STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
Paul “Joliet Jake” Miller was a teenager when the classic John Landis film “The Blue’s Brothers” was released in 1980. Little did Miller know at the time that he would one day front his own “Blues Brothers” tribute band.
“I was always a fan of the old Saturday Night Live stuff, John Belushi and Dan Akroyd,” said Paul Miller during a recent phone interview from his Lehigh Valley home. “When I was younger, I played the saxophone and played in different jazz bands and stage bands. I never really was a singer. I always loved music and specifically blues music.”
“The stuff the Blues Brothers did was a little bit different,” added Miller. “It wasn’t that traditional four bar chunka chunka chunk slow blues thing. Essentially, they were a cover band. They had that Chicago and Memphis sound. It was blues, but there was a rock edge and they did a little soul, a little funk. So, that interested me.”
In 2004, tribute bands were few and far between. Other than the formation of well-known acts from the past fronted by as few as one original member, the opportunity to see skilled musicians emulate their music heroes was rare.
“I’d been thinking about, for a while, starting some kind of musical project for fun,” recalls Miller. “Where we’re from in the Lehigh Valley, there are tremendous blues groups but nothing with that specific kind of a niche. What could I do that nobody else was doing? That’s how the idea of the Blues Brotherhood was born.”
“So, I placed an ad in a local paper looking for anyone that was interested in forming a Blues Brothers tribute act,” added Miller. “I got a few responses, and we got together. I was going to be the John Belushi character and sing. On keyboards, and he still is, is my uncle Bob Thomas. I remember driving him afterwards, and he’s kind of like, ‘Man, I just don’t know? I’ve been in so many of these little garage bands, basement bands. I just don’t know that I’m seeing this going anywhere?’ I told him, ‘Stick with me. I think we’ve got something.’ We had another rehearsal and one guy said, ‘I know a trumpet player. He’s not playing right now, and I know a bass player and he’s not doing anything right now. We put the whole band together and that was eleven years ago.”
The “Blues Brotherhood” is a nine member band that, in addition to Miller, features Aaron “Elwood” Hetrick (vocals and harmonica), Tom “Bones” Malone (trombone and baritone sax and an original member of the Blues Brothers that appeared in the original films “The Blues Brothers” and “The Blues Brothers 2000”), Steve “Stevie B” Bridges (saxophone), Barry “The Beast” Shultz (trumpet), Dustin “Credible” Hartman (trombone), Bob “B.T.” Thomas (keyboards), Rob “NoName” Bell (guitar), Ty “No Beard” Hooker-Haring (bass) and Willy “Too Big” NoName (drums).
A few years after the birth of Blues Brotherhood, Miller forged a friendship and soon-to-be-working relationship with Tom “Bones” Malone via social media.
“He had seen our website and sent me a message, ‘Hey you guys are really good. It’s nice to see somebody keeping this alive.’ I almost jokingly said back to him, ‘Maybe some time you’d like to jam with us?’ He said back, ‘Yeah, I would.’ We wound up putting a gig together, and he’s been playing with us fairly regularly for five or six years now, which really kind of validates us as a Blues Brothers tribute show. I grew-up idolizing these guys. Sometimes, it’s kind of surreal when I’m on stage and I’m playing John Belushi and I turn around and Tom Malone is in my horn section. Very gratifying.”
As part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the original Blues Brothers film, the Blues Brotherhood performed a memorable show at B.B. King’s in New York City.
“We played a show with all three members of the horn section from the Blues Brothers Band — Tom Malone, Blue Lou Marini and Alan Rubin,” Miller fondly remembers. “So, we had the original horns and our horns — six horns on stage. It was incredible. What a thrill that was and something I will never forget!”
Remaining true to the original “Blues Brothers” classic blues, funk, and soul in a style unique to their sound, The Blues Brotherhood continue to dazzle audiences of all ages with their memorable live show.
“We really strive to do it exactly the way the original guys did it,” says Miller. “Everything from costuming to the height differential between Jake and Elwood, the same instrumentation, the same arrangements. We really try to do it justice. There are other Blues Brothers tribute acts out there. We try to be as true to the original as we possibly can.
The characters are just fun. The Blues Brothers are loveable outlaws, if you will.”
“When you have a tribute band that really does it right — and there are a lot of them that do a fantastic job,” added Miller, “you give people an opportunity to witness what that would have been like. I think it’s fantastic. I don’t think I’m trying to play John Belushi as much as I’m trying to play Jake Blues and kind of recreate that. I hope I do it justice. I don’t think anybody can do it like the originals. We certainly try.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Blues Brotherhood
Where: Sellersville Theatre; 24 West Temple Ave., Sellersville.
When: Two shows are planned, 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31.
Admission: Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or online at www.st94.com.
Info.: To stay up to date with Blues Brotherhood visit www.bluesbrotherhood.com