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The Second Generation Of Isley Brothers: "the Heat Is On"

The Second Generation Of Isley Brothers: "the Heat Is On" image The Second Generation Of Isley Brothers: "the Heat Is On" image
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'Editor's Note: When the ever-popular Isley Brothers hit town for their Olympia Stadium show November I4th, riding high on their recent number-one single "Fight the Power" and album The Heat Is On, the Sun was blessed with the opportunity to talk with the members of this powerful aggregation in their temporary Detroit headquarters at the St. Regis Hotel The "original" Isley Brothers - Ronnie, Kelly, and Rudolph -- were deeply involved in a meeting with the promoters of the night's event when we arrived, so we jumped at the chance to sit down with the "second generation" members SUN: How long have you been part of the band? CHRIS: Tve been about six years, since 1969, when Ernie and Marvin and myself started playing on the Isley Bros.' recordings. Not on the road- we were still in school, you know. It took us a couple of years even to get on the road. SUN: How old are you now? CHRIS: I'm22. Thatwasmy last year in high school. The first record we cut with the Brothers was "U's Your Thing," back in '69, and since then we have been on all the sessions. SUN: Did you guys go to school together and every thing? CHRIS: Yeah, we went to school together. We had a little trio in New Jersey. Before Ernie started playing guitar- he didn't get his first guitar until 1968- he was still playing drums, I played piano and Marvin played bass. We used to do parties and church affairs. This was before we even got into recordine with the older brothers, vou know, because they were with Motown then. They were never around that much, and there was our age difference and everything. We just had to grow into the professional aspect. SUN: Your older brothers had theirfirst hit ten years before that, right? CHRIS: Yeah, 1959-"Shout" was their first hit, the first on-the-book hit, which was covered by Joey Dee & the Starlighters during the twist era-I think that was like '61 and '62. MARVIN: In the same way, we did "Twist and Shout" and two years later the Beatles came back with it. When the Brothers went to England, everybody thought it was a Beatles song. CHRIS: We sold a million records and they sold five million. SUN: Ofcourse the Beatles were pretty up front about giving credit where credit of the family: guitahst Ernie Isley, who also filis the drum chair on the group 's recordings; bassist Marvin Isley; and keyboardist Chris Jasper, the Brothers' cousin who was the first to join the conversation transcribed below, which would seem to speak quite eloquently for itself. Join us then, won 't you, as Chris begins to fill us in on the history of the band, the evolution of their self-owned and -opera ted T-Neck Recording Company (distributed by CBS), and their well-considered outlook on the painful exigencia of the music industry as we know it. We think you 'II enjoy it as much as we did.) was due. MARVIN: That's one thing we owe a tip of the hat to- the English musicians who carne over and did songs by Chuck Berry or Little Richard or whatever other artists in America who were inevitably up against it as far as getting their just due. A group like the Beatles or the Stones saying, "Hey, yeah, we always dug Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters," you know, it gives those artists something in the eyes of the mass public. CHRIS: Right. Musicians have always had a rapport with one another just because it's music they're creating. SUN : One thing we 're particularly interested in is T-Neck Records, which we understand is a cooperative venture that the Isley Brothers run by yourselves. How did T-Neek get starled? CHRIS: Well, that started with our older three brothers- Ronnie, Rudolph, and Kelly-in 1964. At that time they were being buted by Atlantic Records, and they just released singles off of it, no albums or anything. And then they went on to Motown... SUN: The Brothers were doing their own production at that time? MARVIN: Well, when they went to Motown, of course, Motown had its own staff of writers and producers, so they really didn't do any writing or producingat that time, because there were already writers signed to Motown, like Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, Ivy Joe Hunter and severa! other writers. So during their whole experience at Motown, they were not recording or performing their own songs. They were still writing the songs, but they just didn't perform them. When you're with a company that is successful and has a tradition of something, it's kind of hard to break, you know, whether you like it or not. And they were winning with it, so my Continued on Page 15 ..i in !