John Belushi’s connection to music, as far as most of the world is concerned, is his famous labor of love for R&B, the Blues Brothers. That album and film were exercises in rock-star wish fulfillment gone spectacularly right, and both remain justly exalted to this day. But Belushi was also an ardent supporter of the punk scene whose rise coincided with his heyday as a Saturday Night Live star.
Surely Belushi’s most famous expression of punk fandom was when he arranged for the notorious L.A. band Fear—reprobate contrarian dicks even by punk rock standards—to appear as SNL’s musical guest. Utter chaos ensued. The story’s been retold often, including on this very blog, so I won’t flog that dead horse here. But what’s less widely known, and really shouldn’t be, is that Belushi played drums with the Dead Boys at CBGB in 1978.
This was not a particularly happy event—Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz had been stabbed, almost fatally, and CBGB was holding a series of benefit concerts for his medical costs. Over 30 bands performed over the course of four days, and naturally the Dead Boys performed, with New York Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan filling in for the waylaid Blitz. But during the band’s signature song, “Sonic Reducer,” a song plundered from Blitz and guitarist Cheetah Chrome’s previous band, the Cleveland proto-punks Rocket From the Tombs, John Belushi played drums. And he did really well. Divine and the Neon Women—her dancers from her stage production The Neon Woman, which was running at the Hurrah Discotheque at the time—joined the band that night as well, as go-go dancers.
This pristine Arturo Vega shirt from the benefit sold on eBay for $749 in 2014.
Everyone from Blondie to Belushi showed up when we brought our camera down for the fourth and final night. But first, a few words about John Belushi. Four months earlier, at a party in the West Village, we met him and Dan Aykroyd while having a smoke on the balcony. We began needling them, because that weekend Saturday Night Live had booked the Sex Pistols (a gig that never happened: Elvis Costello ultimately performed instead). “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night? Where’s the New York bands; have you ever seen any play?” We invited them down to CBGBs that weekend. Belushi came, he saw, he fell in love with the Dead Boys. Billy Blitz [Johnny’s brother] remembered, “He used to call our house looking for my brother. My parents had no idea who he was, it killed me!” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
The Blitz Benefit was everything that was best in the CBGB scene: it was wild, unpredictable and small-town in its own peculiar way. We remember Cheetah Chrome as MC, taking on a leadership role… he was the glue that held those nights together. And who could forget Kathy Kurls, friend of the band, who stripped to “Sonic Reducer” right down to her pasties. Among so many others, Syl Sylvain and Arthur Kane, formerly of the New York Dolls, performed with their bands, the Criminals and the Corpse Grinders. Jeff Magnum, Dead Boys bassist, recalled using different drummers every night to fill in for Johnny. “It was cool to play with [ex-Doll] Jerry Nolan – he was a great drummer and Belushi was a lot of fun. To the tons of our friends who played for the benefit, we are eternally grateful.”
After the jump, the video evidence!