This morning at the House of Blues in Victory Park -- well, the construction site that will be the House of Blues come May -- Dan Aykroyd stopped by to, well, shovel some mud into a hole in the ground. "More like Mississippi concrete," said the Blues Brother as he scooped the muck from a silver bucket resting on the slab where the stage will be. Earlier, he explained that the mud comes from the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the infamous crossroads at which Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, as legend has it.
(C'mon, he coulda just gotten some dirt from the old Brunswick Records Building at 508 Park Avenue in downtown, where Johnson recorded "Hellhound on My Trail" and a dozen other cuts in June 1937. At least he did mention Freddie King. And Z.Z. Hill. So that was nice. Very, ah, bluesy of him.)
The club will unofficially open May 8, when Erykah Badu christens the new joint in the shadow of the W Hotel and the rest of Victory Park. (The club, said Jonas Woods, president of Hillwood Capital, will be "the soul of the project, because great neighborhoods have a great soul." Not exactly the word I'd use to describe Victory Park, but whatever.) On May 12, Aykroyd will return to Dallas with Jim Belushi, who's replaced his brother John as a Blues Brother. Speaking of John, he's "like the guy who invented the Spitfire and didn't get to see it used to defeat the Nazis," Aykroyd said by way of introduction from a makeshift stage. "He didn't live to see the first House of Blues built, but his spirit lives on in these clubs."
Aykroyd, who introduces himself as "Danny," told Unfair Park this morning he actually had nothing to do with selecting Dallas as a site for the first House of Blues in Texas. (There's another one under construction in Houston, but it's not set to open for another 18 months.)
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"I'm just the cheerleader, the mouthpiece, the spokesman," he said. "And I'm happy to do it, as myself and as my evil twin, Elwood Blues. I'd like to see one in Toronto, where I'm from, and we need to have one in New York City. And I did have questions about Cleveland, where we're trying hard to make it a go."
It's hard to tell what the new venue will look like; today it was nothing but a construction site decorated with folk art and artists' renderings of the interior, which will include, of course, the members'-only Foundation Room, a restaurant and a 1,500-person concert space, which, at this point, doesn't even have a roof. But there is good reason to be optimistic: Yeah, they can book some crap gigs (well, just look at the Cleveland schedule), but during my brief stint in Los Angeles, some of the best shows I saw and heard were at the HoB (X, Willie Nelson and Leon Russell all by they lonesomes), and the Wilco show at the New Orleans HoB a few years back was astounding, in large part because of the way the joint's set up with wraparound balconies and a deep hall.
"If the locals don't come out and support us, we're done," Aykroyd said in response to a question about for whom this is being built: tourists passing through the W and the under-construction Mandarin Oriental or the locals. "We need these people, these buildings to make lunch a go and to make dinner a go. We're going to create something here."
Of course, the cynic will also point out that Aykroyd was talking not far from the old Planet Hollywood, which celebrated its grand opening with an all-star shindig featuring the likes of Bruce Willis and other famous friends. But that was then, and this is the bright and shiny now, worth about $3 billion. All we ask is that Jim Belushi doesn't sing "Soul Man." Please, for the love of God. --Robert Wilonsky