At the University of Texas he played in the famous One O'Clock Lab Band. After graduation he gigged as a professional musician and eventually became a member of Blood, Sweat and Tears. Later, he became a member of the Saturday Night Live house band during it's hey-day from 1975 to 1983. He subsequently became a member of the Blues Brothers, and appeared in the original Blues Brothers movie. In 1998 he also appeared in the movie's sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.
He can be heard on Frank Zappa's 1977 album Zappa in New York, and has worked with a diverse range of artists including Steely Dan, Peter Tosh, the J. Geils Band, James Taylor, Eddie King, Carly Simon, BB King, Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin, the Buddy Rich Band and the Woody Herman Orchestra.
In 2010, a made a recording titled The Blue Lou and Misha Project - Highly Classified, a collaboration with Israeli pianist and composer Misha Segal. His latest release, Starmaker contains 8 original recordings and features Jeff Mironov, George Wadenius, Gil Goldstein, Leon Pendarvis, Alan Rubin, Danny Gottlieb, Chris Parker, Manolo Bandrena, Sammy Figueroa, Bob Cranshaw, Tom Barney, Birch Johnson, Lawrence Feldman, Tommy McDonnell and others.
(Thank you Lou, for taking the time to speak to us about your amazing career.)
Tell me about growing up in Navarre, Ohio and the music you listened to while growing up.
Actually it was an even smaller town than Navarre, it was a town called Beach City and it was maybe 300 people tops. It was rolling farmlands and it was an innocent childhood. Maybe the last of them you know. My generation growing up in a little town. I've gone back a few times actually, and a few years ago they made me a distinguished alumni and my father too, because my father had been the high school band director in that area and he created a really fine instrumental band program there. Actually he wrote the Alma Mater for our school. We probably have the only hip Alma Mater in the whole United States.
What makes it so hip?
It's just a you know, nice chord changes and a more modern thing than a traditional Alma Mater. It's sort of fresh... And you know, the music I was listening to was, well my dad was always listening to jazz and once I started to get interested, he started me on clarinet when I was 10 and then I started studying with one of his friends when he saw that I was interested and was going to stay with it. It was a great guy named Frank Corbi. In fact we played together up until Frank's 80s. He had retired down there in Raleigh and whenever I would go down there to see my parents, because my mom was from North Carolina, my parents retired down there, I'd stop and see Frank and some times sit in and play with him and so it was something that I sort of maintained through my life. I listened to the Big Bands at first, and I remember listening to Stan Getz, and then gradually started to be exposed to - I remember one record that had west coast alto players like Benny Carter, and Charlie Mariano, and Bud Shank and Herb Geller, and then I started listening to that. Then I remember Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain when I was about 16 blew my mind and then another album, Michel Legrand Jazz which was also early '60s. You know I heard Miles and Coleman Hawkins and a lot of different players on that CD. Still a great CD actually. Beautiful. It's like the hippest Michel Le Grand ever was actually. Pretty cool. And from there on, I sort of went backwards because I heard the Big Bands first, then like Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, and then Basie and then Duke Ellington. So that was sort of the progression.
Awesome. Very cool. We're going to move ahead a little bit... Tell me about the process for auditioning for the Saturday Night Live Band.
It wasn't much of a process. I went in and played, and got the gig. That was it. Didn't last very long. They made up their mind pretty quick when I played, so I must have been having a good day.
How did you hear about the opportunity?
Well by that time, when I came to New York, I had been playing with Blood Sweat and Tears. I'd been playing with Doc Severinsen's band, and then I joined Blood Sweat and Tears and then I met Lew Soloff, and Dave Bargeron. Tom Malone was on the band and he and I had gone to school together at North Texas. Actually I had heard Tom play in Mississippi at a college jazz festival and I told him he should come to North Texas to go to school and so we were friends for a long time. So he also recommended me, and Alan Rubin who was a good friend of Lew Soloff's also, recommended me so I had a few recommendations going in. And, I think one of the older saxophone players in New York, George Young who also auditioned for the gig and is still to my mind just a virtuoso saxophone player, the dean of us all, also recommended me so I had multiple recommendations. And I knocked it out, so I got the gig. It turned out to be a great gig, you know it's like I remember that Alan Rubin used to say right before the opening theme which was you know the first phrase belted out with me by myself, he used to say, "Where's the hippest place on Earth to be right now?" Those early years of the Saturday Night Live shows were something else.
So tell me about backstage during Saturday Night Live.
Well you know basically we would do prerecords which were always very relaxed and a lot of fun because the band - it was a very close-knit band and very good friends, all of us. So because of that it was always something you looked forward to, it was fun. And then usually if there was a bit we had to be involved in, we would come in again on Friday and rehearse with the cast. In those early years with the cast the interaction with the band and the cast.. it was real intimate. We were real friends. We were friends with Jane and Lorraine, and Gilda... Everybody loved Gilda and then Chevy was always hanging around the band trying to noodle and sit there and play stuff. Belushi and Aykroyd, they were already musical and they were hanging out with us, so there was tons of interaction. Actually, truth be told it was probably those first eight years were probably the craziest band in the history of television.
|In the Blues Bros. movie: Blue Lou, Matt Murphy and Alan Rubin|
during Cab Calloway's performance of "Minnie the Moocher."
