Something Else! Featured Artist: The Isley Brothers

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by Pico

I think I can say this with high confidence that The Isley Brothers were among the best and underrated R&B bands of the 1970’s. It wasn’t just Ronald Isley’s creamy smooth falsetto or killer material like “Footsteps In The Dark”, these guys made more than a passing nod to rock. Exhibit A is that unforgettable endless guitar soloing on “That Lady”, and the lil’ brother who played it, Ernie Isley. Even today, with The Isleys reduced to just him and Ronald (now calling himself Mr. Biggs), whenever he gets his space on a song, you can’t miss his Hendrix-filtered blues lines. But Ernie had a bit of a career outside The Brothers, and while it wasn’t a story about selling a lot of records, he showed plenty enough acumen as a songwriter, singer and of course, axe-slinger, to merit at least a blog article extolling his virtues. I’m happy to oblige.

After the Isley Brothers 1983 release Between The Sheets, Ernie and the two other young-uns of the group, brother Marvin Isley and bro-in-law Chris Jasper, left the band to form a spin-off group, Isley-Jasper-Isley. Their first entry on the charts was the Ernie-sung “Look The Other Way”, a song decidedly more on the rock side than R&B. The boys achieved better chart action on the follow-up Caravan Of Love album with the song of the same name. The album also featured another fine Ernie sung tune, the mellow mid-tempo “If You Believe In Love”. But after the third album went nowhere, I-J-I called it a day.

Then, at the dawn of the ‘90’s Ernie reappeared with a solo album, High Wire. Finally free to present all of his considerable talents, Ernie poured a lot of influences into this fine effort. You get it all from the Santana r&b/rock of “Diamond In The Rough” and “She Takes Me Up” to the Isley funk of “High Wire” and “Deep Water”, to the high flying guitar pyrotechnics of “Back To Square One” and “Rising From The Ashes”. The track where he really pulls everything out of his trick bag together is the lead-off tune “Song For The Muses”. It’s grabs you right away with a galloping funky shuffle mated with Ernie’s trademark Strat wailing and he delivers a sincere, soulful vocal performance that won’t scare big bro Ron, but undoubtedly made him proud.

In all, the album still sounds as fresh today to my ears as it did sixteen years ago, and even though this was dominating all my cd players in the summer of 1990, I still pull it out once or twice a year. With “Square One” getting pretty good airplay on the rock stations and a tour opening for Stevie Ray Vaughan, I had Ernie pegged for sure stardom back then. But despite all the dues he paid, for some reason, it just didn’t happen. By the following year, he had rejoined the Isleys. Regrettably, he never made another record after that, although there are rumors that he’s currently working on that long overdue follow up.

Also regrettably, the CD appears to be out of print at the moment.

If you are new to the whole Isleys thang but ready to get acquainted with them, you gotta start out with this one.

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