■ - IjtitTm NP 'ïwT1 ' ■ ■ iii FRANK ZAPPA A(mo I W=M 1 LOUISIANARED ART ENSEMBLE i E-ggJgJ V IBHI UñRYCORYELL 1 OF CHKAGO Lggg A GIL SCOTT HERON 1 m UTUEFEAT ■ ; j STANLEY CLARKE THE HEAT ÍS ON contimted trom page 1 1 brothers were saying, "Well, why not trust them and go ahead and do it?" "This Old Heart of Mine" was the first release they had at Motown, and it was a very big song for them. SUN : Why did the Brothers end up leaving Motown ? Would you care to talk about tliat? MARVIN: Well, our contract there came up and we left because we feit that we were able at that time to handle ourselves as far as production and writing were concerned. Motown did, I guess, the best job at the particular time that they could do, and we had not only been with Motown but other companies, so we feit that we had experienced all that. It was time to try for ourselves, and so, in 1969, T-Neck Records came back into the music industry, distributed at that time by Buddah Records, and the first record we recorded off of that was "It's Your Thing," which is where we came in. That started everything into really growing motion, and that brought usion from '69 to '73, when we changed from Buddah to Columbia distributing. SUN : Why did you decide on Columbio? Had there been overtures from . MARVIN: There had been a lot of offers for distributing T-Neck I cords-Warner Brothers, Columbia, Reprise, Atlantic. Motown, again. 1 Buddah, again. But we feit that Columbia was the right move to make -they had the best offer and the best things we feit could further our career. They could help us, and we could help them. CHRIS: They had had experience inhandling black acts, too, and that's important. SUN: certainly seems 'to be important, especially in light of the phenomenal upsurgc in the popularity of black music since Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, and any number of black artists have begun to take over the pop charts. MARVIN: Yeah, well, see, that's what happens. The people that you named have been doing what they've been doing for a long time. But it just so happens that people have finally realized that they're doing it. You know? Like Stevie's been great forever, but now there's some people just realizing that he can play more than one instrument, there's people realizing that he's a very talented vocalist and composer. And there's people who are just realizing that we have more to put out than the average group. And it's not like all of a sudden you start playing the instrument better, or you start writing that type of song-it's just that people start recognizing you for it. SUN: What do you think it is? Do you think it 's a change on the part of the audience? CHRIS: It's a total economie change, and by that I mean the economy in general, as tar as the distribution of funds goes. Like, black: there's more black people earning better livings now, and there's more black people with money Jo purchase records by black artists. So, therefore, the record companies recognize that there is a market for blacks, and for anyone else, for that matter. They just know that black artists can sell a large amount of records. Therefore things are med differently, advertisement is different, and of course merchandising is different because of that. ERNIE: I want to add something to that. I think certainly that has always been true, that certain black artists were supported primarily by a black audience. But at the sanie time, I think nowadays people seem to look at music as musc instead of ... Like, Stevie Wonder was R&B, and now all of a sudden, in the past two or three years he's considered "pop." Same thing with us now. It's more of a thing where people are accepting music as music. And if it's good, they like it, and they will buy it. MARVIN: See. I think what happened is, critics start putting things in categories, and the people sometimes follow or they disagree. The artist is more or less like the object, i and they either get thrown or get left alone. It's like I somebody saying you're'making R&B music, or you're I making pop music, and you just kind of say, "I am?" and keep doing it, but they classify it. Because you're ' talking about specific people when you say that they finally see you as "pop," but then there's other people who are making the same type of music and are still not I classified as pop. There's only a few that they let go and say, well, that's music. Everybody else is struggling, everybody else has to go through that same thing, and it's really not fair. SUN: What is it about your music that gets it past tliat type of boundary? MARVIN: I don't know, except for maybe a more honest approach in our creativeness. SUN: Whenyousay "more honest," do you mean more directly expressiite