Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers Interview – Fighting the Power with Ernie Isley (Part 3 of 3) [Listen 23:10 min] S02 Ep15
Interview Date: August 13, 2012 @10 am EDT
Special Guest: Ernie Isley (of the Isley Brothers) - is a key member in one of the most famous soul/funk/R&R bands of all time. Ernie Isley was a crucial component in the band at a historic and transitional time in music; they changed the sound of the band's early music with songs like “This Old Heart of Mine” and “Shout” and advanced into their later funk driven sound with songs like "Fight the Power Pts. 1 & 2," "Harvest for the World," "Voyage to Atlantis," and “That Lady.” Ernie Isley helped make the Isley brothers one of the few groups that have charted in five consecutive decades. In this podcast we talk about the Isley Brothers' famous and loved albums, 3 + 3, Stevie Wonder’s album "Innervisions" and it’s connection with 3 + 3, “The Heat Is On,” “Fight the Power,” and Ernie’s amazing guitar playing. He tells us about his new album that he is working on, parting thoughts on Jimi Hendrix, the song Shout and we get to the heart of what makes the Isley Brothers one of the most important bands in music history.
Questions No One Thought to Ask Ernie Isley
What all the praise and everything else that depicts Jimi Hendrix as a rock god fail to show, is what a hard time Jimi had of making it. Then, and even into the days of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, people thought he was too weird, or too flamboyant to handle. And while he was undeniably good, he often got criticism that he played too loud, or was put down for the way he dressed, or didn't play the right style. Though, a lot of this criticism came from people who were jealous and didn't want to be outshined on stage. It led to difficulties working with his idols. Besides Little Richard's refusal to share the spotlight, he was a taskmaster and Jimi found it to be too confining working with Little Richard.
Times were often pretty bad in the early days. When Jimi went to audition for the Isleys, they had to buy him a couple strings for his guitar. He was fortunate to have a guitar; in those days, he barely had any money and his guitars were always in and out of the pawn shops.
It was the Isley Brothers that gave him a stable platform, although, sometimes even amongst those groups they travelled with he was a hard sell. At one point, while on the road for an Isley Brothers tour, the alto sax player was driving and couldn't take Jimi fantasizing and going on about dragon shaped guitars that spewed fire, the sax player said that the cat was freaking him out, pulled over, and had Jimi take over the wheel. It probably wasn't the wisest move, because although it stopped Jimi from talking, Jimi needed glasses but refused to wear them. Twenty minutes later, they hit a deer that ended up coming through the windshield. No one was hurt (besides the deer, of course) but someone with better eyesight might have avoided the collision. (Perhaps you squares should just build a little more tolerance for the freaks, or maybe just don't hand them the keys.)
Etta James knew them in Harlem when Jimi was touring with the Isley Brothers; she loved the Isley Brothers, but talked disparagingly of Jimi. She said he looked like a roadie playing the R&B circuit.
He heard criticism all the time, which, no doubt led him to head to England. But not everything was on the blame of others, he had little regard for holding to a contract, and didn't always show up for gigs. The Isley Brothers went to bat for Jimi on more than one occasion and opened more doors for him, and perhaps gave him his most stable surroundings in that era when they took him in to their home. They bought Jimi the Fender Duo-Sonic to tour with which they later let him keep when they parted.
It was only around this time when Ernie was getting into music, and a little later, the Isley Brothers took the younger ones into the mix. But these times when Jimi spent at the Isley household were truly monumental and had a tremendous impact. Growing up in the Isley household with Hendrix in the mix, something had to have rubbed off. He was paying attention, and the speed which Ernie took to music, and was in on the hit recordings is truly astonishing, even taking into consideration the musically talented environment he was raised.
Ask Ernie Isley, he's got some stories to tell, and the way he puts it, you needed to be beside him, sitting silently, hearing him play unamplified to really get it.