Nonstop Antics

It almost borders on the ridiculous when fictional characters are thought of as real people. But then the whole Blues Brothers thing is something of an anomaly. These guys were created for a skit for the “Saturday Night Live” late-night TV show audience yet somehow they morphed into something unexpectedly bigger. The Blues Brothers, “Jake” and “Elwood,” performed by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, took on lives of their own. The songs from their skits like ‘Soul Man’ were recorded on albums, which culminated in Jake and Elwood coming to the big screen starring in their own movies. That all started in 1976.
Fast-forward 42 years. The Blues Brothers continue to “live on,” and are still on the popularity radar if Blues Brothers tributes are any indication. At the forefront of all of them are “The Bluzmen,” a.k.a. Eric Martin and Carmen Romano, who have been performing their show longer than they ever thought they would.
They played in the famous “Legends in Concert” show in Las Vegas for a 10-year run and on more national television venues than Aykroyd and Belushi ever did the first time around. And they got one of the best endorsements a tribute act can get when Aykroyd sang with them during a show at Caesars Palace.
“Our show this year, Carmen and I are celebrating 30 years together,” Martin told the Laughlin entertainer. “It is strange. We started in our 20s, and now we’re in our 50s, so it’s really, really bizarre, because we both said we probably wouldn’t do this past 40 years old. I think we’re right at 14,000 shows we’ve done.”
Because the Blues Brothers weren’t necessarily defined by a full catalogue of hits, Martin and Romano can take a few liberties with the characters and their musical repertoire. They very likely will throw in a few surprises simply because Jake and Elwood might just do the same thing.
“As far as the show, we have a seven-piece band, and a female singer in addition to Carmen and I,” he said. “We always do something a little bit different with the show and every night is different because so much of our show has kind of evolved. Even though we wear the suits, it has evolved into more of a comedy, improv, variety show.
“I used to say it’s kind of like the Rat Pack on steroids where you don’t know what direction we might go,” he added. “Carmen and I do other characters and sometimes we slip those in. Carmen does Tony Bennett, a very good Tony Bennett actually, and he gets booked a lot as Joe Pesci, ’cause he looks a lot like Joe Pesci. I do Dean Martin and put on a wig — and way out in left field, I do George Straight because I can sound like him.
“So at this show in Dallas about a month ago, when we asked if there were any requests, someone yelled out George Strait, and I started performing ‘Write This Down,’ and even though I’m wearing the Blues Brothers outfit at the time, the people just gasped because of how I can sound like him.
“The point is our show has evolved into kind of a variety show. We do different kinds of things in our show and go in all kinds of directions, so I don’t want to give that away anyway,” he said. “But there’s always some kind of new little surprise, something a little bit different.
“Obviously the staple songs will be in the show, but there will be new songs and it’s always focused on the band. For the last few years we’ve had Ron Simpson as our musical director who is a Grammy Award-winning bass player. He’s played with Usher and a lot of people. He’s an amazing talent.
“It’s still a big show and it’s a lot of fun for everybody, high energy, and that hasn’t changed. We’re certainly excited about the fact that people still want us and we can still do it 30 years later.”
So after 30 years of shows, can Romano still do cartwheels?
“Of course! Even though we’re in our 50s, we go to the gym and try to keep ourselves fit so when we put on the suit we still feel like we’re in our 20s or 30s,” Martin said. “He still does the cartwheels and I still do the harmonica. In the early days, the harmonica was just a prop, as opposed to now — I’ve played on a couple of movie themes and albums, so it’s really turned into something that I just enjoy so much, and it’s turned into something I didn’t expect. At first it was just part of the act. But really, like I said, our show isn’t just two guys in hats and glasses doing the Blues brothers, it’s really more about doing the unexpected, surprising people in fun ways.”
He said the Blues Brothers still work on several levels.
“First, there’s the intriguing novelty of it,” he said. “You have these two guys in black suits, black hats, black shoes, black Ray-Bans and white socks, still looking hip. They’re such easily recognizable figures. They have a mass appeal with quite a broad section of fans.
“And the music is so good. It’s infectious. It’s such good music of the ‘60s. It doesn’t matter whether you’re into blues or rock and roll, the music is timeless and honest. The Blues Brothers did not have a No. 1 hit, so it’s mind-boggling to try to explain why they resonate with people.”
The show also works because of the natural chemistry between Martin and Romano from the very beginning.
“The chemistry between Carmen and myself was almost immediate — and we’ve had 30 years to develop it. I just believe that Carmen is head and shoulders better than any ‘Belushi’ out there. He’s an excellent singer and that’s what puts us over — and his look is as strong as any look. What’s so amazing is that Carmen doesn’t look at all like John Belushi if you were to see him just walking around. But when he’s in full costume, he looks so good, the attitude is there and he’s a great singer. He captures Belushi’s essence….
“There are a lot of people who can dress the part and carry out the look, but once you’re on that stage, you still have to entertain,” he said. “You have to have your stuff together, everything has to click. And we’re each other’s biggest fans. That’s what happens when you’re a team — one can’t go without the other. Carmen and I are joined at the hip, sharing the same brain.”
The biggest challenge of the show might just be the limited material, but that’s also where Martin and Romano can implement creative license.
“There is only so much material,” he said. “Their material comes mainly from the movie soundtrack, and four albums. Much of the material is obscure — stuff the typical audience doesn’t know. It’s not like Elvis or the Beatles with 400-song catalogues.
“Because both of us are actors as well as singers, there’s a lot of improvisation in our show. Our show has been described as ‘a non-stop train wreck.’ You never know what will happen.”
The show is also described as the “most explosive entertainment experience allowed by law,” and the only way to know if that’s true is to see it for yourself.


THE BLUZMEN

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside

Wednesday-Sunday, June 13-17 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets