Saturday, July 07, 2012

What Happened? Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers
The origins of the Isley Brothers were in the Lincoln Heights section of Cincinnati, Ohio. The original quartet version of the brothers was inspired by their father O'Kelly Isley, Sr., a singer in a local gospel group, who had envisioned his sons being "the next Mills Brothers" having his four eldest sons, Kelly, Rudy, Ronnie and Vernon, sing together in church at early ages. The quartet formed in 1954 and began touring the gospel night circuit with their parents as their background musicians. Their gospel career halted after Vernon Isley was struck and killed by a passing motorist while riding his bicycle. Vernon's death briefly broke up the group as the brothers struggled to deal with Vernon's death. Eventually, their parents advised them to regroup the following year.

After a couple years singing gospel music, the brothers decided to switch genres. Their parents agreed with their decision helping to send them off to New York in 1956 where they begin scouting for record deals, finally signing with the Teenage record label where they recorded their first single, "Angels Cried". The record was released and eventually flopped as did a follow-up, "The Cow Jumped Over the Moon". In 1958, they released the ballad, "Don't Be Jealous", on a different label, however that record also bombed. By the summer of 1959, the Isley family had moved from Cincinnati to a home in Englewood, New Jersey.

The group supported themselves by opening for bigger R&B acts on a variety of package concert gigs. One night, while opening up for Jackie Wilson, they did a spontaneous cover of Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops", which caught the eye of a scout for RCA, who immediately told staff of the brothers. RCA later signed the Isleys and recorded several singles. Their second single, which was one of the first the brothers penned together spontaneously, was a gospel blues number they titled simply "Shout". The record became their first to chart, reaching #47 on Billboard's Hot 100. While other singles - including another group-penned number, "Respectable" - failed to chart, the brothers began making an investment on "Shout", which would be covered by numerous rock and R&B acts and would later be included in commercials and as a theme song and marketing hook for the Buffalo Bills.

The brothers left RCA in 1962 and signed with the Scepter subsidiary Wand. In hopes to branch out and sing ballads, the group had decided on cutting the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song, "Make It Easy on Yourself", until being told that someone else had released it as a single. Wand advised them to record a dance song called "Twist & Shout", partially due to producer Bert Berns showing Phil Spector a lesson on how to produce properly since Spector's production of the Top Notes' original version had flopped. The Isleys' version became a hit, reaching #17 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart, later inspiring a hit cover by The Beatles. After the Beatles' version became a hit in the UK in 1963, the brothers' original charted in 1964 peaking at #42 prompting the brothers to promote the single there. Despite the promise of the Kelly-led "Nobody but Me", the record failed to chart and the brothers soon switched labels again, signing with United Artists in early 1964, where they recorded an early version of "That Lady", titled "Who's That Lady". They would also record the song "Love Is a Wonderful Thing", a song that would later become part of a court case involving the Isleys and Michael Bolton.

Later in 1964, frustrated by the record business, the brothers created their own label, T-Neck Records, where they began recording their own singles with their band, which would later include then-unknown guitarist Jimi Hendrix. With Hendrix, the brothers cut the songs, "Testify" and "Move Over and Let Me Dance". While "Testify" made something of a local buzz, due to T-Neck being a vanity label, they weren't able to send it to record labels. However, "Move Over" and "Wild as a Tiger" did get the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed the act briefly in 1965, by which Hendrix had already left to perform for Little Richard. Their Atlantic Records singles bombed and the brothers halted any more releases from T-Neck after getting an offer from Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy to sign with Motown. Sent to the label's Tamla division, the brothers recorded the Holland-Dozier-Holland composition, "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)". The record became a hit reaching as high as #11 on the Hot 100 and #6 R&B. It also found success overseas peaking at #3 in the UK. Though they had more chart action with Motown than with previous labels, the group struggled with follow-ups and when their contract was up in 1968, the brothers opted not to renew it.

Following the end of their Motown tenure, the Isley Brothers revived their T-Neck label and began recording and producing their own compositions, something Motown had told them to avoid, due to the label's policy on artists producing their own material. After Buddah Records president Neil Bogart agreed to distribute their T-Neck singles, the Isleys released the hit record, "It's Your Thing" in early 1969. The song became a breakthrough hit for them as it reached #2 on the Hot 100 and became their first to peak at #1 on the R&B charts, later selling over a million copies and winning them their first and only Grammy Award.

Bolstered by their success, the group immediately followed up with several similar-sounding singles including the top 40 single, "I Turned You On". Other songs such as "Keep On Doin'", "Get Into Somethin'", "Freedom" and "Black Berries" started a round of R&B charted hits. In 1971, the group experimented with interpreting rock songs such as "Love the One You're With" and "Spill the Wine", which resulted in chart success, with "Love the One You're With" becoming a top 20 hit.
In 1972, with the inclusion of younger brothers Ernie and Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper added to the group, the band recorded Brother, Brother, Brother, which spawned three hit singles including "Lay-Away", "Pop That Thang" and "Work to Do". Due to this success and their first album to blur the sounds of soul music and rock music as well as the burgeoning funk genre, this led to the group becoming a sextet.

After their Buddah contract expired, Epic Records agreed to distribute their next recordings. Inspired by the group's new lineup, the band issued the aptly-titled, 3 + 3 album in 1973. The album boasted the rock hit, "That Lady", which was itself a remake of the brothers' 1960s single albeit with different lyrics provided by Ernie Isley. The record peaked at #6 pop. Their cover of Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze" later became a top ten hit on the UK charts. Due to this, the album became a million-seller and was the brothers' first album to go platinum as did its 1974 follow-up, Live It Up, which included the hits "Midnight Sky", the Todd Rundgren cover of "Hello It's Me" and the title track. The brothers released their landmark 1975 album, The Heat Is On, which became their first to hit #1 on the Billboard 200 and later would sell more than two million copies in the US alone spawning the hits "Fight the Power" and "For the Love of You". 1976's Harvest for the World would go platinum as well as the following year's Go For Your Guns and 1978's Showdown.

