Updated: Oct 27
The Isley Brothers: Everlasting Legacy
Can many of us say that we know about The Isley Brothers? There are many that can; yet there are those of us, the Gen-xers, that pick up on the Isley Brothers from the ending of the 3+3 edition of the family, when Between The Sheets came out in 1983.
Man, what an album, and the title cut continues to flourish almost 40 years later, be it through spins on quiet storm radio formats and hip hop sampling. Now, do we know that the legacy of the Isley Brothers stretches back 7 decades?
Shoot, it’s probably a little bit longer than that. The Isley Brothers broke out on the music landscape back in 1959, with the elder brothers O’Kelly (RIP; passed away in 1986), Vernon (RIP; passed away in 1956), Rudolph (retired from the group after 1989) and Ronald (present day) making up the original lineup.
They came out the gate with the forever classic “Shout”, which was redone by the Beatles and countless others. Yours truly really liked it when Otis Day and The Knights did their version in the classic movie “Animal House (Thank you National Lampoons. LOL).”
From there, the Isleys started their first incarnation of their legendary T-Neck Records label, hired a young Jimi Hendrix (yes, that Jimi Hendrix), signed with Motown, had another hit with “This Old Heart Of Mine”, another forever classic, yet got stuck spinning their wheels at Motown.
In other words, the Isley Brothers were way more than the run-of-the-mill singing group. They had too many facets to their outfit. The Isley Brothers were too expansive in their sound to just be type-casted into what was then the “Motown Sound.”
The brothers had a young Jimi Hendrix, who was a prodigy and a virtuoso of his instrument. His style would rub off onto a young, and learning Ernie Isley.
Remember, Jimi was around the Isley Brothers family plentiful. The style that Jimi Hendrix played is what emanates from the licks we hear from Ernie Isley. Like Ronald Isley would sing years later, “my brother was born to play his guitar….” And Ernie Isley has continued to do just that, play on.
Ernie Isley’s style of guitar prowess can be best described as “Jimi Hendrix meets the blues, and created a forever love child.” The aforementioned quote is from yours truly family, just to
let you know.
To repeat what was said earlier, there were too many facets to the Isley Brothers sound. It was not going to be type-casted into just one set sound, and the 1969 LP “It’s Our Thing” was a big step into that direction.
This is where we get see some of the contributions of the younger Isley Brothers, Ernie and Marvin. Marvin Isley (RIP; passed away in 2010) is one of the great godfathers of the bass, who had a fantastic ear for the groove.
Once again, we mention the great Ernie Isley again, because he contributed not only his guitar playing, yet you can find his contributions on the drums on this, and many of the other instruments on many of the Isley Brothers albums to come.
“It’s Our Thing” peaked at #22 on the Top 40 of Billboard for 1969, and wholly released on their T-Neck Records label, this album set everything in motion for the next decade and a half of music for the Isley Brothers.
Now, I know you’re wondering, when do we get to the truly hit-making years of the Isley Brothers? Well, we’re there right now.
Their second LP, “The Brothers: Isley”, would go on
to give the family more success, and the contributions
of the younger Isley Brothers were now finding their way
into the mix already established from the elder Isley Brothers.
The younger Isleys, Ernie, Marvin, and Chris Jasper (their brother-in-law, yet he’s an Isley Brother nonetheless), came in with the heavy artillery that set up the band to totally wreck shop, and 1971’s “Giving It Back” was showing this.
Chris Jasper (their brother-in-law, yet he’s an Isley Brother nonetheless),
Who knew that their greatest musical days were about to take over the world? Yours truly wasn’t even born yet, yet the Isley Brothers were about to do just that.
When the Isley Brothers released their “Brother, Brother, Brother” LP in 1972, they were now entrenched with formula and lineup simply title “3+3.” Who, or what, is 3+3? It’s simply the 3 elder Isley Brother plus the 3 younger Isley Brothers.
They came together on that James Brown concept known as “The One”, and making those timeless jams that we’ve all grown up with and come to love so much. One would say that this is a beautiful thing right? Of course it is. Let us proceed onward.
