Origins of the Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers group was formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1954. Their career was sparked by their father who had a gospel singing career of his own and he wanted the same for his children. From an early age, he started training his children to sing and perform. The brothers started off as a gospel quartet and the group was comprised of Ronald, Rudolph, O’Kelly, and Vernon Isley; sadly Vernon’s died in 1955 at only 13 years old. Because if this, the group took a few years off from music but eventually regrouped in 1957. The family moved to New York to further their career, and they switched their style to secular, non-religious music.
The Start of Their Career
By 1959 The Isley Brothers obtained a contract with RCA Records. The trio recorded “Shout,” which was their first successful single eventually going gold. The group left RCA in 1962 when they couldn’t produce a hit as big as “Shout”. The group switched labels to Wand Records in 1962, where they enjoyed a major hit ‘Twist And Shout’. A brief spell with Atlantic Records in 1964 produced a classic R&B record, ‘Who’s That Lady?’. The Isleys formed their own company in 1964, T-Neck Records. During a tour in the same year, they recruited a young guitarist named Jimmy James (Jimi Hendrix) to play in their band. His first recording with the Isleys was “Testify” which also served as the label’s first release. The record’s sound went unnoticed and they were forced to drop T-Neck records and Hendrix. They later signed a contract with Motown Records subsidiary Tamla in 1965.
The Expansion of the Group
The group only had one hit on Motown which was “This Old Heart of Mine”. The group felt restricted by Motown and in 1969 they left Motown to bring back their T-Neck label. Their next release was “It’s Your Thing” which became their most successful record. The single resulted in the group’s first Grammy Award. That year, the group introduced new members including younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, brother-in-law Chris Jasper, and family friend Everett Collins. The group began incorporating more and more rock material and produced covers of Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay.” In 1973, the Isleys produced a hit single remake of “Who’s That Lady,” re-titled “That Lady, Pt. 1”. The group changed its sound to more disco. They created more singles like “The Pride”, “Take Me to the Next Phase, Pt. 1”, and “Don’t Say Goodnight.”
The Isley Brothers' Late Career
In 1984 Ernie and Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper left to form their own group called Isley-Jasper-Isley. Two years later original member O’Kelly Isley died and in 1989 Rudy Isley retired and became a minister. The Isley Brothers didn’t really produce any music for a while and Ronnie Isley and his wife kept the group’s name and legacy alive. In 1991 Ronnie, Ernie and Marvin reformed the group, which had been renamed “The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald Isley.” Marvin left the group in 1997. Ronnie and Ernie still record under The Isley Brothers name. The released an album called Baby Makin’ Music, in 2006. The album did pretty well and reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B albums chart. It wasn’t until 2017 when they joined Carlos Santana and his wife that they recorded together again.
The Isley Brothers' Influence
The group has been said to be the longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music. The Isley Brothers throughout their musical journey utilized different musical styles incorporating elements of rock and funk music as well as pop balladry. They are responsible for producing some of the most iconic, recognizable and enduring R&B hits but also having massive cultural shifts, which heralded their music’s transformation from R&B to soul to funk.
Complete List of Members
Ronald “Ronnie” Isley: 1954-present
O’Kelly “Kelly” Isley, Jr.: 1954-1986
Ernie Isley: 1973-1984, 1991-present
Rudolph “Rudy” Isley: 1954-1989, 2004
Chris Jasper: 1973-1984
Vernon Isley: 1954-1955
Marvin Isley: 1973-1984, 1991-1997