The Isley Brothers’ Ernie Isley

11th September 2020

We’re looking back on our 2015 interview with musician Ernie Isley of legendary The Isley Brothers. Ernie talks to Jesse about the evolving sound of The Isley Brothers, a life-changing gig playing drums for Martha and The Vandellas, and what it was like to grow up with Jimi Hendrix occasionally living at your house.

Episode notes

(Photo Credit: Greg Campbell/Getty Images for Tennessee Tourism)

Ernie Isley, on The Isley Brothers and their legacy

Ernie Isley is a member of the legendary soul band The Isley Brothers.

Formed by his older brothers in the late 1950s, The Isley Brothers had early hits like “Shout” and “Twist and Shout” while Ernie was still a preteen. That changed in 1969, when an teenaged Ernie finally joined the family band as bassist, and then lead guitarist and occasional drummer.

The change in the band’s line-up led to an evolution in their sound and some of the most iconic soul hits of the 70s. Ernie’s move from bass to guitar was key to that new sound and to the family’s revival. They were the rare R&B group which featured raw extended guitar solos.

Songs like “It’s Your Thang” and “That Lady” came to encapsulate the sound and feeling of that moment in soul music. Their hits continued on into the 80’s and 90’s as well. In fact, they’re the only group in popular music who’ve charted in every decade since the 50s.

And their influence extends far beyond their own original recordings. They’ve also been the basis of hip-hop hits too, like The Notorious BIG’s “Big Poppa,”  Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” and Kendrick Lamar’s hit, “I.”

The Isley Brothers continue to make music today. Ernie and older brother Ronald Isley are the remaining members of the group. In 2014, they were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award  Grammy  and last year, Ronald and Ernie Isley received the National R&B Music Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Proclamations.

Jesse talks with Ernie about the evolving sound of The Isley Brothers, a life-changing gig playing drums for Martha and The Vandellas, and what it’s like to grow up with Jimi Hendrix occasionally living at your house.

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  • Ernie Isely

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Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

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