TIR 55: Ernie Explains Life as Isley Brothers’ Most Valuable Player

The Isley Brothers 3+3 group, standing from left-right, O’Kelly Isley, Chris Jasper, Rudolph Isley, Marvin Isley; bottom, from left-right, Ernie Isley and Ronald Isley.


Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 55 (two segments): One of the most prominent, distinctive and accomplished funk and R&B guitar players of all time — Mr. Ernie Isley of the rock era’s first family, the fabulous Isley Brothers. Not only was his searing and soaring soloing out front on all 12 of the Isleys’ platinum-selling 3+3 band albums from 1973-1983, but he also played most of the drums too. Before Ernie was even out of grade school, the Isley Brothers’ Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph had already carved out quite a career for themselves as a vocal trio during the late 1950s and 1960s. After starting out playing drums as a 12-year-old, in 1966, at just age 14, Ernie found himself holding down the beat for his famous older siblings. Notably, his first studio recording with the Isley Brothers was playing bass on 1969’s funky smash hit “It’s Your Thing.” He then played guitar and drums on his brothers’ subsequent albums, Get Into Something, Givin’ It Back and Brother, Brother, Brother.

In 1973, a new golden era of superlative funk-rock and smooth R&B began when the older Isley Brothers officially appointed Ernie on guitar and drums, youngest brother Marvin on bass and brother-in-law Chris Jasper on keyboards as the group’s band. Not only was their overall sound immediately identifiable, but they were very unique in being equally adept at hardcore funk, guitar-driven rock and sensual ballads. Their work in any of those categories ranks with the best from anyone during that era. A sampling of their classic songs includes “Who’s That Lady,” “Live It Up,” “Fight the Power,” “Harvest for the World,” “At Your Best (You Are Love),” “Take Me to the Next Phase,” “Coolin’ Out,” “Groove With You,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Here We Go Again,” “Hurry Up and Wait,” “Between the Sheets,” “The Pride,” “Livin’ in the Life,” “Climbin’ Up the Ladder,” “Voyage to Atlantis, “Footsteps in the Dark” and so many others. Those last five were from the 1977 funk-rock masterpiece, Go for Your Guns.

The key ingredients were one-of-a-kind lead vocalist Ron Isley, who was masterful in both gritty and delicate settings; Jasper, a classically trained composer and arranger, who had the distinction of being the very first TRUTH IN RHYTHM guest; and then there was Marvin, with his super funky bass playing and rhythms; and of course, the man you are about to get to know much better, Ernie, a blistering and masterful guitar player.

In the early 1980s, the players notched some success on their own as Isley-Jasper-Isley, notably with the hit song “Caravan of Love.” In subsequent years, Ernie and Marvin reunited in various configurations with their older brothers, and as the only surviving brothers Ernie and Ronald continue to perform today as the Isley Brothers. Jasper also remains active and has released numerous solo albums. Speaking of which, Ernie delivered his only solo album, the wonderful High Wire, in 1990. The Isley Brothers’ many honors and awards include being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

In this episode’s interview, Ernie talks about growing up in a household of music stars that for a time also included Jimi Hendrix; what it was like breaking into the group; how he developed his signature guitar sound; insights into their amazing albums and compositions; the hugely influential shadow the Isley Brothers cast on all contemporary music; and recently collaborating with Carlos Santana. As is the case with all TRUTH IN RHYTHM shows, the video quality can only be as good as the remotely located guest’s device and Internet connection permit. So bear with it here as the video does get choppy in spots, but fortunately the audio is mostly unaffected.

Recorded May 2018