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Jeff Moehlis: A Little Bit Louder Now with The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers — Ronald is on the left, and Ernie is on the right — will perform at the Chumash Casino Resort on Feb. 16. Click to view larger
The Isley Brothers — Ronald is on the left, and Ernie is on the right — will perform at the Chumash Casino Resort on Feb. 16. (Tracy Isley photo)

Of the many amazing things about The Isley Brothers, perhaps the most remarkable is that they have had hit songs in the 1950s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and 2000s. And we're talking about songs that are in our collective DNA, including "Shout," "Twist and Shout," "It's Your Thing" and "That Lady."

You can hear all of these and more at the Chumash Casino Resort on Friday, Feb. 16. Tickets are available online by clicking here.

Lead singer Ronald Isley and guitarist Ernie Isley talked to Noozhawk about the band's illustrious history. A little bit louder now ... a little bit louder now ... .

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming show?

Ernie Isley: They're going to hear everything from "Shout" to "It's Your Thing," "Fight the Power," "That Lady," "Between the Sheets," "Summer Breeze," "Voyage to Atlantis." They'll get a pretty full dose of the catalog.

JM: The song "Shout" is almost 59 years old, soon to be 60. Is it still as much fun to sing it as it was at the very beginning?

Ronald Isley: I think it's more fun now [laughs]. You know, it's a favorite song of all our fans. That's our first hit record. It's just something that we have to do at every show. It's one of the biggest songs in our show.

JM: The next big hit for The Isley Brothers was "Twist and Shout." How did you choose to record that particular song?

RI: We were in the studio, and were supposed to be recording a song from Burt Bacharach. We did one take on "Twist and Shout," and we never heard it back until it came out. The people said, "The session is over now." The band had packed up everything, and we said, "Well, we don't even know how it sounds." [laughs] Then we heard it on the radio. I think Jerry Blavat from Philadelphia played the song over and over, and eventually it became a complete smash, as they called it in those days. [laughs]

JM: A bit after "Twist and Shout" became a hit, you had a tour of England, in 1964. Could you share some memories of that particular tour?

RI: We toured with Dionne Warwick and a group over in England called The Zombies. They had a big record. I remember we auditioned Elton John for our keyboard player and hired him for that month. He tried to get us to take some of his songs, but we were too busy to listen to any of them. [laughs]

JM: How did "It's Your Thing" come together? Was it a long process to write it?

RI: You know, I dreamed the title and the whole nine. That was something where I woke up and was carrying my daughter to school, and I tried to remember it and was able to write it down and go down to my mother's house and rehearse it. My brother Ernie played bass on that record, and we put it together that same day.

JM: Ernie, you were a 16-year-old kid and ended up playing on "It's Your Thing," which became a No. 1 R&B single.

EI: Well, I was prepared in my mind to play drums. In rehearsal I had played drums, and then I switched off the drums and played the bass part. When we got to the session I was setting up the drum kit and the bass player came in, and I showed him what I had been playing. And when he started playing, he was more or less playing what he felt, but it wasn't what I showed him. So just before we started the actual recording, Ronald came over to me and said in my ear, "You're gonna play bass," and my heart was immediately thumping. I was scared.

They handed me the guy's bass and put the headphones on me. I heard a voice saying, "Rolling," and counted it off. I held onto the bass for dear life and played it. And it turned out that it worked. Everything about that song, everything about that record worked. Everything. The tempo, the lyrics, the musical track. Ronald sang it on one take, the very first take. Of course, we didn't know that it was going to be the Frankenstein monster hit 45 for the Isley Brothers' career.

JM: Ernie, the guitar part in "That Lady," is just phenomenal. Where was your mind at for that? Were you in the zone? How did you do it?

EI: The "That Lady" track was funky, danceable — it had a lot of rhythm to it. And then I plugged into the lead, and when I hit the very first note the song went from, like, black and white to 3-D technicolor. It turned into something that none of us, quite frankly, could've imagined or expected. And I played everywhere, and after I finished I was yelling and the engineers were going nuts. Everybody else was kind of mummified. My oldest brother, Kelly, looked at me through the studio glass, like he didn't blink for 45 minutes. Then [yells], and it was like, "Ernie, you're going to have to do another take because you've got to make room for the vocals." So I was kind of ticked off and did a second take. The second take is what's on the record. But the first take was better.

Click here for the full interview with Ronald Isley. Click here for the full interview with Ernie Isley.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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