Ron Isley: A True Soul Survivor

(Photo credit: Allmusic.com)

Ron Isley is really a living legend and part of the fabric of soul and popular music. His signature falsetto voice as one of the Isley Brothers family dynasty, they are apart of the soundtrack to literally millions of people’s lives around the world.

Isley was born the third of six brothers. Like many of his siblings, began his career in the church. He began singing at the age of three, winning a $25 war bond for singing at a spiritual contest at the Union Baptist Church. By the age of seven, Ronald was singing on-stage at venues such as the Regal Theater in Chicago, alongside Dinah Washington and a few other notables. Ron and his brothers formed a group, the Isley Brothers, and the rest–as they say–is history.

They’ve released over 30 records since their breakthrough “Shout!” from 1959, with hit albums coming as recently as 2006’s Baby Makin’ Music. Not to mention, hip-hop greats like Jay-Z to Dr. Dre and others account for hundreds of rap songs that have sampled the Isley Brothers’ music.

The band created another hit again in 1962 with their version of “Twist and Shout”, which served as the template for the version recorded by the Beatles. Even Beatle Sir Paul McCartney said that, “If it wasn’t for the Isley Brothers the Beatles would still be in Liverpool.”

(Photo credit: Allmusic.com)

But, it wasn’t until the Isleys formed T-Neck Records in 1969 and recorded the massive funk hit “It’s Your Thing” that their professional world began to change. For the next two decades, the Isley Brothers merged soul, rock, funk and pop balladry, recording original material (“Fight the Power,” “That Lady”) and covers (“Summer Breeze,” “Hello It’s Me.”

“At the time, Marvin Gaye had ‘Sexual Healing’ out, and it was such a hit,” says Isley. “I was talking to him on the phone one day and I was like, “Hey man, wait until you hear ‘Between the Sheets.’ I said, ‘We going to knock ‘Sexual Healing’ off.’ We just laughed. We were very competitive in those days. Somebody like Teddy Pendergrass would do “Close the Door” or ‘Turn Off the Lights,’ and we’d do something like “Don’t Say Goodnight.” It was fun to listen to those records and have a competition going at the same time.

“Some of the language [on rap records] used to make me want to say no, but I realized they were only telling their story the way they wanted to tell it. So I let it happen. One of my favorites is Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” that sampled “Footsteps in the Dark.” That record knocked me out, as did the “Big Poppa” song Biggie did. The Isley Brothers are the most sampled artists in the business; I think James Brown is second. Maybe the Funkadelics are third. Hey man, I’m just glad we influenced the rappers that much.”

But his personal life has not always been so perfect. He is what we would most definitely call, a soul survivor. He has lost three of his brothers. Vernon Isley was killed on his bike near their family home aged just 13 in 1956. O’Kelly Isley Jr. had a heart attack while battling cancer and died in 1986. Marvin Isley’s career ended after…