Tag Archives: Isley Brothers

‘Showdown’ At 40: The Isley’s 3+3 Era Band Taking It To The Next Phase!

Showdown was recorded in 1978 as the follow up to the Isley’s Go for Your Guns, which followed through with the fast paced funk style of the three previous 3+3 era Isley Brothers’ releases. On the Showdown album, everything had begun to change for this family band . In focusing more on slowing the funk down to this smoldering hot crawl of a groove,even the uptempo stuff  has a sleeker (and less brittle) approach in their instrumentation. This resulted in a certain lushness that mildly  hinted at the disco/dance sound in some of its rhythmic pattern.

The title track is about as great an example of this sound as one could ask. And the Isley’s of course work the groove straight into the subconscious, whilst talking full advantage of the slower tempo.  In the end, that makes the bass/guitar interaction all the funkier. “Groove With You” is another case where the Isley’s do their best type of bedroom groove,setting up the most romantic imagery and of course the music just melts like caramel. “Ain’t Givin’ Up No Love” is type of funk jam that’s like a fist slamming down slow and hard onto a table and leaving an enormous crack.

The simple fact that Chris Jasper seriously throws down with his bass synth on this one right along with Marvin’s bass guitar just throws out all kinds of extra punches. “Rockin’ With Fire” and “Love Fever” are all two part Ernie Isley funk/rockers that all showcase his guitar work and the power of this rhythm section. All are taken at the faster pace of this album. “Take Me To The Next Phase” is just about the most glorious funk jam the Isley’s ever did. In the funk tradition of James Brown,  “Next Phase” is a studio recording overdubbed with applause and band banter to sound like a live stadium performance.

“Take Me To The Next Phase” ends up capturing the flavor of both their own sound along with a bit of Stevie Wonder style funk chords (not surprising since they both utilized the electronic sounds of TONTO at the time) and despite it’s lengths leaves you hoping for more. ‘Coolin’ Me Out” is a more pop crafted variation of the same sound and still turns out to be an incredible jam-probably one of the most unsung on this album. “Fun And Games” harnesses a bit of a West Coast jazz-pop influence in the melody along with the peppy groove.

Showdown is an album that I felt for years was a bit of a letdown compared to its predecessors. In terms of funk, what has been revealed over many listening’s is that its actually an album with one great, iconic song (“Take Me To The Next Phase”) and seven other good to very good songs with…good to very good grooves. That is somewhat what happened upon listening to Funkadelic’s final two 70’s releases with me as well. At four decades old now, this album remains as another potent reminder of how unique the 3+3 era Isley Brother’s were with their take on the funk/rock hybrid.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Isley Brothers

Givin’ It Back: Remembering The First Isley Brothers Album Showcasing The 3+3 Lineup

Marvin Isley, the youngest of the Isley brothers, may have passed away eight years ago. But the Cinninati born bassist graduated from the C.W Post College with a degree in music. By that time, he’d already co-wrote a major hit with the Isley’s in “Fight The Power”. Of course, the first time he and Chris Jasper actually played with Marvin’s elder brothers Kelly,Rudy and Ron came six years earlier. It was on a 1971 album where the Isley’s covered many pop and rock hits of the late 60’s and the then present day. It was called Givin’ It Back. And here’s a review of I wrote shortly before Marvin’s passing.


The late 60’s began the Isley’s funk period,circa 1968-1970 when their tune “It’s Your Thing” was enormous and every album seemed to leap them forward somehow musically. Than came this album. It’s 1971 at this point and the optimism of and defiance of the late 60’s had turned to more cautious,inward reflection. This effect musicians of all colors and back rounds and it had it’s effect on the Isley’s too. This album presents elongated cover versions of different pop tunes associated with that era,most of which had some cultural or political bent.

The sepia toned album covers features the three Isley’s with acoustic guitars and you do here those to a degree on this album but despite the way this was actually presented to me this is NOT an acoustic album by any stretch of the imagination. More accurately I would describe it as a mildly more psychedelic funk take on the folk/soul movement that was gaining some popularity at the time of artists such as Bill Withers.

The one thing you can guarantee from the Isley’s is that whatever they do you’ll find some of the most impassioned,soulful and intelligent interpretive vocalizing one is likely to ever hear and this album has it coming out the wazoo! The album starts off with a very Ike Hayes-like ten minute take on “Ohio” and Hendrix’s “Machine Gun”,both a good choice for a medley yes but the unique thing is it’s cinematic soul presented with some acoustic instrumentation so you get two flavors merging into one,yet again.

The most impressive thing about their versions of “Fire And Rain”,”Lay Lady Lay” and especially “Spill The Wine”,with that song’s originally rapped lyric element actually sung this time is how fully Ron Isley in particularly re-harmonizes the vocal arrangements and even if the music is on the same groove somewhat as the originals (melodically anyway) all of these songs sound heavily re invented as opposed to merely covered. The albums closes with the liked minded “Love The One Your With” and with that there’s a tone set not just for this particular album but the Isley’s future in general.

In the years to come after this they would continue refining different combinations of the flavors of this and the previous three albums prior to it to with their famous 3+3 format so even if this music literally reaches into it’s very recent past for song ideas it’s conceptualization also look forward to where the brothers were going musically.


At the time of writing this review, I actually had no idea that this particular album was both Marvin Isley and cousin Chris Jasper’s first time appearing with their elder brothers and brother Ernie,who’d started playing with the Isley’s just a year before. The Isley’s  would go through some amazing changes during the earlier part of the 70s-from a psychedelic tinged funk/soul sound to the folk/soul singer-songwriter stylings of Givin’ It Back. They were playing many styles of music that went with what’s called the funk process. And as a bass player, Marvin was a major part of this transition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Isley Brothers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Are You Ready” by The Isley Brothers & Santana

Erinie Isley said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine  that he first crossed paths with the Carlos Santana at Columbia Records convention in the 70’s. He recalled Santana’s band “took all the oxygen out of the room” playing their hits such as “Black Magic Woman” from their Abraxas album. Both Santana and the Isleys. Both were innovating in the late 60’s-a time where Latin rhythms, psychedelic bass/guitar and soulful vocals were all coming together for a music that was both highly funkified and rocked out. It would not be until 2016 that a pairing of the two began to take shape.

My friend/blogging consultant was the one who informed me of the collaborative album Power Of Peace. Ron Isley’s sister in law Kimberley-Johnson Breaux, a member of Rod Stewart’s band when she made the introduction between the two,which resulted in a two song collaboration on the Santana IV album in 2015. For their newest project, they are covering a collection of 60’s era topical and spiritual “people music” songs originally from the likes of Willie Dixon, Marvin Gaye, Leon Thomas, Curtis Mayfield and Burt Bacharach. The first song is a version of the Chambers Brother’s “Are You Ready”.

Santana’s classic Afro-Latin percussion starts the song before the jazzy funk bass comes in-playing in a deeply melodic manner around all the polyrhythms. The drums soon come in play a classic two-on-three funk beat. After that Ron Isley’s lead vocals play call and response to a combination of Carlos’s clean guitar tone and Ernie’s heavily filtered psychedelic style. Both play off of each other in beautiful unison throughout the song over melodic backup singing. After a drum/percussion break with on the beat vocal grunts, the drums and guitars close out on a duel psychedelic rock guitar extravaganza.

“Are You Ready” showcases precisely what one might expect from an Isley Brothers and Santana collaboration-even half a century after their salad days. Carlos Santana and Ernie Isley are playing with each other at the top of their form-as if the two guitar icons have been playing together consistently for decades. The groove itself literally has everything message oriented “people funk” would ideally have: that percussive Afro Latin rhythm,the psychedelic solos along with the funky drum and bass line. And its a reminder of the musical daring that generations of musicians need to always remember.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Carlos Santana, Isley Brothers

Go For Your Guns: 40 Years Of A Funky Voyage To Atlantis With The Isley Brothers

Go For Your Guns

Go For Your Guns is an album whose 40th anniversary occurred over a month ago. And it was something that pretty much demanded to be over viewed here. My interest in the Isley’s 70’s music flowed from Rickey Vincent’s book on funk during that time. He referred to them as the epitome of funky manhood-with Chaka Khan as the female equivalent of the time. How I ended up with a CD of  Go For Your Guns is a story in and of itself. And has a good deal to do with my great appreciation of this album over the years. Its actually included in my Amazon.com review I’ll include here.


Normally I tend not to do this. But there’s a personal connection with this album in my own life surrounding this album. During the Ice Storm of 1998,power was half out and everyone everywhere in the state of Maine was snowed in and/or iced in. It was an uncomfortably claustrophobic environment. The second day out,the driveway was cleared out just enough so people could get in and out of it. So we all ended up taking a drive to the nearby Borders Books & Music where,in their music section,they’d actually open and re-package a brand new CD if you wanted to listen to it.

I was in the R&B/soul section,where I always went first and say this album. I’d never heard any 70’s era Isley Brothers. Read about them during that period in Ricky Vincent’s Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One but had only heard them at that time via their newest album at the time Mission to Please. So I listened to the album and,since the price was exactly right for me that’s what I took home that night. I put my headphones on and listened. Listened in a context of great risk that the power might go out again and the family would swing into instant emergency mode. That didn’t happen. Yet this album made me feel very confident that better things were coming. Now,I’ll tell you why.

“Pride” starts the album out with some high octane wah wah and electric piano as Ron declares “when you finally break it on down/it’s your pride”-the Isley’s crowning manifesto of masculine consciousness that I think of as their most self defining funk jam of that era. With it’s creamily textured guitar and keyboard lines,the complicated melodic exchanges of the ballad type funk in “Footsteps In The Dark” evoke the lyrical imagery of a mature yet tentative romantic relationship with an uncertain future.

Chris Jasper’s pulsing synthesizer seems to call out from both above and below the spongy and melodic funk of “Tell Me That You Need It Again”-with Ron’s strong minded seduction oozing out of both the music and lyrics as well as the Isley’s ever did during this era. “Climbin’ Up The Ladder” goes right for the jugular of Ernie Isley’s guitar for a furious rocker with a clean,tight bluesy melody-again with Ron in his powerfully growling lower vocal range.

“Voyage To Atlantic” is a slower rocker focusing on an elaborate romantic fantasy. “Livin’ In The Life” and the instrumental companion title song are some of the most flat out amazing music the Isley Brothers ever made. It is the probably the most effective heavy metal funk ever made. The groove is solid and tight. Yet the synthesizers and Ernie’s guitar on the title song assault the music with a heavy biting steel. So the song accomplishes everything by embodying both funk’s instrumental cleanliness and rock’s instrumental passion.

Overall the one quality that defines this album is complete and utter confidence. It isn’t all necessarily testosterone fueled male ego by any means. Ron Isley goes out of his way to try to bring the feminine characters in this song to understand where he’s coming from-tending to respect their intelligence rather than demean them. More over however,on both an instrumental and vocal level,this album comes at the listener with the fervor of a sociopolitical musical preacher.

Some of the messages are non specific enough to be appealing to just about everybody,but the message is that love of the world begins with self confidence you can bring out in others. And the Isley’s all had plenty of reason to be confident with this album. As the 70’s wore on they gained progressively more and more control over every aspect of their music-from writing,producing and arrangement. Of course it wouldn’t be long after this that this would turn into some ugly ego regarding the generational differences of how the two sets of brothers conducted creative matters.

I do think that the strong level of confidence this album projects gives the listener the most positive overall view of the funk era. It certainly affirmed my appreciation of the music during a tense time for those around me even. And even at times when my confidence in funk itself was swayed for whatever reason? This album reminded me of what I loved about the music that no one could ever mistaken the sentiments of. So in that context along with the high quality music,this is one of a handful of funk albums I recommend as downright essential.


Go For Your Guns is album that hit me the moment I heard it,had the same effect when writing this review and its likely it always will. The Isley Brothers,especially during the 3+3 era combining the two generations of brothers in the family,dominated their funk in the recording studio much the same way they dominated the stage when performing live. Their music and persona was always a smoldering,passionately poetic funky fire that burns very strongly on every song on this album. Encourage all of you reading this who haven’t yet heard the album to check it out. You might just have a similar reaction.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Isley Brothers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Don’t Take Your Love Away” by Chris Jasper

Chris Jasper,a cousin of the Isley family,was a key member of the Isley Brothers 3+3 era lineup. And later the core of the mid/late 80’s spin off group Isley-Jasper-Isley,who are best known for their song “Caravan Of Love”. Jasper is a classically trained player who went began playing at the age of 7. And later attended Julliard. He graduated with a BA of fine arts in music under the tutelege of jazz icon Billy Taylor. And so I’ve recently learned,earned a Juris Doctorate degree from the Concord University School of Law. This broad academic back round helped his career in more ways than one.

As a member of the Isley Brothers in the 70’s and 80’s,his textural mix of filtered synthesizers and bass tones created a distinctive electronic funk backdrop for their music at the time. This sound would be influential on the boogie/electro funk sound of the 80’s. He carried that sound into that decade too,both with the Isley’s and his later solo work. In more recent years,his legal experience likely helped a great deal in launching his custom label Gold City Records. Of his own work on this label are albums such as 2010’s Everything I Do  and the song I’ll be discussing today called “Don’t Take Your Love Away”.

The song kicks off with the digitized Afro Caribbean rhythm that defines the entire song. Its main melody consists of a few layers high pitched synthesizers changing chords,while Jaspers trademark melodic synth bass takes care of the songs low end. Jasper’s voice passionately places itself into the phat array of sounds this mix creates. Along with this is a Clavinet/guitar type keyboard riff. Each chorus is buffeted by an interlude taken in a somewhat different (and more minor) key. One such interlude represents the bridge of the song as an instrumental as the song fades out on its own repeated chorus.

Musically “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” is right in the vein of Jasper’s solo work and that with Isley-Jasper-Isley. So much so it could’ve easily been recorded in that decade. The polyrhythmic sound of the song and its melody is very much in the vein of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” or Midnight Star’s far lesser known album track “Feels So Good”. Neither were slow jams,but were both somewhat more stripped down and seemed like it as a result. Jasper’s rugged layers of synthesizer really bring out the uptempo and brightly melodic nature of this electro/synth funk song very well.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Chris Jasper

Grooves On Wax: 1985-Albums & 12″ Inch Jheri Curl Funk

High Priority

1985 best epitomizes the presence of what my newest blogging partner Zach Morris of Dystopian Dance Party refers to as “Jheri Curl Funk”. True,there was a lot of flat synth pop on the same landscape. Still the electro funk and soul that came out during this year was some of the toughest and most daring of the sub genre. This album by Charrelle on the Tabu label is a great example. It’s a thematic/musical romantic concept album-utilizing Jam & Lewis’s cinematic synth funk touches on this gospel drenched,Deniece Williams like soulstress.

Key Jams: “You Look Good To Me”,”New Love” and “High Priority”

Samurai Samba

The Yellowjackets were an 80’s band who,like soloists such as Herbie Hancock and Paul Hardcastle,were able to great a strong electro funk/dance context for their jazz/funk fusion approach. This album is one of the best examples of this that I’ve heard so far, particularly when the heavy Afro-Brazilian percussion comes in.

Key Jams: “Homecoming”,”Dead Beat” and “Samurai Samba”

Mary Jane Girls

The second release for Rick James’ Mary Jane Girls was not only another in a pair of two very strong albums for them,but brought them the major smash hit “In My House” which,as my friend Henrique pointed out,has some of the thickest layers of deep rhythm guitar Rick had done during this period. The album maintains itself strong with one hard funk and brittle new wave number after another.

