The Isley Brothers hit up Tina Knowles-Lawson to secure their Beyoncé feature
On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN sat down with Ron and Ernie Isley of the iconic Isley Brothers to discuss their storied career, memories of Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson, collaborating with legendary artists, the origins of their classic hits, and more.
Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, The Isley Brothers are a musical force whose contributions to the evolution of R&B, soul, and rock and roll have earned them international acclaim. With a career spanning over six decades, the group has produced numerous chart-topping hits and critically acclaimed albums such as 3 + 3, The Heat Is On, and Between the Sheets. Their unique fusion of gospel, doo-wop, and rock and roll helped to define the sound of R&B and soul. They have also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
The group has experienced its share of personal tragedies, including the passing of founding members O’Kelly Isley Jr. in 1986 and Vernon Isley in 1955. In the face of tragedy, Ernie and Ronald continued to create music and maintain their legacy. As lead guitarist, Ernie played a crucial role in shaping their distinct sound. His innovative guitar work can be heard on many of their most famous tracks, such as “That Lady” and “Fight the Power.” Ron, known for his smooth and soulful voice, has been the group’s consistent lead singer since their inception.
Over the years, The Isley Brothers have collaborated with an array of legendary artists, further solidifying their status as musical icons. Their enduring influence on the music industry is a testament to their talent and dedication to their craft.
REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from Ron and Ernie Isley’s “Drink Champs” interview. Check them out below and watch the full episode here.
1. On “Make Me Say It Again, Girl” with Beyoncé
In August of 2022, Ronald and Beyoncé’s rendition of “Make Me Say It Again, Girl” became available on streaming services. The song, which was originally released as part of their 1975 album The Heat Is On, was given a modern update by the two legendary artists. To kick off the interview, Ronald discussed the song landing on the charts and calling Bey’s mother to make the collaboration happen.
“We’ve been charted all the way up right now for eight decades. Our album right now has been on the charts for five weeks — it was No. 1 — and for 30 weeks, it’s been in the top 10. It’s No. 6 now with Beyoncé,” shared Ronald. “I called her mother and said, ‘We’re getting ready to do this album. I want her to do the record with us.’ Her mother called her and in five minutes, she called back.”
2. On Elton John being their keyboard player before his mainstream success
It turns out that before Elton John became the famous musician he is today, he was a working member of the band. Ronald claimed that John played keyboards for them for a whole month when they were performing in London. He also revealed that John shared music with the group that he was making at the time, but neither of them could’ve imagined he’d be this big today.
“Elton John was our keyboard player. The next album we’re doing, we’ll do a record together. They told us, ‘Y’all should listen to some of his music. He wrote a hundred songs.’ Yeah, yeah. We didn’t listen to nothing,” Ronald explained. “He’s going to do a song with us and Mariah Carey. Elton is just so talented. He’s a great songwriter.”
3. On Stevie Wonder almost getting hit by a car while crossing the street
For years now, conspiracy theorists have spread the ludicrous statement that Stevie Wonder has the ability to see. Having toured with Wonder, Ronald recalled a time when the blind singer almost got hit by oncoming traffic.
Ronald stated, “Man, Stevie Wonder was coming across the street and cars were going wan-wan-wan… Yeah, man. Go get him, man!” EFN interjected and asked if Wonder knew he was crossing the street at the time, to which he replied, “I don’t know.”
4. On Jimi Hendrix living with them
Hendrix played guitar in the background for a variety of performers in the 1960s before he rose to prominence as a solo artist. While he passed away in 1970 from a barbiturate overdose, Ronald remembered him as a notable tenant of their house. He also shared how Hendrix helped mold his brother Ernie into becoming the band’s lead guitarist.
“Jimi Hendrix lived in our house. He made his first circuit with us, ‘Testify.’ We thought he was the greatest guitar player, but we never thought that he would become that before he went,” Ronald said. He went on to add, “My brother was playing baseball then. When he started playing with us, he was playing the drums. He talked to Jimi Hendrix every day and all of a sudden, hey, he’s the next Jimi Hendrix. All of that’s been wonderful.”
