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The Isley Brothers (pronounced /ˈaɪzliː/; IZE-lee) are a successful and long-running American group consisting of different line-ups of six brothers, and a brother-in-law, Chris Jasper. The founding and central members were O’Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley and Ronald Isley. Their music has developed from 1950’s R&B, through Motown soul to 1970’s funk,[1] and they have had long-running success on the Billboard charts, being the only act to appear in the Top 40 in six separate decades. In 2006, they reached the Top Ten of the Billboard album chart for the ninth time. Over the years, the act has performed in a variety of genres, including doo-wop, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, funk, disco, urban adult contemporary and hip-hop soul. The group’s lineups have ranged from a quartet to a trio to a sextet; and are currently a duo.

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The band were formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1954, from the three elder sons of O’Kelly Isley, Sr. and Sally Bell Isley: O’Kelly Jr., Rudolph and Ronald, and recorded with small labels singing doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll. After modest success with singles such as “Shout”, “Twist and Shout” and the Motown single “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)”, and a brief tenure with Jimi Hendrix as a background guitar player, the group settled on a brand of gritty soul and funk defined by the Grammy-winning smash “It’s Your Thing” in 1969.

After reforming the group as a six-member lineup in 1973, featuring younger brothers Ernie and Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper, they became known as 3 + 3 and charted gold and platinum success with albums such as 3 + 3, The Heat Is On, Go For Your Guns and Between the Sheets, while charting a succession of hit singles such as “That Lady”, “Fight the Power”, “For the Love of You”, “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love)” and “Between the Sheets”, between 1973 and 1983.

After the younger brothers splintered from the group in 1984 the remaining trio continued recording until O’Kelly’s death from a cancer-related heart attack in 1986. Rudolph left the group for a career in the ministry in 1989. In 1991 Ron reformed the group with Ernie and Marvin returning to the lineup. Since 1997 after diabetes forced Marvin into retirement, the lineup has been Ron and Ernie (now on hiatus due to Ron’s current prison sentence after a tax evasion conviction in 2006). The Isleys recordings have been sampled by 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Outkast, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg, among others.

Early years (1954-1961)

The band were formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1954, from the three elder sons of O’Kelly Isley, Sr. and Sally Bell Isley: O’Kelly Jr., Rudolph and Ronald. Occasionally performing in churches throughout their childhood, Rudolph, O’Kelly, Vernon and Ronald, were taught how to perform in front of crowds by their parents, who were also musicians, along with their younger siblings. A few years after the death of younger brother Vernon from a road accident, O’Kelly, Rudolph and Ron were convinced by their parents to form a new singing group together. After forming the group in 1957, the brothers immediately moved to New York and began recording in the doo-wop music genre, issuing singles on the small Teenage, Cindy, End and Mark-X labels. In 1959, RCA Records signed the group after catching them in concert where they had opened for R&B star Jackie Wilson. Their second release from the label, “Shout”, became the group’s first charted single, reaching No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100, though it failed to enter the R&B chart. The single, written by the three brothers, was a modest single when the group released it, but the song gained a mainstream following after cover versions by singers such as Lulu and Joey Dee and the Starlighters helped the song eventually sell over a million copies. Motivated by its success, RCA later re-released the group’s original version in 1961 but the song only peaked at No. 92. A follow-up success to “Shout!” never came and the group was released from their contract.

