Tag Archives: Ron Isley

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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”.

 

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

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation for Record Store Monday: ‘Black Messiah’ by D’Angelo

Black Messiah

For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.

The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.

“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.

One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!

Link To Amazon Review Here*

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Filed under 2014, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Latin jazz, Al Green, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Blues, Brazil, D'Angelo, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jesse Johnson, Marvin Gaye, Memphis Soul, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nu Funk, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 11/28/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Happy People” by R.Kelly

For the sake of the serious musicians and even serious funk/soul/jazz devotees? The fact that R.Kelly bought in 80’s era George Benson guitar understudy Bobby Broom to play on his 1993 solo debut 12 Play speaks volumes about the breadth of Kelly’s musical vision and talent. Though always acknowledging the man as a top notch composer? It was my blogging partner here,Rique,who hipped me to explore deeper into the joyous grooves of R. Kelly’s more recent work. One that stood out strongly in my mind was the title song from Kelly’s 2004 album entitled Happy People. Again,it has a way of projected two simple words that speak volumes more as well.

Beginning with a scratchy vinyl from Kelly’s MC,DJ Wayne Williams a spirited gospel/soul piano ushers in the song which Kelly himself announces as being “another one for the steppers”. Following this a scaling,high up on the neck Southern Soul guitar and horn fan fare starts up a slow paced funky soul groove. The rhythm is very similar to that slow Afro Latin type percussion that provided an important link between both the grooving Philly ballads of Thom Bell,the slow grooving sophisticated Southern Soul of Willie Mitchell’s Hi studio sound and the hardcore funk coming out of the early/mid 1970’s. Which in turn marked the beginning of the disco era.

The melodicism of the song also comes from a number of different places. There’s a clear,crisp and wavering high synthesizer line-as well an adjunct of the high on the neck Southern Soul guitar from the intro of the song. There’s also slap bass accents which provide the deeper end of this melody,as well as being rhythmically supportive as it is by nature in funky music. There’s also an string (or at least string type) orchestra that introduces the vocal chorus-before the bridge where Kelly directs the stepping dance affair he’s singing about to mainly the percussive beat,one keyboard line and that slap bass. All before returning back to the full arrangement as it closes out.

Considering R.Kelly came out of the more vocal and performance oriented soul/R&B attitude of the early 1990’s? He had by the turn of the millennium evolved into an artist who appreciated the art of  melodic arrangement and the rhythmic process in his music. Even if he was often more in the position of utilizing the more hip-hop techniques of turntablists and samples to do so. He knows how to make modern musical methods and technology present a soulfully organic groove. And more over? He understands the art producing this down to a rich,creamy sheen.

In terms of concept,R.Kelly injects a huge amount of musical history into this one song. Vocally he’s evoking the smokey falsetto coos and calls of both Ron Isley and Al Green. He also utilizes the rich,gospel vibrato that was actually a carry over from Stevie Wonder’s enormous impact on the stereotypical new jack swing era male vocalist of Kelly’s generation as well. The fact that Kelly is able to project everything with great vocal clarity also adds to this. Everything from vocal soul to the melodic end of funk is strongly referenced by all of this. And it plays strongly to the basic lyrical content of the song as well.

The music video presents a soulful,cool and funky dance party in an ornate golden cathedral-covered in Renaissance art yet also featuring a live band and horn section. As well as a crowd dressed in funky urban hats,suits and dresses-many literally stepping in time. Stepping,which to me seems to be an extension on the hustle and the electric slide,is referenced along with the warm lyrical content of this song. It basically asks the listener to relieve their stresses by taking enjoyment in an elegant party atmosphere and dancing to the rhythm of the music in their life. It’s the basic link in that chain of the blues,jazz,soul up through today. And this is one of those songs that just puts it all together so well.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, Al Green, dancing, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Neo Soul, R.Kelly, Southern Soul