Bringing Back Tha Funk: The Isley Brothers Reinvent Themselves Again

By Gates, David | Newsweek, September 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

Bringing Back Tha Funk: The Isley Brothers Reinvent Themselves Again


Gates, David, Newsweek


Like many people around his age--48--Ernie Isley remembers watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan: how old he was (12), who else was there (his older brothers' guitarist, Jimi Hendrix). But Isley (who joined the family band a couple of years later) can also tell you what happened the next day. "My brothers called a meeting," he says. "It was like the Security Council at the U.N. They were saying, 'Everything's gonna change now. This may even have decked Elvis'." Not to mention the group whose "Shout" and "Twist and Shout" had become oldies overnight. From then on, the Isley Brothers--now down to guitarist Ernie and singer Ronald, 60--have kept their ears open. In the '70s they reinvented themselves as a definitive soul-funk band with such hits as "That Lady"-- and later got sampled on hip-hop masterworks from Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" to "Crossroad" by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Today, Ernie says, he listens studiously to P. Diddy--he's even got the new name right--and "all those blond cutie-pies with navels."

So now the Isleys are back. Again. A couple of weeks ago their new CD, "Eternal," debuted at No. 3 on the pop charts, just behind 'N Sync. ("The Isleys were a boy band," Ernie says. "In the 1950s.") They'd told everyone this would be their biggest record ever. How did they know? Partly from their careful planning with the label, and their obsessive, if informal, market research. As Ernie puts it, "We're not guessing when it comes to making records." And partly from how quickly it got made--for them, always a good sign. " 'That Lady' was one take," Ronald recalls. " 'It's Your Thing' was one take." He cut most of his vocals in less than a day, and nailed "Contagious" in an hour while producer R. …

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