We won’t get overly long-winded, yet we’re going to do our best to put things in perspective from what we’ve seen on the outside, and what was shared with us through the eyes of Chris Jasper himself. Now, let’s rock on.
From say 1973 until 1983, The Isley Brothers had hits from front to back. You can say that they were indeed visionaries themselves. The music that was created is beyond timeless. How many times have we’ve heard an Isley Brothers at any point and time throughout our lives, be it commercials, or some other radio format?
Their signature sound is a bit of Ohio funk, mixed in with some gospel, blues, and that undeniable premise to serenade, and seduce a woman...
(don’t quote me, Ernie Isley explained is beautifully during the Versuz, alongside Earth, Wind & Fire).
That’s a great formula indeed.
Having had the opportunity to interview Chris Jasper twice in the last 9 years, yours truly did indeed get some great insight into the band. Folks would say that the Isley’s approach was workman like.
However, having talked to the man himself, Chris Jasper put it plainly,
“We had fun. We always had the idea that when we went into the studio, that we were looking forward to creating the next great thing.”
That’s the best way that one can describe what the Isley Brothers put into the atmosphere throughout their careers. Now, the Isleys had hits.
The question that comes out for many is how come they didn’t win any Grammy’s or American Music Awards? Well, they’ve only won two Grammy’s, one for “It’s Your Thing” in 1970 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
That’s crazy, right?
To many of us, it is. Yet, according to Chris Jasper, it’s simply not. In his words,
“take a look at our peers back then.”
When we take a look, we find out that he’s on point.
The Isley Brothers were in the same pool with Earth, Wind & Fire, The Ohio Players, Sly & The Family Stone, War, Graham Central Station, etc., and you have a clear idea of how stacked it was almost 50 years ago (damn, yours truly is almost 50 y’all. LOL).
When you look at the overall grand scheme of things, yours truly remembers one writer saying that the Isley Brothers legacy is misunderstood. They had the hit records, they had the great message songs.
Yet they didn’t have the opportunity to garner the awards that we as fans thought they should’ve received. Yours truly gets to say to you, the supporters of the show and the Isley Brothers don’t feel ashamed for them.
When we look at things, here in 2022, Chris Jasper is still recording and putting out music. Ronald and Ernie Isley are continuing the legacy by recording new music, and still touring.
Please know, the Isley legacy continues on with the emergence of Ernie’s lovely daughter, Alex Isley. She has a prolific catalog herself, and she’s been around for over 10 years now.
The Isley legacy isn’t misunderstood, or misplaced. Their music has continued to touch society as a whole, in a positive way. Now, and I know you’d want to ask, why didn’t the Isley Brothers stay together? The only opinion I can offer is simply time.
They all had different directions that they wanted to go into, hence the older brothers trooping on. (O’Kelley passed away in 1986, so it was Ronald and Rudy continuing on for two more albums up until 1989).
The younger Isleys forming Isley, Jasper, Isley for 3 LPs from 1985 until 1987. Chris Jasper would, of course, carve out a wonderful solo career from 1988 until present day.
he Isley Brothers would reform around 1993 with Ronald, Ernie and Marvin, and have new found success with a connection with the new generation of listeners.
The Isley Brothers continue on with Ronald and Ernie bearing the Isley Brothers flag, plus a new album, here in 2022. The latest LP is called “Make Me Say It Again, Girl”, named after their 1975 hit of the same name. Yes, the LP has the newest version of this song, remade as a duet with the one, and only, Beyonce.
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that the brothers are still touring as well? Yes, the Isley Brothers are out here still putting in work on stage, and wowing the crowds, right here in their 7th decade of music.
This new LP will undoubtedly add to the mix. With all of that said, despite all of the awards not falling their way, the Isley Brothers have continued to thrive with a delightful stride.
We know that we’re not promised forever, and we know that the remaining brothers are in their golden years, yet let’s continue to give the Isley Brothers their flowers. Let’s continue to shine our light on them, and keep the needle on the records of their music.
The Isley Brothers music is timeless, and definitely deserving of the the title “an everlasting legacy.” One love, family
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