Lyric of the Week: BLUES FOR JOHNNY B
Updated: Feb 24
You were the backbone, the essence, the nerve center
of a Great Rhythm’n’Blues Band
But it’s too late to make it live breathe & jump again
You kept the blues from fallin’
You flipped you flopped & you flew
why did you have to go
you have a place in heaven ... we all know.
Yes those old memories come back
every so often
Of the way you really made it all come through … oo hoo
What the fuck happened? Where did it all go?
We wanted more’n’more n’then you took it all away
so soon ... so Soon!
howl it at the moon.
Stop smiling in my face, you vanished with barely a trace
Why couldn’t you continue? There was so much more left in you
Don’t turn around John, to crack another joke
Too many tears man, they cause me to choke!
You did it all your own way, you crazy punk
all soul and heart
You drove your engine way past maximum capacity
and blew it the hell apart
It was a goddamn stupid way to go
we loved you anyway
don’t you know ...
don’t you know!
©2019 The Hesh Inc./Reality Shock Music Inc.
John Belushi was one of my favorite actors, comedians, and singers. I first became familiar with him when he played Captain Kirk in Saturday Night Live's Star Trek: The Last Voyage skit. Of course, from there he went on to greater things, such as his roles in National Lampoon's Animal House and especially The Blues Brothers. His role as Joliet Jake Blues in the latter movie was extremely influential on young, impressionable teenage musicians such as my friend Izzy Kieffer and myself, who were more into the soul, rhythm'n'blues, and blues music portrayed in the movie than any of the pop fads of the era. John's death hit us hard, especially since it came during the period when we were in the process of finding and auditioning the members of our first band, REALITY SHOCK, a feat that often resembled the Blues Brothers' escapades.
It took several years (and many gigs) until we got our act together enough to compose a tribute song, which we titled "Song for John" and recorded as part of a demo recording designed to catapult us into the good graces of B.B. King's manager, Sid Seidenberg, whom we had met a year or so earlier in Tel Aviv. Sid told us to send him what we had and perhaps he could convince the King of the Blues to record our material. Soon Izzy was preparing for his trip to the US after his stint in the Israel Defense Forces was up; I was in the middle of my own service at the time, stationed along the northern border in the Golan Heights. Izzy hoped that I would be able to get a weekend pass so we could record under somewhat favorable circumstances before he lit off to the States, but alas, that was not to be ... the IDF needed me that weekend to stare down the Syrians. But Izzy was undaunted, and he lugged my electronic keyboard all the way from Jerusalem to my encampment out in Tiza Nabi, i.e., in the middle of freaking nowhere, on a Friday afternoon no less, so we could make our demo. We recorded the first version of "Song for John" inside the hull of an M-109 mobile howitzer, which was the only enclosed space we could find. Soon as the last note faded away and the stop button was pressed, the howitzer's commanding sergeant threw open the hatch and told us to get out, because the unit had been alerted and his crew was on its way. Thrills and excitement! Fortunately there was no war and no shells were fired. [Whew!]
So Izzy went back to the USA and handed the tape off to Sid, but alas, the King passed on our submissions. Izzy eventually made his way back to Israel, and in the fall we entered the studio to record an album-length demo with full-band arrangements at Gal-Kol Studio in Ramat Gan; "Song for John" was one of the tracks. It may not have made it into B.B. King's song list but I'd like to think it played its role in springboarding Izzy into the Berklee College of Music when he went back to the States later that year. (I hoped to follow him there when my army service would be done.)
"Song for John" morphed into "Blues for Johnny B" some two decades later. I always felt that the original was a bit too mawkish and reverential, and I wanted to give it more of an edge, evoking the way John had been in his various screen roles and even hinting at what led to his demise. Our Gal-Kol demo of the song, while professionally done, was a bit too slick to my tastes, and it is my hope to record "Blues for Johnny B" so it comes off a bit rougher around the edges. One of these days!