WHEN JEFF BRIDGES MET T BONE BURNETT on the set of Heaven’s Gate in 1980, his acting career was well underway. “Our down time was all spent making music. That movie was really the birth of the music that came out in Crazy Heart,” Bridges recalls. When Burnett and Bridges reunited for the film Crazy Heart in 2009, Bridges’ musical aspirations were rekindled. The two collaborated on his new, self-titled album which takes much inspiration from Crazy Heart, using several of the same songwriters and musicians. The passion for the music on Jeff Bridges, however, has been building far longer.
Jeff Bridges was born in Los Angeles in 1949, into a family of actors lead by father Lloyd and big brother Beau. Jeff himself first appeared on screen at the age of four months and continued working for the next 61-plus years. Following TV work throughout the ’60s, Bridges’ film career took off with 1971’s The Last Picture Show, leading to a string of major roles including Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Starman, The Contender and The Fabulous Baker Boys, in which Bridges played a frustrated jazz pianist stuck in a lounge act (with real-life brother Beau as the other Baker brother). With six Academy Award nominations (the first, 1971’s The Last Picture Show, the latest, 2010’s True Grit) including Crazy Heart, for which he won the award for Best Actor, Bridges has maintained a remarkable acting career. Now, with the release of his album, Bridges’ passion for music has finally made it to the surface. From the guitar he borrowed from his brother to the last 15 years of weekly jam sessions with friends, Bridges also wrote songs while we’ve been watching him on screen all these years.
Bridges confesses, “I’m kind of realizing this teen dream pretty late in my life. But it’s fun to mine songs that you’ve written over the years, the ones that hold up. My daughter Jessie and I put on concerts together. That’s a joy for me.”
DANIEL EDWARD AYKROYD WAS BORN ON JULY 1, 1952 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Known as an actor and comedian, he is also deeply rooted in blues. The Ottawa blues club Le Hibou provided the breeding ground for Aykroyd’s musical interests, and where he heard James Cotton, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins and Muddy Waters, with whom he sat in on drums one night. His comedy career took off after he became the youngest cast member and writer on Saturday Night Live, making a name for himself as a comedian in recurring roles like Beldar in “The Coneheads,” and, dressed as bees, performing Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” with John Belushi. Aykroyd went on to success in movies like Trading Places, Spies Like Us, Ghostbusters and Driving Miss Daisy, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
Aykroyd’s role as Elwood Blues in “The Blues Brothers” sketch on Saturday Night Live (and later movie adaptations) linked his two passions. The group, fronted by Aykroyd (on vocals and harmonica) and SNL castmate John Belushi, quickly exploded in popularity, with their debut album going platinum and hitting No. One on the Billboard 200. The Blues Brothers released three more albums and toured extensively before Belushi’s untimely death in 1982. The Blues Brothers, often with John’s brother Jim Belushi, have carried on, touring, releasing more recordings, another movie and a live musical. Aykroyd, a co-founder of the House of Blues (and owner of four wineries), currently hosts the weekly syndicated House of Blues Radio Hour under the name Elwood Blues.
What are you listening to right now?
Jeff Bridges: I’m mainly making my own music and listening to that because we’re putting the album together. I’m also a big fan of Benji Hughes, who sings on my album.
Dan Aykroyd: I’m listening to the new generation of women blues guitar players. Susan Tedeschi, Ana Popovic, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Debbie Davies. I love this female empowerment in this kind of traditional male-dominated area. Bonnie Raitt broke some barriers, and now there are many coming up.
What was the first record you ever bought?
JB: Wake Up Little Susie. My brother, Beau, is eight years older than I am and both of us grew up in great eras of music. Mine was more of the British invasion with the Beatles. Beau’s was in the birth of rock ‘n’ roll with Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly.
DA: “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett. You could make a blues song out of that.
Where do you buy your music?
JB: I usually go to iTunes or get it from my friends. I hear a lot of demos of friends and people who just send me emails.
DA: A lot of them come to me through my work as a co-producer and host of the House of Blues Radio Hour. My dad has a large collection of 78s, my daughter has a large collection of vinyl and I have some vinyl. I mostly have CDs.
I like to go to Amoeba Records in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard. That’s my favorite record store, a wonderful resource. I go in there a lot to get the old swing stuff, the Louis Jordan, the Jimmie Lunceford, all that hard-to-get stuff.
What was the first instrument you played?
JB: I think piano. My mother made sure we all had piano lessons. I bitched about practicing long enough until she said, “Okay, you don’t have to practice, but you’ll be sorry.” Of course, I am today.
DA: Drums. I played drums behind Muddy Waters on at least one song when S.P. Leary didn’t come back on stage in time. Muddy looked out on the club and said, “Anybody play drums?” And I said, “Yep.” He said, “Get on up here.” I started the beat and he said, “You keep that beat going, make Muddy feel good. Keep that beat going.” So I just kept that beat going. S.P. Leary came out after that and took the sticks away from me.