Key Jams: “In My House”,”Break It Up” and “Wild & Crazy Lover”

Masterpiece

Ron,Rudy and the late Kelly Isley re-emerged as a trio after over a decade in the groups 3+3 singer/instrumentalists sextet with their two younger brothers and Chris Jasper. Employing session aces such as Paulinho Da Costa,Paul Jackson and John Robinson,this album employs a sleeker version of their early 80’s sound,with a strong tendency towards rhythmically heavy mid tempo ballads. Still the original Isley’s trio still love their uptempo songs too.

Key Jams: “Colder Are My Nights” and “Release Your Love”

Life

Gladys Knight & The Pips recorded their next to last album together-continuing to work with Larkin Arnold as they had on their phenomenally successful previous album Visions. Leon Sylvers did a lot of the producing for an album that blends a charged up hard electro sound with the groups classic uptempo gospel/soul shuffles and cinematic ballads all given the mid 80’s sonic update.

Key Jams: “Strivin” and “Do You Wanna Have Some Fun”

It was Henrique who pointed out that,while on the way to work listening to it,that the lyrics to James Brown’s “Living In America” are from the viewpoint of a trucker. This was exciting for me as this was the first JB song I ever heard. Remember thinking he was a magician based on his pose for the cover. The “12 inch mixes includes a more industrial intro from producer Dan Hartman along with a great funkified instrumental.

Hearing Stanley Clarke do “Born In The U.S.A” in a Kurtis Blow style rap version gave no doubt as to the songs powerful anti war/pro working class sentiments than Bruce Springsteen’s original did when Ronald Reagan campaigned with the song. This 12″ inch expands on the songs re-sampled synthesized voices and bass lines on the extended mix.

Jermaine Jackson’s solo career during the early/mid 80’s in general is pretty underrated. He took a lot of musical chances that didn’t always get very noticed. This particular song has an industrial world funk sound,composed mostly in the pentatonic scale,similar to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “neo geo” sound from the same era. The instrumental mix of this shows this off very well-just as much as the vocal versions shows off Jermaine’s flexible vocal range.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 12 inch singles, 1985, Cherrelle, electro funk, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Isley Brothers, Jam & Lewis, James Brown, Jermaine Jackson, Mary Jane Girls, Rick James, Stanley Clarke, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Yellowjackets

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Inside You” by The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers were best described by Rickey Vincent in his 1996 guidebook Funk: The Music,The People And The Rhythm Of The One as being the embodiment of funky manhood. Everything from their musical rodeo image to the intense power of their sound. Throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s,they were unique among funk bands as having come out of a R&B era vocal trio into the funk era. Their 3+3 era line up kept their hard driving,uptempo sound updated throughout their years together. And were capable of utilizing the new instrumental form to fashion sexy,thickly rhythmic ballads.

During the first year and a half of the 80’s,the Isley’s were actually very successful as album artists. The R&B community and record charts never stopped viewing them as straight up musical icons. In the pop world however even their hard rocking,often guitar shredding funk grooves were having trouble landing them any major singles. In 1981,this all changed because of an album that…I found a beat up$1.99 vinyl copy of in a record store about 20 years ago. It even got to be a Soul Train line dance song too. The name of this song and it’s accompanying album was “Inside You”.

The drums come at you with a pounding 4/4 beat from Everett Collins-surrounded by the percussion of the Isley’s , the conga drums of Kevin Jones and Marvin Isley’s thundering bass. All showcasing Ernie Isley strumming on liquid rhythm guitar. A string section dart into the mix with  brittle precision similar to Chic. They sustain themselves behind Ron’s first and second vocal refrain-the latter of which takes the song into a melodic major chord. The bridge reduces the song to it’s string/ rhythm guitar/synth bass pulse before the Isley’s back up Ron’s leads with some powerful gospel harmonies to the fade out.

