Selected by Dan Grunebaum

The Isley Brothers

Four decades of funk

Amid the latter generation funk of Jamiroquai and Destiny' Child, not to mention a thousand Japanese imitators, Tokyo will also be host this fall to two seminal funk bands who, between them, have the better part of a century of music-making between them.

This weekend, Earth, Wind and Fire will be bringing their monster show to the Budokan, while in December, this fall's comeback sensation The Isley Brothers, hit the more intimate Shibuya Ax for two dates.

            While the Isley Brothers have bequeathed a musical legacy to pop equal even perhaps to that of James Brown, their recent statureat least until the August release of Eternal has been inexcusably low. Formed in Cincinnati in the early E0s by O'Kelly, Rudolph and Ronald, the Isleys penned the first of many hits with "Shout," now an R&B classic, in 1959.

                 Jumping from label to label, the group's stint with Atlantic Records produced the 1964 song, "Who's That Lady?" which showcased Ronald Isley's sweet but powerful tenor vocals. They also did a stint with Motown, butfed up with labels telling them what to dothey launched their own company, T-Neck Records, in the mid-E0s.

            The move was unprecedented for black artists at the time, but it was only one of the Isley's forward-thinking moves. Around this time they also signed a young guitarist whose explosive style and experimentations were to shape a generation of guitarists. Testify featured Jimi Hendrix on lead guitars, giving him free rein to show off his virtuosity. But, perhaps ahead of its time, the album was not a commercial success.

            Adding brothers Ernie (guitar), Marvin (bass) and cousin Chris (keyboards), the Isleys, now a sextet, reached the apex of their career with a string of sizzling funk hits in the early E0s. 1975's The Heat Is On was the most successful distillation of the group's experimental, yet slick soul, producing the Top 10 single "Fight The Power," an incendiary Black power anthem.

            In the E0s, the Isleys receded into obscurity as fans found a new generation of funk in Prince and others. But, despite even the death of brother O'Kelly, they soldiered on. 1996's Mission To Please was exactly that, an attempt to please young listeners with E0s-style smooth soul.

            But it wasn't until the surprise success of Eternal this fall that the Isleys have been able to reclaim their place in the R&B firmament. They have also been recognized by the new generation of R&B stars, with, for example, the late Aaliyah notching a hit with a recording of the Isleys hit "At Your Best."

The Isley Brothers play Shibuya Ax Dec 5-6.  See listings for details.

Concert Listings
403: Sloan
402: Jamiriquoi


401: Park Tower Blues Festival
400: Mercury Rev
399: Bjork
398: The Isley Brothers
397: Janet Jackson


396: Ian Brown
395: Tortoise Orchestra
394: Regurgitator
393: Art Garfunkel


392: Belle and Sebastian
391: Super Furry Animals
390: Ben Folds
389: Elton John
388: Dido
387: Papa Roach
386: Beast Feast 2001
385: Summersonic
384: David Sylvian
383: Maxi Priest & Big Mountain
382: Fuji Rock Festival 01
381: Roxy Music
380: Bo Diddley
379: John McLaughlin & Zakir Hussain in Remember Shakti
378: Paul Weller
377: Coolio
376: Backyard Babies
375: Marcus Miller
374: Black Crowes
373: Megadeath
372: Dionne Warwick
371: Arrested Development
370: Mouse on Mars
369: Duran Duran
368: Linkin Park
367: Maceo Parker
366: Japan Blues Carnival 2001
365: Ben Harper
364: Cheap Trick
363: Stephen Malkmus
362: Mogwai
361: Weezer
360: Marilyn Manson
359: Green Day
358: AC/DC
357: Richard Thompson
356: Bob Dylan
355: J. Mascis
354: Leigh Stephen Kenny
352/3: Limp Bizkit
351: Boyz II Men
350: Reef
349: Park Tower Blues Festival
348: Roni Size
347: Compay Segundo
346: Incognito
345: Jimmy Page and The Black Crowes
344: Bad Religion
343: Japan Soul Festival 2000
342: Rocktober 2000
341: Richard Ashcroft
340: Motorhead
339: Festival Halou
338: Ricky Martin
337: Taj Mahal
336: Asian Dub Foundation
335: Lou Reed
334: Earth, Wind & Fire
333: Sting
332: No Doubt
331: Camel
330: Fuji Rock: Smash Talks
329: Summer Sonic
328: Mt. Fuju Aid 2000
327: Salif Keita
326: Buena Vista Social Club
325: Bill Frisell
324: Maxi Priest
323: Lenine
322: Rage Against the Machine
321: Tommy Flanagan Trio
320: Smashing Pumpkins
319: Pet Shop Boys
318: Japan Blues Carnival
317: Gipsy Kings
316: Steely Dan
315: Pshish
314: Big Night Out
313: Femi Kuti and the Positive Force
312: Harry Connick Jr.
311: Sonny Rollins
310: Speech
309: Santana