You'd think that Chicago would have been able to develop a homegrown Blues Brothers' tribute act. After all, it's the supposed home of Elwood and "Joliet" Jake Blues and one of the cities that gave birth to the blues.
But in the early 1990s, when the Chicago Bears were looking for a couple of guys to pay homage to the fictional R&B duo created by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, they didn't use local talent. Instead, for about 12 years, they imported a couple of Tampa performers for every home game.
Wink Warren and Dave Martin performed at tailgate parties outside Soldier Field before the games, then moved inside to play at halftimes and two-minute warning time-outs.
"They flew us up there for every home game," Martin said. "My friends would say 'Can't they find a Blues Brothers act in Chicago?' And I'd just say 'Maybe, but I'm not going to be the one who tells them that.' "
It has been a few years since Warren and Martin — whose act is aptly but generically called A Tribute to the Blues Brothers — have played a gig. But they recently got a call from someone who wanted them to play in California. And they recently played to a packed house at a concert in Tampa's Ritz Theatre. They were backed by a 10-piece band, mostly musicians who live in South Tampa from Warren's other band, Mainstream.
"We played at Soldier Field, we played at the Chicago Bears' fan club convention every year, we played at the House of Blues in Chicago a bunch of times, we opened for Kool and the Gang in Galveston, we opened for America, we've been to Hawaii," Warren said. "We've always played for other people. Now, I want to start booking shows in theaters in this area and marketing it myself."
The act first came together after a woman from the Bears' fan club called Paragon Music in Tampa. The fan club had an event scheduled in the city and wanted a Blues Brothers' act to impart a little taste of home.
She had apparently just picked Paragon at random out of all the music stores in Tampa, Warren said. But the Paragon employee who answered the phone happened to know that Warren had done some Blues Brothers' material with his band Asule.
Warren put together a tribute act. They played for the fans and for the Bears themselves, and almost immediately became regulars at the football team's home games.
(There was another Jake — the Belushi character — at first, but Martin replaced him early in the band's life.)
Both Warren and Martin are professional musicians, and they allow that it's unusual that they've gained national fame by imitating a novelty act. But since the Blues Brothers picked some of the best R&B songs for their own repertoire, Warren and Martin say the act allows them to play lots of great music.
"I have no problem playing other people's music," Martin said. "Briefcase Full of Blues (the Blues Brothers' album) came out when I was about 10, and I played it over and over. It was because of that I started looking deeper and deeper into the music and learning about Wilson Pickett and Donald "Duck" Dunn."
(Dunn is a legendary R&B bassist who performed with the original Blues Brothers.)
Even musical purists are impressed with A Tribute to the Blues Brothers.
"I can tell you that when you're 3 feet away, Wink looks like Dan Aykroyd," said Dean Germain, one of Tampa's leading blues musicians and for 15 years the organ player for the tribute band. "He's got the voice. He's got the moves. He's got the energy. I'm really proud to be playing with this band. It feels good to be able to do this show and take it all over the country."
Marty Clear can be reached at [email protected]