One of the understandings that came from this song for me is that it really added a new rhythmic element to the 3+3 Isley Brothers sound. During the late 70’s,the disco era found Afro-Latin percussion becoming more prominent in dance music such as that of Barry White and Michael Jackson songs such as “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. The Isley’s had primarily utilized basic rock and funk oriented back beats at that time. As the 80’s sound settled in,I find it interesting that the Isley Brothers began integrating that Afro-Latin rhythm so heavily into their steely funk/rock sound.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Chris Jasper, drums, Ernie Isley, Everett Collins, Funk, Isley Brothers, Kevin Jones, Marvin Isley, percussion, rhythm guitar, Ron Isley, strings, synth bass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Belly Dancer” by The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers embodied  something that is generally more common among jazz artists. They’ve been around long enough and through so many changes in music that their sound has a number of distinct periods. In each of these,they’ve provided popular music that was also on the cutting edge instrumentally somehow. Of course my personal favorite of these periods is known as the 3+3 years,when the Isley’s had two generations of brothers performing and playing together as a monster funk ensemble. They remained massively popular throughout the 70’s in this configuration.

In 1980 this format of the band released their 18th studio album entitled Go All The Way. Generally speaking, most literary discourse on the Isley’s praise their 70’s work up until roughly 1978’s “Take Me To The Next Phase” and then pick up with 1983’s Between The Sheets song and album. Between that time however,their sound evolved towards their mid 80’s electro friendly sound even more than it had even with Chris Jasper’s synthesizer washes. One song from this 1980 album really pulled that together beautifully. And the name of it was “The Belly Dancer”.

Ron Isley begins panting song lyrics over a pumping drum line-within which Jasper begins playing two synth parts-one an ethereal string like part in the back round,plus a revving guitar like one on every other beat. He doubles up the synths as the song segues into the first chorus-finding Ernie Isley’s train-like guitar chug with Ron playing call and response to his  backing vocal. It’s punctuated by Jasper’s popping synth bass. Most of the song is built around this chorus-with only a brief refrain featuring a melodic passage focusing on Ernie’s rhythm guitar. After a heavy percussion bridge,the song is all chorus to the fade.

In my own opinion,this is one of the thickest funk splatters that the Isley’s turned out within the first few years of the 80’s. It really does a lot to showcase how much their steely funk/rock hybrid of the mid/late 70’s was on the naked/electro funk to come in the 80’s. This song not only adds sleeker melodic elements. But it’s full of rhythm. Henrique and myself were discussing the ultra rhythmic piano of Duke Ellington tonight. And with Chris Jasper and Ernie Isley really pumping up the beat on this song,it’s solid proof of players in the Isley’s known for soloing could also rhythmically throw down the heavy funk.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, Chris Jasper, drums, Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, naked funk, percussion, rhythm guitar, Ron Isley, synth bass, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Livin’ In The Life” by the Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers embody a very special quality for me. They have and continued to function positively as a bi-generational family soul/funk group. Due to changes in music from the 50’s to the 70’s,this quality didn’t always make for personal harmony between the elder and younger sets of Isley brothers. But it did make for some amazing hybrids of soulful harmonies,rocking solos and funky rhythms during their 70’s period. By the time of the bands 1977 release Go For Your Guns,Ron Isley’s focus was geared more towards singing the groups ballad material. As for younger members Ernie Isley and cousin Chris Jasper,they continued to innovate the bands funk/rock hybrid as time marched along.

The last two tracks on the Go For Your Guns album were somewhat companion pieces. The first was called “Livin’ In The Life”. It featured Ron Isley on lead vocals-singing in the lower end of his range. The last song on the album was the instrumental title track of the album. This featured the guitar solo of Ernie Isley. Ernie was the composer of both tracks and played drums on each of them as well. The song was actually a huge success for them as a top 10 R&B hit and landing directly into the pop Top 40. When I first heard this song during the frightening Maine ice storm of 1998,it made a huge impact on me across a number of levels. And it’s an Isley’s song I’ve always wanted to break down musically.

