Interview With Dan Aykroyd
Location: the Martignetti Company offices in Manchester, Feb. 25, 2009 for an interview with Dan Aykroyd conducted by New Hampshire Magazine Editor Rick Broussard. Aykroyd wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket and pin-stripe vest was seated at a table below a poster advertising his Discovery Series wines. On the table were two bottles of his 2007 vintage, one a Chardonnay and the other a Cabernet Sauvignon
So this is the product?
Yes. The Chardonnay was a no-brainer. No problem in Sonoma making great wine with the grapes there. The Cabernet, well, I had to wrestle a little to fill it out from what was there. It took us four or five blends to get this wine that I like now.
You have a winery in the Niagara area, but you don't use grapes from there.
No, this is the American-area production. Niagara wines will never come to the states. Just too much protectionism down here. It would be so high priced. I figured the best way to introduce the Discovery series would be to go to Sonoma, because, you know, we have no trade issues there.
At least not yet...
So you do movies, drama, comedy, write and voice video games, you've got a long-running radio show, you start restaurants and night clubs, make wine and spirits, you've produced DVD on UFOs -- is there anything you aren't involved in?
Well, national security. And I'd like to be.
I've been very fortunate. the thing about celebrity is it's good for getting out of a speeding ticket, getting a good table in a restaurant and for espousing causes. For instance, Angelina Jolie, the good work she does with her celebrity does substantial aid for United Nations initiatives. Celebrity is also good for commercial enterprises, however, the celebrity name and the novelty of the bottle will only get you so far. It has to succeed on what's in the bottle. And that's why I feel confident serving this with my name on it. It comes from Voisey in the DeLoach Vineyards and they really know what they are doing.
[Tasting] Mmm. The Chardonnay has a wonderful body, it's very substantial.
And these are young bottles. Lay this down for a couple of years and of course it would get stronger because they have the structure to sustain over time. They are both drinkable now, but for collectors in 10 years that red is going to be an incredible California wine.
There are a lot of new entries into the wine market, including lots of celebrities. How do you hope your wines will distinguish themselves?
Well, I hope people get the taste of a premium wine, a 50-60 dollar bordeaux experience, and in the white a 30 or 40 dollar experience and all for about $20 a bottle. High quality and good value and a great price. I think the combination of those three elements will make this a success.
You are from Ottawa, so it's not out of the question you've traveled through NH from time to time.
I have many times while going back from NY to Montreal.
So have you established any New Hampshire connections?
Well, Adam Sandler. I've done a few pictures with him he speaks fondly of New Hampshire. He loves his home state.
So along with wine, you bottle and import tequila and there's an online video where you are selling Crystal Head Vodka in a skull shaped bottle. You seem to claim that the bottle and the process imparts some mystical powers to the alcohol. I notice you have John Hodgman (PC guy from the "I'm a Mac-I'm A PC" commercials and author of "More Information Than You Require") assisting you with the promotion. Is this for real or just viral marketing?
The crystal head design came from John Alexander, famous landscape and portrait artist who has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum in the American Wing of the Museum of Fine Arts. He came up with the idea and pitched it to me as a tequila bottle. I said let's replicate the Mitchell-Hedges skull which was the one that Spielberg referenced in his movie ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"). It was the one found in Yucatan. Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the granddaughter of the explorer, actually reached into a cave in Yucatan and pulled it out. So I said, if we're going to do this, let's do a vodka that has no additives, that is pure spirit. People say when they see the real Anna Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull, that when she opens the black velvet bag she keeps it in, there's an immediate feeling of well-being and of healing and of warmth that comes over you. So for our glass bottle, people immediately pick it up and hold it, but the fluid inside has been poured over Herkimer diamonds and that's where you get your psychic value. So do the Herkimer semi-precious stones affect the chemical, particulate make-up of the fluid?
Maybe not. But maybe they add that last link of psychic purity. The semi-precious stones of Herkimer originally bubbled up from the ground, came up out of the magma and now they sit on top of the Earth for a swath of about 25 by 25 miles in Herkimer, NY. There's only one other place in the world where that occurs and that's in Afghanistan. They don't have to be mined, they are forced up and only in these two areas of the world. There's something psychicly interesting about that. So, after quadruple charcoal filtration, we take pour the vodka over the stones to get that last certain psychic value.
Einstein said something and this is his term, not mine. He called it spooky interaction at a distance. He was referring to the activity of two separate protons, completely separate particles in different environments and how one would begin to act and the other would begin to act in concert with it. So maybe, the vodka, the water the alcohol, the elements in there poured over these diamonds, maybe they offer that final filtration that imparts psychic purity.
