Submitted by Danny Hooley — Correspondent
Get a little bit softer, now. Get a little bit softer, now. Get a little bit louder, now. Get a little bit louder, now.
Are you singing that to yourself ? Because, come on, you know that song.
One hundred years from now, people will still be singing the 1959 R&B hit Shout by the Isley Brothers. Its that kind of song. And there are many other ageless classics in the Isleys catalog, ranging from gospel to funk-rock to baby-makin R&B.
The Isley Brothers are not locked into a certain time or a certain musical style or genre, says Ernie Isley. So when the musical terrain changed, we were willing to change with it.
You may remember Ernie Isley, now 60, as the man behind that dazzling, fuzzy Stratocaster solo on 1973s That Lady (Pts. 1&2).
Speaking from his home in St. Louis, Mo., Isley promises fans from all phases of the bands career will be satisfied when the Isley Brothers mine their impressive songbook at The Durham Performing Arts Center Friday night.
Youll hear, like, the virtual Isleys soundtrack, says Isley. The spirit of it is still Isley Brothers, even though its just Ronald and myself. Regardless of any of the musical whats the word? mutations, its Isley Brothers.
In terms of family roots, a tour stop in North Carolina is a homecoming of sorts for the Isley Brothers. Their late father OKelly Isley grew up in Greensboro.
I remember one of the times we were there and I was in the hotel room, says Ernie Isley, and I started flipping through the Yellow Pages. And I saw Isley Pizza, Isley Hardware
He trails off with a chuckle. Got a lot of cousins there.
The story of the Isley Brothers begins in Lincoln Heights, Ohio, where the sons of OKelly and Sallye Bernice Isley were raised on gospel. The parents strongly encouraged the singing career aspirations of their four oldest sons Vernon, Rudolph, Ronald and OKelly Isley Jr.
The first public performances were in church, says Ernie, who joined much later. Actually, this music and gospel the roots of rock and roll are intertwined.
The dream was diverted briefly by tragedy; Vernon was killed in a 1955 bicycle accident.
But Sallye and OKelly wouldnt let their boys give up. The three oldest brothers resumed performing the following year at the First Baptist Church in Cincinnati, where Sallye played the organ. Its where the brothers found inspiration for their eventual national breakthrough, Shout on RCA Records in 1959.
Ernie was around 7 at the time.
I was digging it because it was them, and because there was nothing else over the radio that sounded anything like it, he says. Now Shout is everywhere. Ive got my fingers crossed that one day well do that at the halftime show at the Super Bowl.
From there, the Isleys went through a lot of labels and distributors, in their stubborn and admirable insistence that they, not label bosses, would determine the direction of their music. They even took the bold and unusual step of forming their own label, T-Neck Records, in 1964.
Their rebellious spirit may have seemed crazy to observers when the Isleys left Motown after they had just enjoyed a 1966 hit with This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You).
After This Old Heart of Mine there were only so many songs by Holland, Dozier and Holland to go around, says Ernie Isley. And the Isley Brothers didnt necessarily get the first crack at it. So at a certain point, they felt like it would be better for them to move on.
By this time, second-youngest brother Ernie had started getting more involved.
I got my first guitar, like, a month before the Its Your Thing session, he says, referring to the 1969 funk smash. (He played bass on that one, at age 16.)
And even before that, when I was 11 years old, it didnt hurt to have Jimi Hendrix living in our home for two years, he says.
Hendrix was a band member in the early days. Ernie recalls him living with the family from March of 1963 until November of 65.
If I heard him play, I would take a book social studies book, maybe and be out in the same room with him, says Isley. But I wasnt doing social studies. I was listening and I was observing.
His observations paid off. Ernies rock-and-roll guitar on 1970s Givin It Back and 1972s Brother, Brother, Brother albums caused so much buzz that by 1973, The Isleys Live album was stamped with a sticker that read: Featuring Ernest Isley on Lead Guitar.
The performing brothers peaked at six members and are now down to two. Original member OKelly Kelly Isley died of a heart attack while fighting cancer in 1986. A few years later, Rudolph left for a career in the ministry.
Youngest brother Marvin, who had officially joined in the early 70s with Ernie and brother-in-law Chris Jasper, died in 2010 of complications from diabetes. Jasper left the Isley Brothers to form Isley-Jasper-Isley with Ernie and Marvin in the 1980s, and then launched a solo career.
Over the past decade, bolstered by the Mr. Biggs character that introduced Ron to a new generation of R. Kelly fans, Ron and Ernie kept the Isleys franchise alive with a string of hit albums: Eternal in 2001; Body Kiss in 2003; and Baby Makin Music in 2006.
After Ron served 37 months of federal prison and halfway-house time for tax evasion, he and Ernie regrouped in 2011. Ernie says that concert-goers can expect to see Ron, now 71, bring Mr. Biggs back for their current show.
Fans will also hear Shout, Harvest For the World, Fight the Power, Between the Sheets, Voyage to Atlantis, Hello Its Me, Summer Breeze, and the list goes on.
Will the band also play That Lady (Pts. 1&2)?
Wed better! says Ernie, with a laugh.