A fond farewell then, to Rudolph Isley, who sadly passed away recently, aged 84. Along with his fellow Isley Brothers and collaborators, he sure laid the funk upon us.
The Isley Brothers were one of the greatest and most enduring soul acts of the last six decades - a huge influence on everyone from The Beatles to Lulu and Rod Stewart (!), to Prince and many more, and they helped to firmly propel the musical evolution of the genre in the process.
Not forgetting that they schooled the fledgling Jimi Hendrix in the early 60’s. Jimi was in the charts with The Isleys long before ‘Hey Joe!’ It’s also clear that the young Hendrix had a profound effect on Ernie Isley’s guitar style, too!
Rudolph was the flamboyant one, a sharp and colourful dresser, even if Ronald took most of the vocals and Ernie reeled out his psychedelic fuzz-guitar thang into brand new territories.
There are many timeless Isley’s hits, right from ‘Shout!’ in 1959 – then ‘Twist & Shout’, the rockin’ rave that older music lovers always associate with that seminal black & white live footage of Lennon & McCartney, George & Ringo wigging it out playing that song in front of wild hordes of teenage girls, who were mostly screaming and fainting by turn. Shake it up, baby now!
My scribing is not an obituary for Rudolph, though, just a music fan’s appreciation - reminded now of those favourite soul hits, like ‘This Old Heart of Mine’, ‘Behind A Painted Smile’, ‘It’s Your Thing’, and 1973’s wonderful ‘3+3’ album, alongside Chris Jasper, giving us the iconic grooves of ‘That Lady’ and ‘Summer Breeze’. All of these are tracks that no self-respecting soul-tape compiler could possibly omit from a C-90 car cassette, back in the day!
There was much more to The Isleys than the soul-dance hits; like The Temptations, Stevie and Marvin, they advanced into more conscious songs or psychedelic tones, as heard on ‘Harvest for The World’, and their stirring versions of CSNY’s ‘Ohio’ and Jimi’s ‘Machine Gun’.
The Isleys put down some mean cover versions regularly; just cop their striking ‘Givin’ It Back’ album from the early 70s, with covers as diverse as ‘Spill the Wine’ and ‘Fire & Rain’. The album opens, though, with that smouldering, angry 9-minute segue of ‘Ohio’ which moves emotively into Jimi’s ‘Machine Gun’, from the guitar maestro’s stupendous Band of Gypsies set.
‘Ohio’ of course evokes the rage of young America at the police shootings of Kent State University students, Isley’s version then morphing into the burning despair of ‘Machine Gun’; vivid visions of American war planes strafing Vietnamese villages still flash apocalyptically across my memory.
Rudolph, and his fellow Isleys, could make us dance, and think, and perhaps even cry. As we look around the world near the end of another catastrophic year for the environment and for humanity, that’s pretty much what we want (and certainly need) from music, when all’s said and done.
Be at peace, soul brother, and let’s hope there really will be a Harvest for the World soon – of peace, harmony, understanding, tolerance, as well as food, health and happiness, for everyone.
Main Image, Rudolph, Ronald and O'Kelly Isley
T-Neck Records - Billboard, page 1, 7 June 1969
Trade ad for The Isley Brothers' single "It's Your Thing". To better adapt it to his respective Wikipedia article, the ad was cropped and cleaned in a graphics editing program. The original can be viewed at the source below.