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The Isley Brothers
Here's another indication of the immediate future. Other approximations of the African-American gospel experience had scaled the R&B charts - James Brown and his Famous Flames' fiery Please, Please, Please, which you'll find on our 1956 collection, for starters - but none quite so overt as The Isley Brothers' holy roller workout Shout. It transported unsuspecting listeners direct to a Baptist revival meeting, albeit without any references to the Lord. That the major RCA Victor label released this two-parter is pretty amazing; one can only assume that having Elvis on their roster toughened their corporate ears.
In the beginning, there were four singing Isleys, and they lived in Cincinnati: Ronald (born May 21, 1941), Rudolph (born April Fools' Day of 1939), O'Kelly, Jr. (born Christmas Day of 1937), and Vernon. They cut their eyeteeth singing hymns at Cincy's First Baptist Church. Tragically, Vernon was struck and killed while riding his bicycle in 1954. The remaining trio eventually turned their attention to R&B, hopping a bus bound for New York in 1956 to try to make it big.
Record contracts came easy for the Isleys. They made a '57 single for the Teenage logo, Angels Cried, showing they could doo-wop with the best of 'em. More singles -Rockin' McDonald for Mark-X, I Wanna Know and The Drag for Gone, This Is The End for Cindy - brought the group through '58 without a hit. Their big break came when an RCA A&R man caught their wild act at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., which erupted when the trio torched Jackie Wilson's Lonely Teardrops with an extended vamp built around the chant "You know you make me wanna shout!" By April, they were Victor artists, waxing the original I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door at their first date.
On July 29, 1959, they were back at RCA's New York studios with producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, belting out their own extended creation Shout as though the Lord was about to descend from the heavens in a blazing fireball. Ronnie was the fiery front man, electrifying over an endless gospel-infused chord change, while Rudolph and O'Kelly cut loose with glorious sanctified harmonies (guitarist Joe Richardson and Professor Herman Stephens, the organist from their Cincy church, were also on hand). Out in August, Part 1 of Shout made a modest #47 pop showing that fall, hardly commensurate with its massive importance to the immediate future of both soul and vocal groups (it didn't chart R&B at all). Ironically, Joey Dee & The Starliters' 1962 remake of Shout was far more successful, peaking at #2 pop.
- Bill Dahl -
Various Street Corner Symphonies 1959 Vol.11
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