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First formed in the early '50s, the Isley Brothers enjoyed one of the longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music -- over the course of nearly a half century of performing, the group's distinguished history spanned not only two generations of Isley siblings but also massive cultural shifts which heralded their music's transformation from gritty R&B to Motown soul to blistering funk. The first generation of Isley siblings was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH, where they were encouraged to begin a singing career by their father, himself a professional vocalist, and their mother, a church pianist who provided musical accompaniment at their early performances. Initially a gospel quartet, the group was comprised of Ronald, Rudolph, O'Kelly, and Vernon Isley; after Vernon's 1955 death in a bicycling accident, tenor Ronald was tapped as the remaining trio's lead vocalist. In 1957, the brothers went to New York City to record a string of failed doo wop singles; while performing a spirited reading of the song "Lonely Teardrops" in Washington, D.C., two years later, they interjected the line "You know you make me want to shout," which inspired frenzied audience feedback. An RCA executive in the audience saw the concert, and when he signed the Isleys soon after, he instructed that their first single be constructed around their crowd-pleasing catch phrase; while the call-and-response classic "Shout" failed to reach the pop Top 40 on its initial release, it eventually became a frequently covered classic.
Still, success eluded the Isleys, and only after they left RCA in 1962 did they again have another hit, this time with their seminal cover of the Top Notes' "Twist and Shout." Like so many of the brothers' early R&B records, "Twist and Shout" earned greater commercial success when later rendered by a white group -- in this case, the Beatles; other acts who notched hits by closely following the Isleys' blueprint were the Yardbirds ("Respectable," also covered by the Outsiders), the Human Beinz ("Nobody but Me"), and Lulu ("Shout"). During a 1964 tour, they recruited a young guitarist named Jimmy James to play in their backing band; James -- who later shot to fame under his given name, Jimi Hendrix -- made his first recordings with the Isleys, including the single "Testify," issued on the brothers' own T-Neck label. They signed to the Motown subsidiary Tamla in 1965, where they joined forces with the famed Holland-Dozier-Holland writing and production team. Their first single, the shimmering "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)," was their finest moment yet, and barely missed the pop Top Ten.
"This Old Heart of Mine" was their only hit on Motown, however, and when the song hit number three in Britain in 1967, the Isleys relocated to England in order to sustain their flagging career; after years of writing their own material, they felt straitjacketed by the Motown assembly-line production formula, and by the time they returned stateside in 1969, they had exited Tamla to resuscitate the T-Neck label. Their next release, the muscular and funky "It's Your Thing," hit number two on the U.S. charts in 1969, and became their most successful record. That year, the Isleys also welcomed a number of new members as younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, brother-in-law Chris Jasper, and family friend Everett Collins became the trio's new backing unit. Spearheaded by Ernie's hard-edged guitar leads, the group began incorporating more and more rock material into its repertoire as the 1970s dawned, and scored hits with covers of Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With," Eric Burdon & War's "Spill the Wine," and Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay."
In 1973, the Isleys scored a massive hit with their rock-funk fusion cover of their own earlier single "Who's That Lady," retitled "That Lady, Pt. 1"; the album 3 + 3 also proved highly successful, as did 1975's The Heat Is On, which spawned the smash "Fight the Power, Pt. 1." As the decade wore on, the group again altered its sound to fit into the booming disco market; while their success on pop radio ran dry, they frequently topped the R&B charts with singles like 1977's "The Pride," 1978's "Take Me to the Next Phase, Pt. 1," 1979's "I Wanna Be With You, Pt. 1," and 1980's "Don't Say Goodnight." While the Isleys' popularity continued into the 1980s, Ernie and Marvin, along with Chris Jasper, defected in 1984 to form their own group, Isley Jasper Isley; a year later, they topped the R&B charts with "Caravan of Love." On March 31, 1986, O'Kelly died of a heart attack; Rudolph soon left to join the ministry, but the group reunited in 1990.
Although the individual members continued with solo work and side projects, and also experienced misfortune along the way, the Isley Brothers forged on in one form or another throughout the '90s and into the 21st century. In 1996, now consisting of Ronald, Marvin, and Ernie, they released the album Mission to Please; however, Marvin developed diabetes and left the band the following year -- the disease later necessitated the amputation of both his legs. Ronald and Ernie hooked up for the release of 2001's Eternal, a brand-new selection of R&B cuts featuring collaborative efforts with Jill Scott, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and Raphael Saadiq. On that particular release, Ronald also introduced the alter ego Mr. Biggs. Body Kiss was released in 2003, followed by Baby Makin' Music in 2006, the year after Ronald was convicted of tax evasion charges. Experiencing his own set of serious health issues, Ronald was sentenced to prison and served the latter portion of his sentence at a halfway house in St. Louis, MO before being released in April 2010. On June 6 of that year, Marvin died of complications from diabetes at the age of 56.
The Isley Brothers (/ˈaɪiː/) are an American musical group originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, originally 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 originally performed gospel music until Vernon died a couple years after its original 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 modestly successful works for a variety of labels, including the top 20 single, "Twist & 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.
Initially 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, the siblings 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 reformed the group two years later with Ernie and Marvin in 1991; five years later in 1996, Marvin Isley left the group due to complications with diabetes. The remaining duo of Ronald and Ernie would accomplish mainstream success with the albums Eternal (2001) and Body Kiss (2003), with the former album spawning the top twenty hit, "Contagious". As of 2013, the Isley Brothers continue to perform under the lineup of Ronald and Ernie.
Throughout their career, 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.Gulla, Bob (2008). Icons of R&B and Soul: An Encyclopedia of the Artists Who Revolutionized Rhythm. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-34044-4. The New York Times Google Books LA Weekly The Los Angeles Times Ankeny, Jason. "The Isley Brothers - Music Biography on Allmusic.com". Allmusic. Retrieved March 27, 2013. "The Isley Brothers". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1992. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
ContentsHistory1.1 Origins and initial recordings1.2 Major success1.3 Later career
Origins and initial recordings
The Isley Brothers originally came from Cincinnati, Ohio and were originally raised at the city's Lincoln Heights suburb, eventually settling at the satellite town of Blue Ash when they were teenagers. The brothers' 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 the brothers 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, eventually having 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. 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 & 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 in 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, recorded by members of Wilson Pickett's band, became their biggest success to date reaching number 2 on the Hot 100 and number one on the R&B chart. The song's parent album, It's Our Thing, reached number 22 on the Pop LPs 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 it 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 scored one of their most successful recordings to date with The Heat Is On, which featured the hits "Fight the Power" and "For the Love of You", and became their first to reach number one on the Pop LPs 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 scoring the hit, "Caravan of Love".
In 1985, the original Isleys trio of 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 40) 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, younger 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.
Chris Jasper continued as a solo artist and producer, forming his own independent record label, Gold City Records. He has released ten solo albums since the breakup of Isley-Jasper-Isley, including Inspired: By Love, By Life, By the Spirit in January 2013. In May 2014, Chris Jasper released "The One", the title track from his next CD scheduled for a late summer 2014 release. Notably, Chris Jasper has continued to write, record and perform all the music on his solo albums and produce artists for his Gold City label.Gulla 2008, p. 193. Gulla 2008, p. 193–194. Gulla 2008, p. 194. Gulla 2008, p. 195. David Edwards and Mike Callahan, The Atlantic Records Story, (Feb. 1990) Bert Berns official website - Biography 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. 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.