April 24, 2014
MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR East Dallas soul man brings blues to life
by Lucy Higginbotham
Aug 12, 2013 | 890 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo by Lucy Higginbotham
J. Leggio’s love of the blues began at the keyboard of an organ. He still has the music he played as a child.
Photo by Lucy Higginbotham J. Leggio’s love of the blues began at the keyboard of an organ. He still has the music he played as a child.
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Photo by Dean Williams
Photo by Dean Williams
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He was not on a mission from God at the time, more like a spontaneous whim. But when J. Leggio took a chance at impersonating John Belushi’s fictitious character Jake from the Blues Brothers, he stumbled upon a gig he still plays 30 years later.

In fact, this East Dallas soul man recently returned from San Antonio where he played to a rocking throng at the Alamodome during the Spurs run for the NBA title.

“I saw someone else doing a lip-synch act here in Dallas back in 1983 and thought it looked fun. I thought I could do that and do it better,” he said.

Today, he and Lee Schwing (“Elwood”), travel all over the country as the longest-running, most successful duo, carrying on the Dan Aykroyd/John Belushi personas.

The Blues Brothers were created in the late 1970s as a musical act by Aykroyd and Belushi. They appeared twice on Saturday Night Live as a band. “The Blues Brothers” movie debuted in 1980.

The basic plot: Jake Blues, just out from prison, puts together his old band to save the Catholic home in Chicago where he and brother Elwood were raised.

The film is now firmly entrenched in American pop culture as a unique combination of some of the best blues music of the era and a hilarious action comedy.

The Dallas duo, trademarked as Briefcase Blues, stands out not only by singing and playing themselves (no lip synching necessary), but also by delivering an electrifying performance that brings fans to their feet.

Long a follower of blues, big band and even classical organ music (which he played as a teenager), Leggio discovered a talent and likeness that made crowds want to flip, flop and fly.

“We did some gigs in the Colony in the beginning and people went crazy! Thank God they were drunk,” he joked.

But finding the right man to play his counterpart, Elwood, was serious business. He had everything he needed… almost.

He took out an ad in The Dallas Times Herald classifieds: “Jake is looking for Elwood.”

When Newfoundland-born Lee Schwing answered the “potentially dangerous advertisement,” Leggio had no idea what a brilliant harmonica player Schwing really was.

“I came to his apartment after we’d talked about doing an act. There he was, fully decked in a black jacket, white shirt and tie. He blew the first few notes on that harp and I thought ‘That’s it,’” Leggio said.

They took the stage together for the first time on Sept. 24, 1983.

Since then, Leggio has been shaking his tail feather from as near as the Arboretum during the summer concerts to sweet home Chicago and beyond, at blues festivals, corporate functions and everything in between.

“We are not just a tribute to the Blues Brothers, we are Briefcase Blues,” Leggio said.

Leggio is more than a musician, however. He is trained in stagecraft with numerous credits, including co-producing the first Dallas stage production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

He has acted in such varied productions as Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” to the TV show “Walker Texas Ranger,” served as graphic artist for a haunted house at the State Fair and done voice work for radio.

“He is very well-read, experienced and interesting. When we are together, I never know what we are going to talk about,” Rick Cavazos, a musician in San Antonio who has worked with Leggio for more than a decade, said. “He’s sort of a renaissance man.”

Cavazos praised Leggio’s professionalism and showmanship, saying he is a joy to work with and goes above and beyond what the audience expects.

Their playlist includes all the classics one would expect from the “Briefcase Full of Blues” album and the movie, but it also includes other songs like “Mustang Sally” and “Devil with a Blue Dress.”

Schwing waxes philosophical about their long relationship.

“In some ways I’m blessed, some ways I’m cursed, but I’ll take the blessing,” he mused. “J. is tenacious. He’s very loyal and willing to take a pounding and keep going. But we are total opposites… and he snores too much.”

Part of Leggio’s journey has been to live, thrive and survive through marital and professional hard times. But everybody needs somebody to love and, after a failed marriage, Leggio found that somebody in his wife of 11 years, Nancy.

Although both worked in the music business (she was DJ Nancy Johnson for KZEW), they did not get to know each other until they were, according to Nancy, “destined to meet.”

“Yeah,” Leggio added, “It was like God said ‘You both have to make mistakes with a lot of other people and when you’re good and sorry, I’ll introduce you’.”

A self-avowed rocker, Nancy has come to love the blues J. plays and appreciates his romantic streak.

She even went along with their purchase of a 1974 Dodge Monaco - a complete replica of the Bluesmobile - that lives in Dallas but is available to rent nationwide.

Although Leggio has never heard from Ackroyd himself (Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982), he knows their performances are noteworthy. After all, they’re “on a mission from God.”

Find out more about Briefcase Blues at briefcaseblues.com.
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