What brought you to the instrument you now play?
JB: I guess it was my big brother. He had a white Danelectro guitar and I kind of confiscated that from him and started to play guitar and write right away. It’s been my close friend since I guess around 13 or 14.
DA: All the blues players who came through my hometown of Ottawa, Canada. There was a club called Le Hibou, it means “owl” in French. Harvey Glatt was the booker and he brought in every blues star on the circuit. So as a kid, a teenager, I got to see Howlin’ Wolf a dozen times, I got to see Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Otis Clay, Buddy Guy, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells together, Brownie and Sonny, Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell, Lurrie Bell. I saw all of the blues stars. Paul Butterfield, Charlie Musselwhite. When I saw those guys I started to emulate them. I started to dress like Charlie Musselwhite with an old raincoat and my hair slicked back and shades, and then picked up the harmonica because it was simple and cheap.
Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?
JB: Writing songs is a funny thing. It’s not something that I’m very proactive at. They just kind of come into you, and you’ve got a guitar in your hand and it just happens. I gotta get Dylan’s number and give him a call [laughs].
DA: I co-wrote a song with Glen Clark and Tony Braunagel called “The Skybox Ballroom Romp” and it’s on our record Have Love Will Travel. It’s kind of an uptempo show tune to introduce our show. Jimmie Wood, the harp player, does some amazing, amazing harmonica on that little tune we wrote, and I’d like to write with Jimmie.
What musician influenced you most?
JB: The Beatles and Paul McCartney, certainly. My friend John Goodwin—we’ve written quite a bit together. Guys from Captain Beefheart, Hank Williams, T Bone [Burnett], Moon Dog, Bill Evans, lots of guys.
DA: James Brown. Then Wayne Cochran, of the C.C. Riders.
What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
JB: Music has been a sense of enjoyment and a part of my life since I was a teenager. My father encouraged all his kids to go into acting. And being a pretty normal kid, I didn’t necessarily want to be what my parents wanted me to do. I wanted to do my own thing so for a long time I thought maybe I’ll be a musician, make records and play music. Even after I achieved quite a bit of success as an actor, even after the nomination for the Academy Award for The Last Picture Show, at that time
I was thinking, Do I really want to make acting my main career? Music has just stuck with me.
We got shook out of LA with that Northridge earthquake, and we came up to Santa Barbara. I wanted to set up a little studio in my house, so I contacted this acoustic engineer, Chris Pelonis, and he came over. He’s a songwriter and a singer and we started playing some of my tunes, and he said that Michael McDonald was a friend of his and he was sure Mike would like these tunes. Sure enough, Mike did, and he came on board and we formed a record label called Ramp Records.
The new album is an extension of Crazy Heart. It became kind of a double-barrelled shotgun in a way. I’d done a bunch of movies back to back and I was kind of tired of making movies and figured I wanted to take a little time off from the movie thing, and wanted to concentrate on two of my other loves. One was my music and the other one was ending childhood hunger.
I figured if I was ever going to make my music, now is the time. We ended up recording 17 songs in about a little over 12 days. We had a ball doing it.
DA: Howard Shore [an original creator of SNL and the show’s musical director] originally suggested the idea of the Blues Brothers. I met John Belushi at 505 Club [in Toronto], and at the time John was mostly into metal. I played him some Down Child Blues, a local blues group, and he got into it. John and I first performed as the Blues Brothers at the Lone Star Café in New York City, and at SNL, we warmed up the crowd before the show.
The Blues Brothers’ album, Briefcase Full of Blues, sold three and a half million copies. Today, you’d have to sell 15 million copies to make the same amount of money. My all-time high was opening for James Brown. Opening for the Rolling Stones was a hot second.
I still gig regularly with John’s brother, Jim Belushi, and we dedicate every show to John. We’re playing tonight.
Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?
JB: A perfect band? My mind can’t get around that. I don’t know if I could beat the band that Bone assembled. We’ve got Marc Ribot in there on guitar and Jay Bellerose and all these incredible players. I think that was kind of my dream band. I also have a great band that I’m playing in now called the Abiders, with Chris Pelonis as the musical director. Then you’ve got to break out Pablo Casals on cello—he can get carried away so he just gets eight bars. Or you could say “the Beatles” and leave it at that.
DA: On bass, Duck Dunn or Larry Lee Lerma. Robbie Robertson or Jimmie Vaughan on guitar, Glen Clark on piano, Steve Jordan on drums, Rockin’ Dopsie on accordion and you can’t beat James Brown on vocals. For backup, Lulu and Sharon Jones.
What’s your desert island CD?
JB: I might go with Mozart—like his greatest hits or something like that.
DA: Wynonie Harris.