Regarding his passing, the brothers added, “God blessed us, man. Our father and mother were concerned with us. She said, ‘Never do drugs.’ No one in the family did any drugs, and I think that’s a big part of us lasting this long.”
5. On meeting a young Michael Jackson
The Isley Brothers’ groundbreaking sound and style served as a major influence on a young Michael Jackson, shaping his artistic journey. As Jackson’s career skyrocketed, the brothers themselves became ardent fans, admiring the King of Pop’s exceptional talent and accomplishments. Midway through the interview, they shared a story about meeting him as a teen alongside The Jackson 5 and Janet Jackson.
Ernie recalled, “I sat down at the table, and I wasn’t there too long, and somebody tapped me on my arm. I turned around… it was Michael… ‘Hi Ernie.’ I said, ‘Hey Mike, how you doing man?’ ‘Is it alright if I sit down,’ [Jackson replied]. ‘Yeah man, come sit down here, it ain’t no thing.’ And we sat there for a little bit and he said, ‘Ernie, do you think you could introduce me to your brother Ronald?’ I said, ‘Come on, Michael. He knows you, you know him. He’s not going to bite you or nothing.’”
Ronald chimed in, “He was just such an admirer of me and how I did songs, but later as time went on and on… If I’m in a town that they have a show of Michael Jackson on film, I’ll stop to watch that show. Me and my wife was in New York, and this fella that won a Grammy, Tony. This show was one of the great shows I ever watched,” Ronald added.
6. On Rick James collapsing on stage
During a high-energy performance at Philadelphia’s Spectrum arena, Rick James shocked the audience when he collapsed on stage after playing three days back-to-back. As recounted by Ronald, the intense display of dedication to his craft left a lasting impression, signaling that it was time for James to dial it back a bit.
According to Ronald, “I remember not too long after that, he was in Philadelphia, I think at the Spectrum. And he had sold out three consecutive nights, and they said that he had collapsed on stage. When I heard that, I said, ‘Rick, you’re having a lot of fun, but you’re going to have to get your rest.’”
7. On “That Lady” being a smash hit
The Isley Brothers‘ massively successful single “That Lady” became RIAA-certified Gold, reflecting its widespread popularity and commercial success. Peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the R&B chart, the song solidified its status as a timeless classic, earning both critical acclaim and a lasting impact on the music landscape. Reminiscing on the record, Ernie talked about how the song came about.
“Originally, it was Ronald’s idea, and he told me we’re going to go out there and record ‘That Lady.’ That was done as a ‘Bossa Nova Cha Cha’ and he said, ‘Uh uh, we’re going to change the melody, we’re going to change the tempo, we’re going to change the lyrics, and you’re going to play lead guitar.’ We went out there and did what we did. The rest is history.”
8. On their biggest regret
Released in 1980, The Blues Brothers became a cult classic film for comedy and music. Although the movie stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, Ronald revealed that the studio originally offered the role to The Isley Brothers. When asked what his biggest regret was over the years, the brothers highlighted it as a missed opportunity for a memorable collaboration.
“The Blues Brothers, they wanted us to perform in that movie. We turned it down and they used another group. I kind of regret that. They wanted to use one of our records in the movie Saturday Night Fever,” stated Ronald. Ernie continued, “They wanted to use ‘Tell Me When You Need It Again’ from the Go For Your Guns album, and we turned it down.”
9. On hit records like “Busted” seeing a revival on TikTok
The resurgence of legendary R&B songs on social media platforms, particularly TikTok, has breathed new life into classic tracks, introducing them to a fresh audience. The group’s 2003 hit “Busted” experienced a significant comeback with over 20,000 video creations on the app, demonstrating the enduring appeal and relevance of these timeless tunes in the digital age.
Ronald explained, “In our show, we bring out furniture. We try to bring out a whole set and a whole house to do songs like ‘Busted’ and ‘Contagious.’ The audience, now on your cellphone, they have so many people doing ‘Busted’ on TikTok. It’s amazing, it’s amazing. That’s one of the important parts of our show every night.”