The Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers (//) are an American musical group originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, that started as a vocal trio consisting of brothers O'Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley and Ronald Isley. The group has been cited as having enjoyed one of the "longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music".
Alongside a fourth brother, Vernon, the group performed gospel music until Vernon's death a few years after its formation. After moving to the New York City area in the late 1950s, the group had modest chart successes during their early years, first coming to prominence in 1959 with their fourth single, "Shout", written by the three brothers. Initially a modest charted single, the song eventually sold over a million copies. Afterwards the group recorded for a variety of labels, including the top 20 single, "Twist and Shout" and the Motown single, "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)" before recording and issuing the Grammy Award-winning hit, "It's Your Thing" on their own label, T-Neck Records.
Influenced by gospel and doo-wop music, the group began experimenting with different musical styles incorporating elements of rock and funk music as well as pop balladry. The inclusion of younger brothers Ernie Isley (lead guitar, drums) and Marvin Isley (bass guitar), and Rudolph's brother-in-law Chris Jasper (keyboards, synthesizers) in 1973 turned the original vocal trio into a self-contained musical band. For the next full decade, they recorded top-selling albums including The Heat Is On and Between the Sheets.
The six-member lineup of the band splintered in 1983, with Ernie, Marvin, and Chris Jasper forming the short-lived spinoff group Isley-Jasper-Isley. Eldest member O'Kelly died in 1986 and Rudolph and Ronald released a pair of albums as a duo before Rudolph retired for life in the Christian ministry in 1989. Ronald re-formed the group two years later in 1991 with Ernie and Marvin; five years later in 1996, Marvin Isley left the group due to complications of diabetes. The remaining duo of Ronald and Ernie accomplished mainstream success with the albums Eternal (2001) and Body Kiss (2003), with the former album spawning the top twenty hit, "Contagious". As of 2016, the Isley Brothers continue to perform under the lineup of Ronald and Ernie.
The Isley Brothers have had four Top 10 singles on the United States Billboard chart. Sixteen of their albums charted in the Top 40. Thirteen of those albums have been either certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum by the RIAA. The brothers have been honored by several musical institutions including being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Five years later, they were inducted to Hollywood's Rockwalk and in 2003, were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
Origins and initial recordings
The Isley Brothers originally came from Cincinnati, Ohio, and were raised at the city's Lincoln Heights suburb, eventually settling at the satellite town of Blue Ash when they were teenagers. Their father, O'Kelly Isley, Sr., a former United States Navy sailor and vaudeville performer from Durham, North Carolina, and Georgia-reared mother Sallye, guided the elder four Isley boys in their singing while at church. Patterning themselves after groups such as Billy Ward and his Dominoes and the Dixie Hummingbirds, the brothers began performing together in 1954. Eventually they landed a spot on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour where they won the competition, winning a watch. With Vernon on lead vocals, the quartet soon began touring all over the eastern US regions performing in a variety of churches. When Vernon was thirteen, he was killed after a car struck him as he was riding his bike in his neighborhood. Devastated, the remaining trio disbanded.
Eventually convinced to regroup, the brothers decided to record popular music and left Cincinnati for New York in 1957 with their parents' blessings. With Ronnie assuming the lead vocal position in the group, the group got into contact with Richard Barrett, who soon had the group in contact with a variety of New York record producers. They eventually had their first records produced by George Goldner, who recorded the group's first songs, including "Angels Cried" and "The Cow Jumped Over the Moon" for the Teenage, Cindy and Mark X imprints. The songs were only regional hits, however. By 1959, the group landed a recording deal with RCA Records. Later that year, mixing their brand of gospel vocalizing and doo-wop harmonies, the group recorded their first composition together, "Shout", a song devised from a Washington, D.C. club performance in which the brothers had covered Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops". The original version of the song peaked at 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 and never reached the R&B chart. Nevertheless, it sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. Follow-up recordings on RCA failed to chart and the brothers eventually left the label in 1961, later signing with Scepter Records. In 1962, the brothers scored their first top 40 hit with the Bert Berns song "Twist and Shout", which reached number 17 on the Hot 100 and number 2 R&B, staying on the charts for 19 weeks. The song had been produced by Berns for the brothers to teach then-struggling producer Phil Spector how to produce a hit.
