The Isley Brothers were an American soul-funk band from Cincinnati that initially started as a vocal act during the early 1950s. Between 1957 and the late 1960s, the band released assorted singles on RCA, Atlantic, Wand, and UA, capping this period with two albums on Tamla in 1966 and 1967. Between 1969 and 1983, the band released 18 albums on their exclusive imprint T-Neck, distributed by CBS.
Members: Ronald Isley (lead vocals), Rudolph Isley (background vocals, 1954-89), O’Kelly Isley, Jr. (background vocals, 1954-86), Vernon Isley (lead vocals, 1954-55), Ernie Isley (guitar, drums, bass guitar, maracas, congas, timbales, percussion, background vocals, 1973-84, 1991-present), Marvin Isley (bass guitar, percussion, woodblock, cowbell, background vocals, 1973-84, 1991-97), Chris Jasper (grand piano, electric piano, clavinet, synthesizer, tambourine, congas, percussion, background vocals, 1973-84)
The Isley Brothers were born and raised in Lincoln Heights, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Their father, O’Kelly Isley, Sr., was a former vaudeville performer from Durham, NC. The four eldest Isley boys — O’Kelly Isley, Jr. (1937–1986), Rudolph (b. 1939), Ronald (b. 1941), and Vernon (1942–1955) — sang in the church choir as children. In 1954, they started performing as an R&B/vocal combo. After winning a competition on Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, they toured churches along the east coast with Vernon as their lead vocalist. Tragedy struck in 1955 when Vernon, age 13, was struck and killed by a motorist while riding his bike. The grief-stricken brothers curtailed their musical activities for the next two years.
In 1957, the remaining trio regrouped with Ronald at the helm and moved to New York, where they recorded with producer and label owner George Goldner. The Isley’s issued their first two singles that year on the Teenage and Mark-X imprints, followed in 1958 with a single on Cindy and two on Gone Records. In 1959, they signed to RCA Victor, which issued their debut album Shout!, which spawned the singles “Respectable” (later covered by the Yardbirds) and the two-part “Shout” (later covered by the The Who). Unlike most groups of the era, the Isley’s wrote some of their own material, including the album’s two singles.
During the next two years, the Isley’s released further singles on RCA and Atlantic. In 1962, they signed to Scepter-subsidiary Wand, which issued their signature early single “Twist and Shout” (Billboard #17, R&B #2). The song, later made more famous by The Beatles, was written by songwriter Bert Berns (“Piece of My Heart,” “Here Comes the Night,” “Hang on Sloopy”) and included on the Isley’s second album, Twist & Shout. Further Wand singles were followed by the 1963 album Twisting and Shouting on United Artists.
In 1964, the Isley’s relocated to New Jersey and founded T-Neck Records. Its first release was the two-part single “Testify,” which features the first recorded appearance of a young Jimi Hendrix. He also played on their second T-Neck single, “Move Over and Let Me Dance” (b/w “Have You Ever Been Disappointed”), issued the following year.
Later in 1965, the brothers suspended T-Neck and signed to Motown, scoring a hit with “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)” (Billboard #12, R&B #6) on the label’s Tamla imprint. In 1990, it returned to the charts after Ronald guested on a second version of the song by Rod Stewart (who first covered it on his 1975 album Atlantic Crossing).
The Isley’s issued six further singles on Tamla between 1966 and 1968, during which time younger brother Ernest “Ernie” Isley (b. 1952) joined the group, first as their drummer before moving to bass. Embracing the nascent funk style of The Bar-Kays and recent James Brown, they resurrected T-Neck and secured a distribution deal through Buddah Records.
- It’s Our Thing (1969)
- The Brothers: Isley (1969)
- Get Into Something (1970)
- Givin’ It Back (1971)
- Brother, Brother, Brother (1972)
- 3 + 3 (1973)
- Live It Up (1974)
- The Heat Is On (1975)
- Harvest for the World (1976)
- Go for Your Guns (1977)
- Showdown (1978)
- Winner Takes All (1979)
- Go All the Way (1980)
- Grand Slam (1981)
- Inside You (1981)
- The Real Deal (1982)
- Between the Sheets (1983)
- Masterpiece (1985)
- Smooth Sailin’ (1987)
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