welcome all of the
representatives of Illinois' law enforcement community who have chosen to join
us here in the Palace Hotel ballroom at this time. We certainly hope you all
enjoy the show and remember, people, it don't matter who you are and what you
do to live and try to survive, there's still some things that make us all the
same--you, me, them, everybody, everybody.
BLUE BROTHERS: (Singing) Everybody needs somebody. Everybody needs somebody
to love. Someone to love. Someone to love. Sweetheart to miss. Sweetheart
to miss. Sugar to kiss. Sugar to kiss. I need you, you, you. I need you,
you, you. I need you, you, you in the morning. You, you, you, when my soul's
on fire. You, you, you. Sometimes I feel...
TERRY GROSS, host:
Dan Aykroyd, welcome to FRESH AIR.
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
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 and 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: 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 just take off from that. And, of course, you sing like
the people that you want to emulate and people that you admire.
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.
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 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"
GROSS: Let me ask about one of the parody commercials you did and this is for
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, 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 soup.
(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: 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: 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.
DAVIES: Dan Aykroyd speaking with Terry Gross. Here he is with 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)
DAVIES: That's Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin in a "Saturday Night Live"
sketch. More with Dan Aykroyd after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Our 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
Blues." He spoke with Terry Gross last month.
GROSS: 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
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.
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
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: Dan Aykroyd, it's just been great to talk with you. Thank you so very
Mr. AYKROYD: Take care.
DAVIES: Dan Aykroyd's new book is called "Elwood's Blues: Interviews with
the Blues Legends and Stars." Here's some more of "The Blues Brothers." I'm
Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of "The Blues Brothers")
Unidentified Man: We dedicated to the late, great magic Sam. One, two, one,
two, three, four.
(Soundbite of music)
BLUES BROTHERS: (Singing) Come on, baby, don't you want to go. Come on,
baby, don't you want to go, back to that same old place, sweet home Chicago.
Six and three is nine; nine and nine is 18.
(Soundbite of "What a Pretty Miss")
Mr. FATS WALLER: (Singing) Where have I been hiding all your life? Why I
your husband, you my wife? How come?
DAVIES: That's the great Fats Waller. In May 2004, we celebrated the
centennial of his birth. We listen back to the concert we recorded with singer
and guitarist Marty Gross and cornetist Randy Reinhardt.
(Soundbite of "What a Pretty Miss")
Mr. WALLER: (Singing) What a pretty miss. What a pretty miss, and I don't
mean maybe. What a bunch of bliss and I can't resist a baby like you. How'd
you like to be cuddled close to me? Let me hold you tight. I can fix you
right. Yeah, baby, I'll fix you up. What a pretty miss. What a pretty miss.
What a baby. Look it there. Oh, honey, I just gotta kiss a baby like you.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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