Moving their entire operations to New Jersey, the brothers continued to struggle with recordings eventually forming T-Neck Records in 1964. During that same time period, Jimi Hendrix began playing lead guitar for the brothers' band. Bringing Hendrix with them in the studio, they recorded the song "Testify". Later on, Hendrix contributed guitar to another Isleys single, "Move On Over and Let Me Dance", which was recorded for T-Neck through distribution with Atlantic Records. After neither song charted and Hendrix left them for good in 1965, the brothers signed with Motown Records. Earlier the following year, the group had their second top 40 hit single with "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)". While the brothers' recordings with Motown were more successful than the brothers' early works, they struggled to have a follow-up top 40 hit with the label. They left Motown in 1968.
Resurrecting their T-Neck label that year, the brothers signed a distribution deal with Buddah Records and issued "It's Your Thing" in February 1969. The song, which featured the first appearance of Ernie Isley on bass, became their biggest success to date reaching #2 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart. The song's parent album, It's Our Thing, reached #22 on the Pop LP chart and "It's Your Thing" became their second million-seller and won them a Grammy Award. The release of "It's Your Thing" brought record label issues between the Isleys and Motown as Motown argued that the group recorded the song while still under their Motown contract. A 1975 court decision eventually ended in the Isleys' favor.
By 1971, the Isleys' younger brothers Ernie Isley and Marvin Isley and brother-in-law Chris Jasper started to add musical input to the band's music, first performing on the Isleys' Givin' It Back, which had the brothers reinterpreting rock songs mixing them with funk and gospel-oriented elements. They played an even bigger role in the music on the 1972 album, Brother, Brother, Brother. Both albums yielded top 40 hits including "Love the One You're With" and "Pop That Thang". By the end of their Buddah tenure in 1973, the brothers signed a distribution deal with Epic Records and made Ernie, Marvin, and Chris official members. In 1973, the Isleys released 3 + 3, which included the top 10 hit single, "That Lady" and a UK Top 10 cover of "Summer Breeze". Incorporating hard rock and folk rock as well as funk and soulful balladry, the album became their breakthrough hit, eventually selling over two million copies.
The following year's Live It Up reached gold. In 1975, the brothers recorded one of their most successful recordings with The Heat Is On, which featured the hits "Fight the Power" and "For the Love of You", and became their first to reach #1 on the Pop LP chart, also selling over two million copies, going double-platinum. The brothers would have more hit albums including Harvest for the World, Go for Your Guns, and Showdown, which either went gold or platinum and released several top 40 pop and R&B recordings and several popular album and radio cuts. By the release of 1979's Winner Takes All, the brothers had incorporated disco and quiet storm music into their work. The brothers' final album under their six-member lineup, 1983's Between the Sheets, sold over two million copies. By then, financial struggles, creative difficulties, and other issues affected the group. Shortly after the success of Between the Sheets, Ernie, Marvin, and Chris left the Isley Brothers and formed Isley-Jasper-Isley, later recording the hit, "Caravan of Love".
In 1985, the original Isleys trio of O'Kelly, Rudy, and Ronnie signed with Warner Bros. Records and recorded and released the album Masterpiece. Shortly a year after its release, Kelly Isley died of a heart attack while battling cancer, in March 1986. The remaining duo of Ron and Rudy released the Angela Winbush-produced albums, Smooth Sailin' in 1987 and Spend the Night in 1989. Shortly after the latter release, Rudy retired from the music industry and followed life in the ministry. Ron put the group on a brief hiatus in 1990 while he recorded solo material. In 1991, Ron revived the group; Ernie Isley and brother Marvin returned to the fold. that year they released the album, Tracks of Life. Five years later, Ron Isley gained popularity as video villain Frank Biggs (or Mr. Biggs) in the music video for R. Kelly's hit "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)", which included the Isley Brothers as featured artists. The success of the song and its video helped the brothers' 1996 album Mission to Please reach platinum status.
That same year, Marvin Isley's career ended after a bout with diabetes forced him to have both of his legs amputated. Ron and Ernie have carried on as a duo from then on. In 2001, the duo released their best-selling album in years with the Eternal album, which sold over two million copies and featured the top 20 hit single "Contagious", making the Isley Brothers the only act to reach the Hot 100 (in fact, that chart's top 50) during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Two years later, the brothers' Body Kiss album peaked at number-one on the Billboard 200 album chart, becoming their second to reach the position and the first to do so since The Heat Is On. Their next two released albums included 2006's Baby Makin' Music and the 2007 holiday album I'll Be Home for Christmas. In 2007, the Isleys' career was interrupted by Ron Isley's three-year prison sentence for tax evasion. He was released in 2010. In June of that year, youngest brother Marvin Isley died in Chicago after his longtime bout with diabetes. During the group's hiatus, Ernie toured as part of the Experience Hendrix concert festival, while Ron Isley released his first solo album, Mr. I, in 2010. A year later, Ron and Ernie reunited and have since performed on the road.
