Dan Aykroyd pays tribute to Downchild Blues Band

Dan Aykroyd pays tribute to Downchild Blues Band
As legendary Canadian blues group Downchild celebrates its 50th anniversary, Dan Aykroyd knows that without them we’d probably never have heard the two most famous lines the actor and comedian has ever been involved with.

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses,” he said as Elwood in 1980 film The Blue Brothers. “Hit it!” replied Jake, played by the late John Belushi.

This week, while on his way back to his home in Kingston, Aykroyd was happy to talk about the past but seemed more excited to be performing again with the Downchild Blues Band in a free show kicking off the TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

Featuring Paul Shaffer, blues rock legend David Wilcox and other special guests, it starts Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

“It’s just great to be able to pay tribute to a band that many Canadians have heard and associate great times with,” Aykroyd said. “Downchild are like the Hip and Colin James. These are great, iconic Canadian acts that you associate with wonderful events and summer nights and good times with friends with their music.

“And I’ve never seen people stay in their seats when they play. They’ve always rocked the house when I’ve been there.”

Over the years, the band has had many lineups, but Downchild is currently founder Donnie “Mr. Downchild” Walsh on guitar and harmonica, singer Chuck Jackson, who also plays harmonica, tenor sax man Pat Carey, Michael Fonfara on keyboards, Gary Kendall on bass and drummer Mike Fitzpatrick.

Aykroyd’s enthusiasm is a matter of record, as he’s been performing with the band on tour,with the group in Ottawa late last year.

He’s clearly very grateful for a group that helped inspire one of his most enduring works. The Blues Brothers started as a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live that went on to sell millions of albums and spin off two movies. It all actually started as a jokey nickname for him and Belushi.

Aykroyd says the night he met Belushi, he was up from New York recruiting for a National Lampoon revue. After doing a set at Second City, he and Belushi went to the now infamous Club 505 , where Downchild’s music was playing.

“We did a set, and we went to 505 Queen St. and Downchild’s record Straight Up was playing, cooking the place, it was so hot; the crisp urban blues that they are known for. And John said, ‘Wow, that’s great music, what is it?’ I said it’s Downchild, a great local blues band. ‘I love it, I love it’ (Belushi said)

“I said, ‘Well, you’re from Chicago, you must know the blues. And he said, ‘I’m more into heavy metal, Grand Funk and Zeppelin. I just said, ‘That’s just the blues, sped up or slowed down,’” said Aykroyd.

“Howard Shore, the famous musical director, was in the club and he heard us talking about it, and he named us the Blues Brothers that night. So Downchild is almost directly responsible (for the idea behind the Blue Brothers).”

Aykroyd has always loved music, ever since he learned it growing up in Ottawa. He says he loves everything about performing and it’s special to do it with longtime friends and colleagues, like Shaffer and Walsh in Downchild.

“This is an opportunity to see true master musicians at work,” Aykroyd said.

In terms of his other projects, Aykroyd says that Ghostbusters has also come full circle, referring to the sequel being directed by Jason Reitman, son of original director Ivan Reitman, to be released in 2020.

“Jason has written a beautiful script that really pushes it forward but also touches on the past,” Aykroyd said. “I’m really excited for it.”

Aykroyd has also written a Ghostbusters prequel set in the ’60s, but he says it will hopefully be a while before we see it.

“Well, we’re going to make Jason’s film and then that will hopefully get a sequel, and then maybe we’ll take a look at making that (prequel) somewhere down the line.”
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