[edit] “Twist & Shout” to Buddah Records (1962-1973)

After a period with Atlantic, the group signed with Wand Records in 1962, the group scored their first top-40 single, “Twist & Shout”, which was originally recorded in a calypso production by the Top Notes. The Isleys’ version, which had a more rock flavor, influenced many groups, including The Beatles, who would record the single the following year and finding huge success before the group moved on to record their own compositions. After several more releases, the group left Wand Records in 1964 and signed with United Artists, and after a handful of singles formed T-Neck Records after moving to New Jersey. Finding only local success with the single “Testify” (distributed by Atlantic), recorded with a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar, the group temporarily folded T-Neck and continued to record for Atlantic. The group then signed with Motown’s Tamla imprint in 1965. The following year’s “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” gave the group their biggest success up to that point on the American Billboard chart, reaching No. 12 on the Hot 100 and No. 6 in R&B. Much like their earlier tenures in other labels, the Isleys couldn’t come up with a follow-up and after complaining of being given “leftover tracks” from the label’s staff songwriters such as Smokey Robinson and Holland-Dozier-Holland, they asked to be let go from their contract in 1968.

Upon separating from Motown, the group discovered that they had a huge following in England where three of their Motown singles had reached the top 40 (among them “This Old Heart”, “Put Yourself in My Place” and “Behind a Painted Smile”). Touring in the UK that year, they returned to the U.S. with a new image and sound. Signing a new distribution deal with Buddah Records, the group recorded the gritty soul single, “It’s Your Thing”, a noted departure from their earlier recordings and showcasing a more independent sound in addition to featuring younger brother Ernie on lead guitar. It was released under the group’s revived T-Neck label and eventually rose to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their biggest charted success, selling over a million copies and winning the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. The success of “It’s Your Thing” reportedly irked Motown CEO Berry Gordy, who had agreed to let the band leave Motown in 1968; Gordy began making accusations that “It’s Your Thing” was recorded while they were still in Motown, which the group denied. After several years, Gordy settled with the group out of court. The group released a succession of seven albums for Buddah including The Brothers: Isley, Givin’ It Back and Brother, Brother, Brother. After the release of a live album, the group left Buddah in 1973 after being offered a long-term distribution deal with Epic by Clive Davis, then president of CBS Records.

[edit] 3 + 3 (1974-1984)

After signing with Epic, the group updated their lineup, now including Ernie, brother Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper. The addition of songwriters and musicians Chris, Marvin and Ernie made the group a self-contained act. The trio had worked initially in the background on some of the group’s Buddah recordings. Their 1973 album, aptly titled 3 + 3, featured the crossover hit, “That Lady”, and featured guitarist Ernie Isley in a memorable solo near the end of the song. By the end of the year 3 + 3 became their first album to be certified gold. In 1975 the group hit No. 1 in the album chart with The Heat Is On, featuring “Fight the Power” and “For the Love of You”. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the Isleys issued other successful recordings such as Harvest for the World, Showdown and Between the Sheets.

In 1984, the lineup splintered, with Chris Jasper, Ernie and Marvin Isley forming the Isley-Jasper-Isley group. The 3 + 3 period is still considered by some as the most notable Isley Brothers era sandwiched between the group’s earlier classic rock/soul period and the group’s later tenure into smooth urban contemporary music. While the group members shared lyrical composition rights, it is noted that most of the group’s singles were constructed by Ernie, Marvin and Chris, while allowing O’Kelly, Rudolph and Ronald to share credit, easily splitting royalties with the members. By 1985 Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph found themselves in trouble with the IRS for not paying back taxes and evading payments. To settle the three agreed to sell their label, thereby folding the company, though its imprint’s logo would still be on Isley Brothers records. All of the group’s T-Neck recordings are in the control of Sony Music. Afterwards the group, which reverted back to the original lineup of Kelly, Rudolph and Ronald, left Epic for Warner Bros. Records and continued to record, now relying on outside writers, musicians and producers.

