THE ISLEY BROTHERS
Core members : - O'Kelly Isley, Jr. - Born 25 December 1937, Cincinnati, Ohio. Died 31 March 1986, Englewood, New Jersey
The Isley Brothers have had a long, influential and diverse career in black popular music. Ronald Isley was / is the group's lead singer and the band's consistent group member. They scored 42 hits on the pop charts between 1959 and 2003 and 72 R&B hits between 1962 and 2006. Sixteen of their albums charted in the Top 40.
Accompanied by their mother on piano, the four oldest Isley Brothers (O'Kelly, Rudolph, Ronald and Vernon) began singing gospel in their hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, in the early 1950s. But when Vernon was killed in a bicycle accident in 1955 at the age of only 13, the group disbanded for more than a year. The remaining trio moved to New York City in 1957, trying to make a career in secular R&B (which wasn't far removed from black rock n roll in those days). Their first record came out on the Teenage label ("The Cow Jumped Over the Moon"/"The Angels Cried"), followed by "Rockin' MacDonald"/"The Drag" on Mark-X, both in 1957. Two singles on Gone, including the powerful rocker "Everybody's Gonna Rock and Roll", didn't do much to improve their commercial success, but then they were signed by a major label, RCA, in 1959. The three brothers were teamed up with the production duo of Hugo (Peretti) & Luigi (Creatore), who had previously worked for Roulette Records. The first RCA single, "I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door", didn't generate much action, but the song would become a # 12 hit in 1961 when it was revived by 14-year old Eddie Hodges (and a # 1 hit in Holland). And then came "Shout".
That song was the direct outcome of a performance by the Isleys of Jackie Wilson's hit "Lonely Teardrops" at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. At the end of the song, lead singer Ronald started yelling "You know you make me wanna SHOUT". From there the brothers improvised a gospel-styled call-and-response vocal pattern. The audience's overwhelming reaction was witnessed by a promotion man from RCA. As a direct result, Hugo and Luigi persuaded the Isleys to use the idea as the basis for a song. In the end, "Shout" became a two-part record, released in September 1959.
While "Shout" didn't reach higher than # 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and strangely missed the R&B chart altogether), it became their first gold single on the basis of its longevity. Over the decades it has been covered by many artists, the best selling version being that of Joey Dee and the Starliters in 1962 (# 6).
The follow-up to "Shout" was "Respectable", which failed to chart in its original version, but the Outsiders scored a # 15 hit with the song (written by the three brothers themselves, like "Shout") in 1966. After three more non-charting singles for RCA, the group switched to Atlantic, where they were produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. However, the Isley Bros didn't return to the charts until mid-1962, by which time they were recording for the Wand label. "Twist And Shout" (originally recorded in 1960 by the Top Notes for Atlantic) went to # 17 on the pop charts and gave them their first R&B hit (# 2). This is another much-covered rock standard, which the Beatles would record on their first LP, using the same arrangement as the Isleys. The next Wanda 45, "Twistin' With Linda", also did well (# 54 pop), but then there was again a hiatus of several years until the next hit. After unsuccessful stints at United Artists and (again) Atlantic, the Isleys landed at Tamla-Motown in 1966, where the Holland-Dozier-Holland production team treated them as an extension of The Four Tops. "This Is Old Heart Of Mine", the first Tamla single, was a big hit (# 12 pop, # 6 R&B, # 3 UK), but subsequent singles peaked much lower or didn't chart at all. Tired of the lack of control over their own records, the Isley Brothers decided they would be better off recording for their own label, which they called T-Neck Records. (In fact, they had already released one single on T-Neck in 1964, "Testify", but soon aborted the project.) Their debut single for the revived label, "It's Your Thing" (1969) became the biggest hit of their career (# 2 pop, # 1 R&B) and the start of a long string of hits on T-Neck, including four further # 1 R&B hits between 1975 and 1980.
The group's sound drastically changed in 1973 after brothers Ernie Isley (1952) and Marvin Isley (1953-2010), along with in-law Chris Jasper (1951) were added to the line-up. It is no exaggeration to say that they created a new funk genre.
After Kelly Isley's death in 1986 and Rudolph Isley's exit to fulfill a dream of ministry in 1989, Ronald has carried on with the Isley Brothers name either as a solo artist or with accompanying help from his younger brothers, Ernie and Marvin. In 1992 the Isley Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When "Contagious" rose to # 19 on the pop charts and # 3 R&B in 2001, the Isleys became the first group to score a hit in six consecutive decades on Billboard's Hot 100. (It was also their biggest Dutch hit, reaching # 2.) Their last Top 100 hit was "What Would You Do", peaking at # 49 in 2003 and featuring R. Kelly.
In 2006, Ronald Isley was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion. After his release, he recorded his first solo album in 2010, followed by a second one in 2013. Marvin Isley died on June 6, 2010 of complications from diabetes. Ronald and Ernie have continued to perform together.
For rock n roll fans, the most interesting period in the long career of the Isley Brothers is 1957-1962. Their R&B recordings from that period have great intensity and are firmly rooted in the gospel tradition.
More info :
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/isleys.htm
CD recommendations :
Acknowledgements : Bruce Huston, Richard Pack, Jason Ankeny (AMG), Wikipedia, Joel Whitburn.
Dik, June 2014
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