Rudy Isley Dies

It’s your thing, do what you wanna do, I can’t tell you, who to sock it to

Rudolph Isley is a prominent American musician known for his involvement in the legendary R&B and soul music group, The Isley Brothers. Rudolph “Rudy” Bernard Isley, born on April 1, 1939, in Cincinnati, Ohio, was one of the founding members of the group and has been an integral part of their success throughout their long and influential careers.

Rudolph Isley, along with his brothers O’Kelly Isley Jr., Vernon Isley, and Ronald Isley, formed The Isley Brothers in the 1950s. The group originally started as a gospel ensemble but transitioned to secular music, particularly rhythm and blues.

The Isley Brothers gained recognition for their smooth, harmonious vocals and were pioneers in various musical styles, including doo-wop, rock and roll, soul, and funk. In 1957, following Vernon’s death[1], the remaining three elder Isleys moved to New York to seek a recording deal,

later recording for smaller labels until landing a deal with RCA Records in 1959 where they wrote, recorded, and released their first significant recording, “Shout”. It was recorded at RCA Victor Studio A, New York City, and released in August of 1959. By the summer of that year, the Isley family had moved from Cincinnati to a home in Englewood, New Jersey.

In 1962 they covered a 1961 song written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns (later credited as “Bert Russell”), originally recorded by the Top Notes[2], called “Twist and Shout”. It became the group’s first single to reach the Top 20 (#17) on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. It was released on the Wand label, a subsidiary of Scepter Records.

“This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” was released on the Tamla label, a primary subsidiary for mainstream R&B/soul music. Tamla is the company’s original label: Gordy founded Tamla Records several months before establishing the Motown Record Corporation. The Holland–Dozier–Holland song would reach #12 on the Billboard chart.

In the 1960s, Rudy and his brothers founded the T-Neck Records label to promote their recordings. Following their split with Motown, they reactivated the label and scored a Grammy-winning smash with “It’s Your Thing” in 1969. This funk single, written by the Isleys, would reach #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on The U.S. Billboard R&B chart.

After this, they added three younger family members — brothers Ernie and Marvin, plus Rudolph’s brother-in-law Chris Jasper — transforming the group into their second, arguably most influential incarnation: flamboyant funk-rockers with a penchant for slow jams.

Big and burly, Rudy sported fur-lined stage costumes created by renowned designer Bernard Johnson, outfits accentuated by a walking cane. Engineer John Holbrook, who worked on a few Isley Brothers studio albums in the late 1970s, remembered: “At times, it got pretty heated within the family, and they’d be yelling at each other. They were big, scary guys. Rudy was the giant and kind of intimidating.” Rudy would share lead vocals with his brothers Ron and Kelly on hits such as “Fight the Power” and “Livin’ in the Life”. Rudy also sang full lead on other tunes such as “You Still Feel the Need” from the album, Harvest for the World, and their 1979 hit, “It’s a Disco Night (Rock Don’t Stop)”.

There was an ‘unspoken’ understanding that my dad was the overseer of the group. He was the one who gave final approval of what was to be.

Elizabeth Isley Barkley – Rudy’s daughter

The Isleys’ hot streak began to cool off in the early 1980s. They could still manage a Top 10 hit, like 1983’s seductive “Between the Sheets,” but the friction between the older and younger trios led to the group fracturing in two. Ernie, Marvin, and Chris left to form Isley-Jasper-Isley, while Rudolph, Ronald, and O’Kelly carried on as the Isley Brothers, releasing “Masterpiece” on Warner Bros. in 1985.

One time, they’re working at Bearsville and there’s a big family row, and we can see them really going at it. And then we see Rudy storming into the control room and going for the briefcase. [a bag the engineer and his colleagues knew held a revolver] And he opens it and takes out … a cassette!

John Holbrook – Engineer

Not long after the release of “Masterpiece,” O’Kelly died of a heart attack in 1986. Rudolph and Ronald continued as the Isley Brothers, releasing a pair of albums at the end of the 1980s, but Rudolph’s interest in the group waned, and in 1989, he left to become a minister.

Rudolph Isley died from an apparent heart attack at his home on October 11, 2023, at the age of 84. He is survived by his wife, Elaine Jasper Isley, and their children Elizabeth, Valerie, Elaine, and Rudy, along with his grandchildren.

  1. Vernon Isley, the youngest member of The Isley Brothers musical group, was killed after he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. He was 13 years old. [Back]
  2. The Top Notes were an American R&B and soul music group best known for their involvement in the original recording of the song “Twist and Shout.” The group consisted of several members, but the most notable were Mark McPherson and Derek Martin. In 1961, The Top Notes recorded “Twist and Shout,” which was written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, but the song achieved greater fame when it was covered by The Isley Brothers and later by The Beatles. The Top Notes’ version laid the foundation for the song’s subsequent iconic renditions. Despite not achieving the same level of success as their cover artists, The Top Notes hold a significant place in the history of popular music for their contribution to the creation of a timeless classic. [Back]

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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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