By the release of the 1979 double album, Winner Takes All, however, the brothers started to reach a peak of its success. Though Winner Takes All went gold and later spawned the number-one hit "I Wanna Be With You" as well as the top 20 UK hit, "It's a Disco Night (Rock Don't Stop)", the brothers would struggle to make platinum on their next four releases. It wouldn't be until 1983 that the band returned to its former success with the release of the album, Between the Sheets, which would become the final album to include Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper. With IRS problems mounting against the original three founding members for failure to pay back taxes, they advised the younger Isley brothers and Jasper to leave the band. The younger group members later formed the modestly successful Isley-Jasper-Isley band before breaking apart just three years later.

After their distribution deal with Epic Records ended in 1984, the remaining Isleys signed with Warner Bros.. Before the contract could be completed, the group agreed with the IRS to sell their stock in T-Neck Records, folding the label in 1985. Afterwards, the brothers recorded Masterpiece, releasing the R&B charted singles "May I" and "Colder Are My Nights". This turned out to be the final album to feature Kelly Isley, as he would die of a heart attack while battling cancer in March of 1986.

Reeling from the loss, Ron and Rudy Isley started to record their next album with the members of the popular duo, Rene & Angela, producing. However, before sessions began, Rene Moore and Angela Winbush had a row and split up. Winbush then decided to produce the Isleys' next album on her own. The result was 1987's Smooth Sailin', which revised the brothers' career on the R&B charts with the title track reaching #3. The group was working on the follow-up to that album when Rudy told Ron of his plans to follow a career in ministry. As a result, the Spend the Night album was promoted by Ron Isley on his own following its release in 1989 and the group's moniker changed to "The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald Isley".

The group would be in hiatus as Ron Isley focused on solo work, later having a top ten hit with Rod Stewart on his cover of the Isleys' Motown hit, "This Old Heart of Mine". Ron also collaborated often with Angela Winbush serving as executive producer of her album, The Real Thing, which featured a duet with Winbush on a song titled "Lay Your Troubles Down", which was released as a single in 1990. In 1991, younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, having split from Isley-Jasper-Isley, reunited with Ron. Back to a trio, the group recorded the album, Tracks of Life, which was released in 1992. Around the time of its release, the surviving members of the group and Kelly Isley posthumously were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Little Richard. After the release of a live album in 1993, the Isleys left Warner Bros.
In 1993,  Ron Isley married producer/composer/singer Angela Winbush in Los Angeles California.
 In 1996 and signed with Island Records where they recorded their first million-selling album in thirteen years with Mission to Please. The success of the record was sparked from Ron Isley being featured on the R. Kelly hit "Down Low" and Isley's music video character, "Mr. Frank Biggs", or "Mr. Biggs" for short.
In 1997, Marvin Isley contracted diabetes and was later told by doctors to stop performing, bringing the group back to a duo.

In 2001, Ron and Ernie released the album, Eternal on DreamWorks Records, which became one of their biggest-selling releases in years, selling over two million copies and peaking at #3 on the Billboard 200, sparked by the top 20 hit, "Contagious". Two years after that, the band scored their second #1 pop album with the R. Kelly-helmed Body Kiss, which later went gold and was also released on the revived T-Neck label.
Ronald Isley & Angela Winbush quietly divorced in early 2002. When Winbush received chemotherapy following her ovarian cancer diagnosis, Isley was by her side giving her his support in her recovery.
In 2003 Ronald recorded a solo album, Here I Am: Bacharach Meets Isley, with Burt Bacharach. In addition, Ron Isley became a sought-after hook singer for R&B veteran R. Kelly, and hip-hop acts such as Warren G., 2Pac and UGK.
In 2004, while in London, Ron Isley suffered a mild stroke, which halted an Isley Brothers tour there. In September 2005,  Ron Isley married background singer Kandy Johnson (of the duo JS/Johnson Sisters), who is 35 years his junior. Their son, Ronald Isley Jr., was born in January 2007.
Leaving DreamWorks for Island Def Jam's Def Soul Classics imprint, the brothers released the 2006 album, Baby Makin' Music, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200 and included the R&B hit, "Just Came Here to Chill", following that up with their first Christmas album, I'll Be Home for Christmas, in 2007.
In 2007, it was reported Isley had kidney problems and lived with a pacemaker He still lives in St. Louis.
Ron Isley was charged with and convicted of tax evasion charges. Ron Isley was sentenced to 37 months in prison, instead of the maximum sentence, which would have sent Isley to jail for 26 years. Isley's sentence was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Isley was imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution at Terre Haute, Indiana, and was scheduled for release on April 13, 2010. He was moved to a half-way house in St. Louis, Missouri following an early departure that October. After his sentence was completed, Isley was released from a federal half-way house on April 13, 2010.
On June 6, 2010, Marvin Isley died of complications from diabetes at the Seasons Hospice within the Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.
 After serving his sentence, Ron released his first solo album, Mr. I.
In 2010, Isley received a "Legend Award," surveying Isley Brother music written largely by the younger brothers, at the Soul Train Music Awards.

In 2011, Ron and Ernie reunited to revamp the Isley Brothers as a performing unit, which they've remained.

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