Exclusive: Dan Aykroyd Launches Blues Brothers Records: 'I Want to Find the Next Gary Clark Jr.'
The "mission from God" continues, this time with a record label.
Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's widow Judy are starting Blues Brothers Records through an A&R and distribution arrangement with Blue Note Records. Blues Brothers will sign and develop blues artists, both newcomers and veteran acts, with an eye toward employing Aykroyd's multiple blues platforms for promotional purposes.
Blue Note president Don Was will handle A&R duties for Blues Brothers Records, Judy Belushi will be the creative director and Blues Brothers manager Eric Gardner will run the administrative side of the label.
"The music is vibrant," Aykroyd tells Billboard, singling out a collection of artists ranging from the Homemade Jamz Blues Band and the 24th Street Wailers to Joe Louis Walker and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Joe Bonamassa, who has hit No. 1 on the Blues Albums chart 13 times and sold 1.2 million albums, "is a super player," says Aykroyd, "but he also has an economic model. Bobby Rush is still working the old way at 83 years old. Matt Murphy still records.
"And a lot has to do with crossover. Jack White and Aerosmith have done blues records. After I saw Miley Cyrus on Saturday Night Live, I could hear her doing Lightnin' Hopkins with that growling voice. By working with a first-class producer in Don and using BluesMobile to help sell, there's a good shot at getting some traction."
Elwood's BluesMobile is the syndicated radio show Aykroyd has hosted for 22 years. Once the roster is large enough to produce a revue-style show, the Blues Brothers Records team envisions the artists traveling en masse to Live Nation's House of Blues. Aykroyd was one of the founders of the venue.
Still performing with Jim Belushi as the Blues Brothers, Aykroyd hopes the label can generate new audiences for blues and vintage R&B the way Briefcase Full of Blues did in 1978 when it reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 3 million copies shipped,. Similarly, the movie The Blues Brothers put Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, Walter Horton, Pinetop Perkins and other blues veterans in front of new audiences.
"Danny has been a beacon for decades for the blues, one of the most challenging [genres] to get into the commercial marketplace," Gardner says. "In the digital age a lot of labels don't have the wherewithal or the financing to have strong digital strategies and I think that has led to the paucity of strong blues labels. We're almost thinking of this as a public service for dedicated blues enthusiasts."
To attract artists, the label is actively seeking music and video submissions online. No artists have been signed yet nor has a launch date been set.
Aykroyd says he'll "lay back and suggest things and let Don do what he does best for the first year or two. But who's to say? I always want to find the next Gary Clark Jr."
The label is taking submissions now: Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An edited version of this story originally appeared in the March 21st issue of Billboard.