[edit] Later years (1985-present)

In 1985 the three-member group released Masterpiece, which featured a cover of Phil Collins’ “If Leaving Me Is Easy”. A year later O’Kelly Isley died after suffering a heart attack in his New Jersey home. Rudolph and Ronald dedicated their Angela Winbush-produced 1987 album Smooth Sailin’, which included the tribute song “Sending a Message”, to O’Kelly’s memory. Nearly two years before the release of 1989’s Spend the Night (also produced by Winbush, whom Ron married soon after), Rudolph left the group to become a minister, leaving Ron to carry on a solo career. Ron found success collaborating with Rod Stewart on a remake of “This Old Heart of Mine”. In 2000 Michael Bolton unsuccessfully tried to buy the Isley Brothers’ catalogue after the Isleys won a lawsuit alleging that Bolton’s song “Love Is a Wonderful Thing” plagiarized their 1966 VEEP single (VEEP 1230) track of the same title.[2]

Around the same time, The Isley Brothers were re-formed when Isley-Jasper-Isley split. Chris Jasper continued on with his solo career, and Ernie and Marvin returned to the lineup with Ron to record the album, Tracks of Life in 1992. That same year, the original six-member group was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In 1996 the group released their first hit album in years with Mission to Please, boosted significantly because of lead singer Ron Isley’s music video character, “Mr. Biggs”, created by frequent collaborator, hip-hop/R&B singer R. Kelly, who first used Isley in the 1996 single for his hit “Down Low”. The character would dominate much of the group’s later recordings and helped to gain the group a brand new audience.

The group, now consisting of Ron and Ernie, would top that success with their biggest-selling release, 2001’s Eternal, which featured their biggest hit single in over 20 years with “Contagious”, a song written by R. Kelly, who recorded it as Mr. Biggs’ answer to Down Low. The single and its heavily rotated video returned the Isley Brothers to the top of the music chart. Eternal eventually sold more than two million copies. With “Contagious” and Eternal, they had become the only group to have a single and album chart in over five decades, longer than any group in recording history (42 years). They stretched their streak with 2003’s gold-certified Body Kiss, which was their first No. 1-charted album in nearly 30 years (since The Heat Is On), and their first to debut at No. 1. It featured the top 50 single, “What Would You Do” and 2006’s ‘”Baby Makin’ Music”, which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200.

[edit] Personnel

Rudolph “Rudy” Isley sang background vocals from 1957 to 1989. He lives in California with Elaine Jasper Isley, his wife of over 50 years, where he is a minister in a local church.[3]

Ronald Isley was the lead singer during 1957–1989 and from 1991 to the present. After quietly divorcing Winbush in 2002, he married for a third time to his backup singer Kandy Johnson, formerly of the group JS, and became a father again in 2006. He also has a daughter from a previous marriage. In 2004 the singer suffered a mild stroke during a touring schedule in London. He has kidney cancer and other failing organs. He was convicted of tax evasion charges in 2006 for not paying taxes between 1997 and 2002, giving band mates cash rather than taking the money to cash a check, and using money from his late brother O’Kelly’s estate to continue his “expensive lifestyle”. Isley was sentenced to serve 37 months (at least three years) in prison.[4] Isley was released early from federal prison in October 2009 and transferred to a halfway house in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, where he served out the remainder of his sentence, before he was released on April 13, 2010.

O’Kelly Isley, Jr. (1957–1986): background vocals, until his death.

Marvin Isley provided bass and background vocals during the periods 1973-1984 and 1991–1997. He suffered from diabetes, and retired in 1997. Complications from the diabetes led to a stroke, high blood pressure, the loss of both legs and use of his left hand. He died on June 6, 2010 in Chicago.[5]

Chris Jasper provided piano, clavinet, synthesizers, keyboards and background vocals from 1973 to 1984. In 1984 he formed Isley-Jasper-Isley with Ernie and Marvin.[3] When that band split in 1987, Jasper worked as a solo artists, and has released eight albums featuring a mix of R&B/funk/gospel for his own Gold City Music label.[6]

Ernie Isley (1973-1984; 1991–present): guitars, drums, percussion and background vocals. Ernie Isley is currently working on his first solo album in nearly 20 years after the release of 1990’s High Wire and is scheduled to participate in the Experience Hendrix festival in March.

Ernie, Marvin and Chris were the group’s background instrumentalists between 1968 and 1973 before becoming members

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