In 1993, The Isley Brothers song "Footsteps in the Dark" was sampled by hip-hop artist Ice Cube for the hit single "It Was a Good Day".
In 1994, The Isley Brothers song "Between the Sheets" was sampled by The Notorious B.I.G. for his hit single "Big Poppa". That same year, R&B singer Aaliyah did a cover version of "(At Your Best) You Are Love" for her debut album.
Jasper continued as a solo artist and producer, forming his own independent record label, Gold City Records. He has released 10 solo albums since the breakup of Isley-Jasper-Isley, including Inspired: By Love, By Life, By the Spirit in January 2013. In May 2014, Jasper released "The One", the title track from his next CD scheduled for a late summer 2014 release. Jasper has continued to write, record, and perform all the music on his solo albums and produce artists for his Gold City label.
In 2017, Ernie and Ronnie collaborated with guitarist Carlos Santana and released Power of Peace, out on July 28 by Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings.
- Current members
- Ronald Isley – lead vocals (1955–present), backing vocals (1954–1955)
- Ernie Isley – electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, percussion (1973–1984, 1991–present)
- Former members
- Rudolph Isley – backing vocals (1954–1989, 2004)
- O'Kelly Isley, Jr. – backing vocals (1954–1986; died 1986)
- Marvin Isley – bass guitar (1973–1984, 1991–1997; died 2010)
- Christopher Jasper – keyboards, backing vocals, guitar, bass, percussion, wrote and directed string arrangements, songwriter, arranger, producer (1973–1984)
- Vernon Isley – lead vocals (1954–1955; his death)
- 1959: Shout!
- 1962: Twist & Shout
- 1963: Twisting and Shouting
- 1966: This Old Heart of Mine
- 1967: Soul on the Rocks
- 1969: It's Our Thing
- 1969: The Brothers: Isley
- 1970: Get into Something
- 1971: Givin' It Back
- 1972: Brother, Brother, Brother
- 1973: 3 + 3
- 1974: Live It Up
- 1975: The Heat Is On
- 1976: Harvest for the World
- 1977: Go for Your Guns
- 1978: Showdown
- 1979: Winner Takes All
- 1980: Go All the Way
- 1981: Grand Slam
- 1981: Inside You
- 1982: The Real Deal
- 1983: Between the Sheets
- 1985: Masterpiece
- 1987: Smooth Sailin'
- 1989: Spend the Night
- 1992: Tracks of Life
- 1996: Mission to Please
- 2001: Eternal
- 2003: Body Kiss
- 2006: Baby Makin' Music
- 2017: Power of Peace
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- Wilner, Paul. "Isley Brothers: A Family Affair", The New York Times, March 13, 1977. Accessed September 18, 2011. "WHEN Sallye Isley moved her brood of children from Cincinnati to Englewood in the summer of 1959, she was participating in a show-business phenomenon.... While their older brothers toured America, the younger Isley boys enrolled successively in Englewood Junior High and Dwight Morrow High School.... Right now, the brothers reside near enough to each other to keep in close touch. Ronald lives in Teaneck, Kelly Jr. in Alpine, Rudolph in Haworth and Ernie in Englewood."
- Gulla 2008, p. 196.
- Gulla 2008, p. 199.
- Company, Johnson Publishing (1986-04-21). O'Kelly Isley, 48, Of The Isley Bros. Dies In N.J. Retrieved 2010-02-11.
- Associated Press. "O'KELLY ISLEY", The New York Times, April 3, 1986. Accessed October 8, 2007. "He was 48 years old and lived in Alpine. Born Dec. 25, 1937, Mr. Isley grew up in Cincinnati and began his musical career singing gospel with his brothers, who performed with their mother accompanying them on piano."
- "Singer Ronald Isley gets 3 years in prison". Today.com. September 12, 2006. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
- "Marvin Isley of Isley Bros. dies at 56". CNN. June 7, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-07.
- "Isley Brothers bassist dies at 56". BBC News. June 8, 2010.
- Hyden, Steven (October 25, 2011). "Ice Cube, "It Was A Good Day"". The A.V. Club.