The Isley Brothers (/ˈaɪzliː/) 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's death 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.
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". 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 has released ten solo albums since the breakup of Isley-Jasper-Isley, including Inspired: By Love, By Life, By the Spirit in January 2013.
Top 100 singles
|1962||"Twist and Shout"||17||42||2|
|1966||"This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)"||12||3||6|
|1968||"Behind a Painted Smile"||—||5||—|
|1969||"It's Your Thing"||2||30||1|
|1969||"I Turned You On"||23||—||6|
|1969||"Put Yourself In My Place"||—||13||—|
|1970||"Love the One You're With"||18||—||3|
|1972||"Pop That Thang"||24||—||3|
|1972||"That Lady (Part 1)"||6||14||2|
|1975||"Fight the Power (Part 1)"||4||—||1|
|1975||"For the Love of You"||22||—||10|
|1976||"Harvest for the World"||63||10||9|
|1977||"The Pride (Part 1)"||63||—||1|
|1977||"Livin' in the Life"||40||—||4|
|1978||"Take Me to the Next Phase (Part 1)"||—||50||1|
|1979||"I Wanna Be with You (Part 1)"||—||—||1|
|1979||"It's a Disco Night (Rock Don't Stop)"||90||14||27|
|1980||"Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time for Love) (Parts 1 & 2)"||39||—||1|
|1983||"Between the Sheets"||101||52||3|
|1996||"Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)" (R. Kelly featuring The Isley Brothers)||4||23||1|
|"—" denotes the single failed to chart|
Top 20 albums
- 1969: It's Our Thing (US R&B #2)
- 1972: Brother, Brother, Brother (US R&B #5)
- 1973: 3 + 3 (US #8; US R&B #2)
- 1974: Live It Up (US #14; US R&B #1)
- 1975: The Heat Is On (US #1; US R&B #1)
- 1976: Harvest for the World (US #9; US R&B #1)
- 1977: Go for Your Guns (US #6; US R&B #1)
- 1978: Showdown (US #4; US R&B #1)
- 1979: Winner Takes All (US R&B #3)
- 1980: Go All the Way (US #8; US R&B #1)
- 1980: Grand Slam (US R&B #3)
- 1981: Inside You (US R&B #8)
- 1982: The Real Deal (US R&B #9)
- 1983: Between the Sheets (US R&B #1)
- 1987: Smooth Sailin' (US R&B #5)
- 1989: Spend the Night (US R&B #4)
- 1996: Mission to Please (US R&B #2)
- 2001: Eternal (US #3; US R&B #1)
- 2003: Body Kiss (US #1; US R&B #1)
- 2006: Baby Makin' Music (US #5; US R&B #1)
- on YouTube / VEVO
- at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame
- discography at Discogs