Well Belushi and Aykroyd used to sit in with us sometimes for warm up to the audiences. I'm not sure if it was more Belushi or more Aykroyd, but Belushi got way into the blues, coming on the success of Animal House, he got this idea of a blues band and these characters with the suits and the sort of run-down guys. And when we got called for it, I think there was a shortage of acceptable comedy stuff for Loren Michaels and he asked Danny and John to do one of the tunes they did with us as part of the show and it got a tremendous reaction. In the following shows they did a more arranged and together version. And then about a month later at the end of the season, we got this phone call, they were having rehearsals for a gig, as an opening act for Steve Martin at the LA Amplitheater in LA you know and there was like a week of rehearsal in New York and then three or four dates in Los Angeles, then ten nights in LA opening for Steve Martin and it paid real good money and we really thought it was going to be a nice gig. Nobody, well maybe Belushi or Aykroyd did, but none of us thought that it would turn out to be. One thing that was evident though was when we started rehearsing , Belushi and Aykroyd were so popular then so it was showbiz central at our rehearsal studio. All kinds of people... Mick Jagger... All kinds of people coming by to hear the band and it was immediately evident that there was something special about it. We had quite a mix of players really, we had Duck and Steve from Memphis Sound, and Matt Murphy, a lifelong Blues player, and Alan Rubin, a Julliard graduate groomed to be the replacement for William Vacchiano with the New York Philharmonic, Tom Malone from North Texas, Jazz, and played with Frank Zappa and played with Blood Sweat and Tears so you know there were a lot of different directions covered in that band and somehow there was a real spark. Steve Jordan was a brilliant drummer. Once we got to LA I remember... I told this story many times... I remember looking out into the audience because I was always the closest horn to the audience and I looked out and sitting right in front of me was Jack Nicholson right up close upstage, and he looked at me, lifted up his sunglasses and went, "Wow!"... You know like that. I think we were playing "B Movie Boxcar Blues." Pretty cool. And you know backstage in L.A. was like Robert DeNiro, Bette Midler, and everybody you can think of. Meryl Streep I remember seeing, so it was crazy.
Wow! So cool. Tell me about the very last show played at the Winterland Auditorium (San Francisco) , which the Blues Brothers played at.
Oh... That was sort of a blur to tell you the truth because of the flights and everybody was a little wired up and we had wait a long time to go onstage, it was one of those things were you were back stage forever. When we finally did get on, I remember that it was a blistering set. I mean we killed. But other than that I really can't recall much about it. It was a thrill to be there.
|The Blues Brothers played|
San Fransisco's Winterland
Ballroom on it's final night.
I didn't hear them but I ended up playing a tour with Levon Helm's band the Rco All-Stars in which we opened for the Grateful Dead and I think we actually sat in and played a couple of tunes with them. So I did hear them subsequently.
How was playing with the Blue Brothers different than say, playing with Frank Zappa?
Well I played with Frank Zappa. I'm on one of is most famous albums, his Live in New York album, and with Zappa there was so much highly technical stuff, you just had to really really get it together. It was cooking though... It wasn't like it wasn't burning. So it was just a different vibe, you know. Just the tunes themselves, everything was much more challenging. And with Blues Brothers it was basically kick ass rock and roll and R&B. Super high energy, you know it still is. We finish the opening medley and my stomach hurts from playing so hard.
When is the last time you played a gig with Dan Aykroyd?
It's been three or four years I think. It was some kind of benefit, so I really haven't played with Dan in awhile. I saw him a few years ago at some kind of special event but we didn't play together. He goes down and plays with what he calls the Blues Brothers Band, an L.A. band with Jim Belushi and him. Apparently he tends to do more of it, but he hasn't played with us, the real band in quite some time.
Tell me about Highly Classified and your collaboration with Misha Segal.
Well Misha and I met, he was translating for Blood Sweat and Tears for a TV show and at some point he wanted us to know that he was a musician also. He sat down at the piano, I remember it was around midnight, and I heard him. We started talking and hanging out and we became friends. And then he moved to New York, and then moved to Los Angeles and we always stayed in touch and I was out visiting him, I was playing with James Taylor, and I went over to hang, and have supper and he said I wanted play me some music and I went down into his studio and he played me his stuff and he asked me what I thought and I said well it sounds good, but there is something missing. He said, what's that? and I said it needs some fucking saxophone solos. So we started and actually and "The DJ Lied" is a first take, and it might be the only take. So some of the stuff from the CD was from that initial time, And we would do it back and forth, my friend John Tropea and I would work on the tracks in New York. Misha would send us the the side tracks and as we began doing that, we would say, the synthesized bass doesn't really sound that good, let's get a real bass, and get Anthony Jackson or Will Lee and then that would make the drums suck, and so we'd use a real drummer, Clint DeGannon and so that's the way it sort of worked and built from the ground up, but a real collaboration though. It was something that was a lot of fun. I'm proud of it actually, I think it;s a great combination of easy... Well it's not easy listening. It's some funky stuff. It's not like a real jazz album, it's not great big long solos but there's great jazz on it, on the part of everybody. So I like it. I'm proud of it.
What is the last album you purchased?
Um... Stockhausen. A recording of a famous piece called Gruppen by Karlheinze Stockhausen. And The Band, Greatest Hits of The Band. Wide variety. I listen to a lot of classical music.
Have you ever been to Des Moines?
Do you have any memories?
Many years ago man. It was in the '60s when Woody Herman had me.. 1968. I may have been back since then, but I definitely remember being in Des Moines with Woody's band. It's changed a little but since then, I imagine.
Yeah, we actually have a hip little scene here now.
You know, that reminds me. It was a guy who was doing promotion for the Judy Belushi and Dan Aykroyd... They have a band that goes around and does an imitation Blues Brothers thing with guys who dress up like Belushi and Aykroyd and imitate them. I played a concert in order to get to see that movie last year and the young guy who was one of the promoters had moved to Des Moines. I don't know whether he lived there before or not but he told me the same thing, that there was a really hip scene there now. Some good restaurants, some music and some galleries, so that's cool I need to make back it to Des Moines.
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