The groove gets going with Chris Jasper playing a brittle guitar like riff on his ARP synthesizer-multi tracking with himself on the first couple chords while Ernie’s drumming clips along at 125-130 BPM. After a brief three beat hi hat call off,the clapping snare drums kick into gear along with Ron Isley’s lead vocals and Marvin bass line,which functions in an equally brittle manner to the lead synthesizer riff. On the gospel powered melody of the chorus,Jasper’s synth solo becomes more solid and orchestral before going back to main them of the song. As the song fades out,Jasper adds deeply bassy bursts of synth along with Marvin’s line adding that abruptly closes out the song.

Even 18 years after first hearing it,there’s no denying the power of this song on this end. In terms of composition,it takes the bluesy refrains and testifying gospel soul choruses and amps it all up. The echo plex and heavy steeliness of the production gives this the 70’s arena rock equivalent to what Rick James would soon be doing with his “punk funk” sound. In a lot of ways,this finds the Isley Brothers pretty much perfecting their funk/rock hybrid. The reason for that is finding where the blues can intersect those two rhythmic ideas. And that makes Ron’s assertive,empowering lyrics all the more appropriate to Ernie’s hard driving instrumentation and production.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under 1970's, ARP synthesizer, Chris Jasper, drums, Ernie Isley, Funk Bass, Isley Brothers, Marvin Isley, Ron Isley, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “People Of Today” by The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers,to paraphrase writer and my Facebook friend Rickey Vincent do come off strongly as the embodiment of funky masculinity. That not only goes for their mixture of pragmatism and sensitivity. But also to their musical approach as well. The family group’s  3+3 combination adding younger brothers Ernie and the late Marvin Isley and cousin Chris Jasper added a strong instrumental element to the vocal harmony approach of the elder brothers Ron,Rudy and the late Kelly Isley. During the mid 1970’s, they came up with a distinctive approach to instrumental vital funk and rock along with keeping the soulful bedroom ballads cooking at all ends.

During this time,the sextet began recording in the TONTO synthesizer complex. This is where Stevie Wonder was than working his own electronic funk/soul masterpieces as well. Most of the 3+3 Isley Brothers classic albums were recorded using the complex-especially with keyboard maestro Jasper in tow. In 1976 they released their album Harvest For The World. The album continued to expand on the throbbing grooves they developed,along with the lyrical themes of sensuous eroticism and strong minded brotherhood. Nothing on this album could ever be underrated from where I sit. But it’s the song “People Of Today” that really pulls everything else here together on every possible level.

A rolling drum launches into the song itself. It’s a gurgling mix of bass synthesizer and guitar with multiple Clavinet parts. One of them even contributing to the bottom end of the song as well. This huge tonal array of sound is calmed somewhat on the vocal refrains from Ron Isley. On the end of each chorus,a second refrain features Ron singing a call and response vocal line to a Vocoderized voice singing “my world is fine”. After this a fast and bluesy Clavinet riff leads back into the central theme of the song in which it all begins. This pattern of two separate refrains and repeated choruses maintains itself from beginning to the fade out of this song.

If I were to describe this or any Isley Brothers funk from this period, it would be as the musical equivilant of chunky peanut butter. It’s caramel colored cream texture with a strong crunchiness mixed into it. And has the same strong flavor too. The layering of the keyboard parts of this song are amazing. And it’s the perfect accompaniment as Ron Isley sings about getting ones head out of comfortable denialism. At one point he even responds to the Vocorderized “my world is fine” with the vocal response “ah your jivin’ me”. As implied in the title, it’s a wonderful example of the type of classic 70’s funk that I’ve dubbed over the years as “people music”.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, bass synthesizer, Chris Jasper, clavinet, electro funk, Funk, Isley Brothers, Rickey Vincent, Ron Isley, TONTO, Uncategorized, vocoder