A spin in the Blues Mobile

Motoring
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  November 16, 2011

BluesMobile_main
ON A MISSION FROM GOD Rathbun and Carlson.

A couple of years ago Jerry Carlson, owner of Auto Rust Technicians in Cranston, was driving through upstate New York when a white Chevrolet pulled up behind him and turned on the lights.

This wasn't a local cop or even the state police. This was Homeland Security. And Carlson, a touch nervous, offered up his license and registration to the man who walked up to the door.

"Oh, I don't need that," the guy said, "I just want a picture of your car!"

Such is life in the Blues Mobile, a replica of the vehicle John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd drove in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

The car, in truth, is not a perfect copy of the Hollywood version.

Jake and Elwood Blues, fleeing police and neo-Nazis, drove a 1974 Dodge Monaco — a used police car that Elwood got in a trade for a microphone. "It's got a cop motor," he told Jake. "It's got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks."

Carlson, instead, settled on a 1977 Chrysler Newport for his Blues Mobile. And that's not the only liberty he's taken.

There are four speakers on the exterior of the black-and-white car, for blasting the blues. A PA system for playing his harmonica and needling passersby. There's a GPS built in. Seats imported from an old Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer. There are stencils, near the rear windows, of Belushi and Aykroyd.

And this little catchphrase, stuck on the side: "Just for Fun."

Fun seems a sort of religion for Carlson and his primary sidekick, Dave Rathbun, a voluble Auto Rust Technicians employee who plays Jake to Carlson's Elwood; the car may be a marketing tool for the business — the company's name and phone number are stenciled on the side — but that hardly seems the point.

The guys, often dressed in the Blues Brothers' trademark black suits and black ties, take the vehicle to all manner of fundraisers and car shows. They get 80-year-olds shaking it, women sprawling all over the car for photos. They give parade organizers fair warning: put us behind a politician and we will heckle.

The Blues Mobile has been north to Toronto, west to Los Angeles, and plenty of places in between. Rathbun, taking me back through the shop on a recent afternoon to inspect the car, pauses at a picture taken at halftime of an arena football game in Little Rock, Arkansas, not long ago.

Riding shotgun in the Blues Mobile: James Best, better known as the bumbling Hazzard County Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane of The Dukes of Hazzard, chasing the General Lee around the stadium.

This is actually the second iteration of the vehicle. Carlson made the first, known as the Blues Patrol, in 1998.

A guitarist friend asked him to jam one night at a club in Foster. Akroyd happened to be in Rhode Island that night and Carlson, who bears a passing resemblance to the comedian, thought it would be fun to pull a fast one on the audience.

He dressed up as Elwood and painted a 1970 Plymouth Fury black-and-white, gluing a piece of red Tupperware on top as a faux siren. It took off from there.

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