For the past seven decades, “The Isley Brothers” – the legendary and iconic “Isley Brothers” – have recorded a plethora of R&B/rock/pop/funk songs and music that have reverberated through the recorded music industry like no other musical entity, in any genre, at any point in the 120-plus-year history of recorded music.
Simply put, there has never been a major recording artist or recording group – black, white or of any other ethnicity – other than “The Isley Brothers” with Ronald Isley, that can truthfully state and prove to have charted hit records in every decade since the 1950s.
On Friday, August, 21, 2015, a significant portion of the group’s discography came to life again, when Legacy Recordings (Sony/BMG) released, “The Isley Brothers: The RCA Victor and T-Neck Album Masters (1959 – 1983) 23-CD Box Set.” The extensive collection, according to Ernie Isley, longtime guitarist with “The Isley Brothers,” includes dozens of the group’s hit songs and some surprises.
“They looked under every rock and everyplace else to find some of this music,” said Ernie, with a huge laugh. “There’s some songs that’s been released, and some versions of songs that’s never been released or heard before by listeners. There’s some things that I haven’t heard in decades.”
The 23-CD box set contains the first-ever unabridged version of the 1980 live studio album that was recorded in Bearsville Studios near Woodstock, New York, which includes such songs as “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time for Love),” “Fight the Power,” “Summer Breeze” and a medley featuring “Hello it’s Me” and “Footsteps in the Dark.”
According to producers’ notes written by Leo Sacks and Jeffrey James, the project for CBS was slated to be released on the group’s T-Neck Records label in 1980, but never saw the light of day. Other recordings unearthed are tracks from “The Isley Brothers Live at Yankee Stadium,” which also includes musical performances by “The Edwin Hawkins Singers,” “The Brooklyn Bridge,” “The Five Stairsteps,” and others.
For those who were fortunate enough to listen to advanced copies of the collection, the CD Box set is being called “a definitive collection of songs and music that chronicles the evolution and brilliance of the world’s most prolific recording ensemble.”
In essence, the 23-CD box set musically chronicles “The Isley Brothers” (Ronald, Rudolph, and O’Kelly) from their gospel/doo-wop singing/recording days in the ‘50s. It begins with CD 1, which contains their 1959 hit “Shout” (Part 1 and 2). Other songs of interest on CD 1 include “When the Saints Go Marching in,” “St. Louis Blues,” “He’s Got the While World in His Hands,” and more.
While all 84 of the songs on the 23-CD collection can’t be listed, it’s worth mentioning there are classic songs/hits, inclusive of, “It’s Your Thing,” “I Know Who You Been Socking it to” “I Turned You On,” “Testify” (Part 1 & 2) “Ohio/Machine Gun,” “Fire and Rain,” “Lay Lady Lay,” “Pop That Thang,” “Lay-Away,” “It’s Too Late,” “Harvest for The World,” “At Your Best (You Are Love),” “Footsteps in the Dark” (Part 1 & 2), “Between the Sheets,” and many more…
While the music of “The Isley Brothers” has been labeled pure brilliance, the history of this “human music machine” is intriguing, as well. “The Isley Brothers” – O’Kelly, Rudolph, Ronald and Vernon – began performing as a gospel group in the early 1950s in their native hometown of Cincinnati. Vernon died a few years after the group was formed. His loss impacted the surviving three brothers so much that they considered disbanding.
Following a move to New York years later, the trio, in the late 1950s, switched their genre of singing from gospel to a doo-wop/classic pop mode. They recorded a few regional hits records. Things changed for “The Isley Brothers” when their song “Shout” insanely climbed the national music charts. Followed by several moderately successful songs, the group struck hard again with its Top 20 single, “Twist & Shout,” which was later covered by “The Beatles.”
In the early 1960s, “The Isley Brothers” employed a guitarist that helped the group shape its flair for rock/soul laden songs. The guitarist, while not widely known at the time, was Jimmy James, better known as Jimi Hendrix.
“People don’t realize that ‘The Isley Brothers’ bought Jimi Hendrix his first guitar, and when he went into the recording studio for the first time in his life, it was with ‘The Isley Brothers,” said Ernie Isley.
While young Ernie Isley was just a kid, having daily access to Hendrix for years allowed the youngster to observe every aspect of the guitarist’s evolving musical talents. Years later, Ernie would adopt a “Hendrix-ism” style of playing the electric guitar, even to this day. Interestingly, Ernie didn’t play guitar during the time Hendrix lived and played with “The Isley Brothers.” Ernie’s first instrument was the drums.
“I played my first live gig with my brothers when I was 14 years old,” Isley recalled. “It was in Philadelphia and I played drums, because the group’s drummer had quit. That same night in Philly, I played drums behind “Martha Reeves and The Vandellas” because they didn’t have a drummer. So I got the chance to play on ‘Dancing in the Streets’ and ‘Heatwave.’ ”
Believing that record companies, such as Atlantic, United Artists and Motown, didn’t truly understand “The Isley Brothers’ ” evolving “multi-genre” exploration of rock, R&B, pop, and soul, the group formed its own independent record label called T-Neck Records. The 23-CD box collection contains many of the group’s work on T-Neck, inclusive of such smash hits as “Love the One You’re With,” “Lay, Lady, Lay” and “That Lady.”
The unique vocalizations of Ronald, Rudolph, and O’Kelley were now augmented by the musical and vocal talents of younger brothers Ernie (lead guitar and drums), Marvin (bass guitar) and Rudolph’s brother-in-law Chris Jasper (keyboards/synthesizers). Jasper, a classical-trained musician with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts/music composition from C.W. Post, was instrumental in writing, co-writing and/or arranging many of the songs that branded the group, beginning in the late 1960s, in ways that other groups could not emulate.