Aretha Franklin: John Landis goes behind the scenes of his cult scene in The Blues Brothers

Aretha Franklin: John Landis goes behind the scenes of his cult scene in The Blues Brothers

Musical arrangements, costume, playback, casting… Landis says it all.

It's not every day that a director is lucky enough to have under his direction Aretha Franklinone of the greatest voices in popular song. John Landisthe director of Blues Brothers, is one of these rare lucky ones. Interviewed by the magazine Deadlinehe spoke at the time of the disappearance of the singer, in August 2018, providing several anecdotes about the filming of the cult film. We are republishing them to wait until its rebroadcast, this Friday evening on Gulli.

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“I have nothing but praise for Aretha.”he declared.

According to Landis, who describes the singer as “national treasure”the head of the Queen of Soul “should be on Mount Rushmore”.

Aretha Franklin was hesitant to accept the role

“She was worried, Landis also remembers. She said : 'You know, I'm not an actress.' I told her that she was one, and that she delivered a performance every time she sang a song. She thought about it and replied: 'Yes, it's true.' She wanted to make sure it was done respectfully, and it definitely was. We loved him. John, Dan and I were absolutely delighted that she and all these artists agreed to participate in the film. (…) We were a little apprehensive about his reaction to the costume. But it suited her very well, she loved it.”

The singer insisted on playing the piano part herself. “Think”

“I wanted her to sing “Think.” (…) At the beginning she said: 'Really ? You don't want me to sing “Respect” ?' (…) She arrived a few days before the filming of her scene. She listened to the song and said: 'Okay, but I'd like to change the piano.' We said to ourselves: 'Great, what do you want to do?'. She answered us: 'I'll play it myself.'

The Queen of Soul had trouble with the playback

“It was fun, she was very surprised to have to do so many takes, continues the director. Like many artists I worked with, she struggled with playback. Which makes perfect sense when you realize that she never sang a song the same way twice.”

Aretha Franklin is accompanied by Stax musicians… and her sisters

“Steve Cropper, one of the members of the Blues Brothers band, is also one of the big names in the Stax stable (Editor’s note: legendary Soul/R&B label from the turn of the 60s/70s). Steve and Duck Dunn, also members of the Blues Brothers band, were part of Booker T. & the MG's. Cropper wrote many soul classics and worked with Otis Redding on all his recordings. It was Otis who wrote “Respect”, which earned him a hit. Then Aretha recorded it. Steve told us about Otis' reaction when he heard Aretha's version: 'Well, I think this song belongs to him now.'

“Remember the chorus girls, those women who came out from behind the counter? Two of them are Aretha Franklin's sisters.”

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The singer couldn't call John Landis by his first name

“There was only one thing that made me uncomfortable about Aretha, also says the filmmaker, amused. For some mysterious reason – perhaps because I was the director – she insisted on calling me Mr. Landis. I told him: 'Aretha, call me John.' She replied to me: 'Okay, I will – Mr. Landis.'

The critics took down the film… but not Aretha's performance

“What’s interesting is that The Blues Brotherslike most of my films, received very negative reviews, he concludes. Like Pauline Kael, who used to demolish each of my films. His criticism of Blues Brothers consists of a rejection of the film, then five or six pages on the genius of Aretha Franklin. Which, by the way, suits me.”

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