Again, the glass skull and my name are not going to get that very far. The product is selling because people like the difference. They like the fact that we've stripped it of all fusel oils. There's no glycol, no citrus or raw sugar. I've sacrificed that velvety, satiny open mouth feel that most vodka's have today. I said nah ah. I want to go back to old style moonshine. Don't put anything in it. They said, "What? No citrus?" You know they have infomercials on TV where they take citrus in a spray bottle and it cuts grease this thick. I said that's highly caustic when you put it into alcohol, isn't it? And glycol, that's what they used to cool Spitfires in WWII. It's anti-freeze. That's kind of a harsh chemical substance that you put in the vodkas. And I said when you put the sugar in there, is that refined sugar? No it's straight from the cane. Well it's dirty isn't it? I said make me a vodka that doesn't spike at all on a spectrograph. That's what we have with Crystal Head. That's why it's the most expensive vodka in America. We're in a recession and it's selling because people love the fluid in it. There are no impurities at all in it.
I'd love to dwell upon that, but let's change the subject. You helped turn a generation of young people on to the blues with The Blues Brothers act and movies, Now you've got a long-running blues radio show [House of Blues Radio Hour]. Are you familiar with some of the blues talent we have in New Hampshire like Mighty Sam McClain and Luther Guitar Johnson?
Oh yes, I play them both. I've had Sam on my radio show.
Our University of New Hampshire has one of the longest-running blues shows on the radio, it's been on the air for more than 30 years.
I know about that show. Sure.
So how's your show doing?
We're in our 16th year of production, were in almost 200 stations, syndicated by Dial Global across the country and that's where the mission continues. If we were ever from a mission from God that's it. To celebrate the veterans — the people out there still touring today, Buddy Guy, BB King, Bobby Bland, James Cotton. To sell their shows out, to let people know they are still playing, and to venerate them. The second part of the mission is to bring up the next generation. I am thrilled by the help we were able to give Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John Popper, Jonny Lang, and now we have tremendous guitar slingers in the female world. We have Roxanne Potvin, Suzanne Teceschi, Sue Foley, Debby Davies who used to play with Albert Collins. We celebrate the new artists, we venerate the old and my mission is to sell records and get people to the shows.
Can you stream the show online?
Sure it's on the World Wide Web at www.thebluesmobile.com
So, I have to ask. You were one of the founding members of "Saturday Night Live," a TV icon. So what's your personal favorite SNL sketch?
That's a difficult one. There were so many I liked doing it would be tough. Hmm. OK, Fred Garvin, male prostitute. That kind of stands out for shock value, bold and fun. I got to be physical, wear a funny hat and costume and hide behind a character.
Speaking of iconic images, you were in the ensemble for the Live Aid, "We Are the World video." How did you snag that gig?
Totally by accident. My father and I were interviewing business managers in LA and we walked into this office of a talent manager, and realized we were in the wrong place. I was looking for a money manager, not a talent manager. I had managed myself at that time and always have. But he said, so long as you are here, would you like to come and join this "We are the World" thing.
I thought how do I fit in here? Well, we did sell a few million records with the Blues Brothers and in my other persona I am a musician, so I showed up and was a part of it but it was totally by accident.
What would you be doing now if you hadn't scored big on SNL?
I'd probably have gone into law enforcement.
Nope, I would have gone and been an executive with the Ontario Provincial Police in their criminal division. I was accepted to metro police before I got in SNL. I'd gotten my acceptance papers and I was this far away from being a motorcycle cop in Toronto.
I made up for it by being recruited ten years ago I was a reserve commander in Louisiana in a little town called Harahan. It's a middle class suburb of New Orleans. The chief recruited me to do some anti-drug work and some safety work with kids and then I ended up gong back after Katrina and brought them some supplies. Now we've formed the Blue Line Foundation that trains officers and first responders in crisis situations down there. I've been on the department there for 10 years.
You've had so many successes in your life. Any failures, embarrassments?
Well the movie I directed I wish had done better because I know it was a good serviceable comedy. It was called "Nothing But Trouble." It just got hit by the Gulf War and there was a Julia Roberts comedy and a Jodie Foster movie in the same marketplace and we were dead. But people watch it on DVD and they tell me they like it.
Yes, the DVD redemption has been massive for many careers.
Speaking of flops, I personally loved Spielberg's "1941" which starred you and John Belushi among others. It was like old Mad Magazine pages set to film.
I liked that picture. But who else but Speilberg would want to treat the Japanese invasion of California. It was a great depiction and it was historically accurate. Those things really did happen, the Zoot Suit Riots, the Japanese did lob a shell into a garden shack in Santa Barbara, there was that hysteria that went on there.
OK, "Ghost Busters 3", what's happening?
Well we have the game "Ghost Busters 3" coming out in June.
You did voice work for that, right?
Harold [Ramis] and I wrote part of the script and I performed the voice. We worked with them very closely to make that happen, and now we have the movie being written by two of the writers from "The Office."
So with all the winds of the gods behind us, we hope to be in production by October.
And you won't let the millions of Ghostbuster fans down, I trust.
I hope not. I'm the biggest fan of Ghostbusters, having originated the beast. I've always wanted to have the third movie. I've written two versions of it and now, finally it looks like we're going to get it made.