of your own experience? MARVIN: Yeah. Not only that, but see, okay, for example, we créate music for music, not for economie reasons and not for political reasons, but because we're into making music firsi of all. A lot of peopie are running in there now trytng to capitalize off this disco fad, but that's not what we're doing. We're trving to set trends, we're trying to make people dig us from a creative standpoint.not from the standpoint of a fad. We wouldn't just jump on a fad and try to make a danceable record that would last as long as the fad lasted. SUN: Still, you must 've found it gratifying when "Fight the Power " was picked up as a disco hit. MARVIN: All of our music is picked up as a disco hit! That's what I'm trying to say. CHRIS: You can't really name all the reasons why the Isley Bros. have lasted, but one of the things we've had is a certain amount of fans who have stuck with us whether or not they might have heard us over a top 40 station. They might have heard us in a disco or a bar or something; a jukebox, whatever, or at a party. There's a certain amount we owe to them. And also the fact that the Isley Bros. have existed almost since rock & roll started, and I know a lot of people now look back in retrospect and see that our music withstands the test of time. ERNIE: There's a certain amount of respect. SUN: You build up an audience that stays witli you over a period of time and just keeps growing. It seems to me that most of the people who have been active in black music, have been doing it fur such a long S, time that it seems to the average pop fan that its been ovemight, but really it's been 10, 15, 20 y e ars -you know, the Spinners have been out there 20 years, the O'Jays, Gladys Knight,. Stevie, just about everybody you look al has been pushing for a long time and has been building up somewhat of a cumula tive audience. 'hat 's essentially ovemight seems to be that a greater nwtiber of m 'uk are beginning to listen to tliis music. RIS: I don't think it's ovemight, either. People in general have always been listening to black music, whether they realized it or nol. And that is the music that they've ül rhey might have rather heard it from Elvis Presley than froni Chuck i but they will listen to whatever is played, and that has been I om of most black actsthey haven't been played on white stations. MARVIN: It's an economie problem and it will always be an economie problem. Because then it comes back to your sponsors, and you don't hear too many Ultra- Sheen commercials on AM radio. That's what I mean. CHRIS: Let me go into that." The public in general accepts music as music. And whether or not a program director may particularly like or dislike a A cord- there were a lot of people, face it, who did ,jM not like "Fight the Power." They didn't like what S it was saying- they thought there were a lot of den meanings or whatever it is undemeath it. You know, the new battle cry. But really that's not where it ws. That's not the way people look at it. The people look at it as hey, that's tnusic, hey, that's saying sometning mat i agree witn- i can una sometmng in that song to relate to. ERNIE: In our songs, we've always had a tendency to teil people what they're doing, not what to do. In other words,. we never said, "Go out and do so and so," but we've always sard, "Hey, you're already doing it." We'rejalways gonna be just like a mirror and reflect it. SUN: "Figlit the Power" is sort ofa, it 's nut quite a command, but it 's a... ERNIE: I think anybody that owns a stereo and A at one time or another has tried to play that music, and somebody said , 'The musie's too H loud"... lfl MARVIN: Not only that, but 1 think every working person would rather be a little bit more in contact with their work, a little bit more successful with it. But there are certain things- maybe it's time, maybe it s other people, or whatever ít is- maybe they're not at that plateau that they want to reach. So they're still struggling, or they're still fighting that power be-I cause they want to be somewhere else, where they're not at 1 that particular time. __..__ ERNIE: terpret it as anybody's belief in wanting to get ahead, but there are certain things in the way which prevent them from doing so. It doesn't necessarily always mean "the power," but it often means somebody else that you have to answer to, somebody else that you have to go through with red tape or whatever it is. And certainly the political thing is there. Certainly. In the end you just don't, really, don't give in to the things that try to keep you down or try to hold you back. Keep that ability to fight inside you, keep your own identity. If you lose your identity, you become a part of whatever it is that's trying to mold you. SUN: Fight the Power, then! ISLEYS: Righton!