The Isley Brothers: “Go For Your Guns, Amigo”
By David Nathan
Them thar Isleys are due back in town with a new album…
There really aren't too many people who can hit home with the consistency of the six gentlemen who make up the incredibly successful team known as The Isley Brothers. It seems almost incredulous that, in retrospect the Isleys' name has been hitting the charts ever since "Twist and Shout" zoomed into being many moons ago.
The group have enjoyed spells with more record labels than most — Atlantic, Motown, RCA, Scepter, Buddah — but their greatest measure of success has come ever since they placed their T-Neck label with CBS' massive distribution system. Since that time some four years ago, the group have continually delivered the goods with hits like "That Lady", "Live It Up" "Fight The Power", "For The Love Of You" (which has become something of a contemporary classic), "The Pride" and "Livin' In The Life".
Their albums are now automatic gold and the experience with "Go For Your Guns", the group's last fully-fledged outing, suggests that it's now a question of automatic platinum! Having reached such a plateau we asked Ernie Isley, the youngest member of the aggregation what's left for the Isleys to achieve. "Oh, a number of things!" the young gentleman indicated. "Sure, if we look back at what we've accomplished, we'd have to agree that we've done very well. As far as we're concerned, we've been blessed, we've been very lucky. But. there's still some hurdles to overcome. For instance, we would like to do a world-wide tour which would be a sell-out every place we'd go. That's something we've never done. Plus you must remember that as well as we might do on records, we could always do better. We still encounter pockets of resistance to our music amongst radio stations in this country, just like everyone else. There's no one group who gets automatic and immediate response from r&b and pop markets on every release — you still have to break through. It's true that we've managed to build up a solid crossover audience but we want acceptance on everybody's part. It can be done but it takes time — you just keep adding new people with every new release, hopefully."
Certainly, the Isleys' music itself has broadened its base since those very early days. Dating from albums which were distributed by Buddah Records, like "Givin' It Back", "The Brothers Three" and so on, the group began to record songs more associated with rock groups and artists — only they did their own interpretation of the material and it worked. "I'd say we sell about five times the number of albums we did back then," Ernie comments, "which means our market has expanded and stayed with us." Although their records seem to be selling more now than ever, the group doesn't tour as much as it used to. "I guess we're in that position where we don't have to go out, any more. But when we do — we expect our current tour to take us to the end of the years, doing an average of three concerts per week — it's still a challenge. It's like we can never become complacent — if we don't make an attempt to stay in this marathon race, keep on our toes, then there's no guarantee that people will stick by you. We dig touring because it's like a give-and-take situation and we dig seeing people enjoying our music. But on the other side, the constant travelling can become exhausting."
Understandably, the three elder members probably feel a little more reluctant to enter into any six-month non-stop touring situation as they spent several years on the road at the outset of their career. Everyone deserves to slow down when they can, right? Just to show that the group doesn't sit on their laurels, they decided that during 1977, they'd have two album releases as opposed to the customary one. "We wanted to prove something to ourselves, you know? We started work on "Go For Your Guns" way back in November of last year and that was when we decided we'd aim for two for this year."
In fact, with the "Greatest Hits" album released at the end of July (which contains full versions of all the group's biggest T-Neck/CBS hits — there are no edited versions, making it excellent value for money), the group will have three releases in all for the year. "The new album doesn't have a title as yet but it'll be out in October" stated Ernie. "We want to capture the Christmas market, you could say! It's difficult to really say what direction any album is going to take beforehand because the way we record these days you just don't know till we're finished. It's like when we worked on "The Pride" and "Footsteps In The Dark", we just started with the tracks and they literally snowballed into the album from there."
Any avid Isley fan may well have noticed that "Go For Your Guns" marked something of a departure for the group since it was not recorded in Los Angeles as usual, but in upstate New York at Bearsville. "It was different, yes, because we were closer to home, the atmosphere was therefore more relaxed and we noticed a certain freshness came out of our music as a result. It certainly turned out to be our biggest album to date, no question. And we began recording our new album there, too."
Which conveniently brought Ernie to talking about the group's own studio which is due for construction soon. "The plans have now been completed and it's a question of deciding whether to incorporate the health club we already have on the site into the studio or keep it separate. But the studio is very important to us because we see it as an investment. Of course, we will be using it but it will also be open to other people to use too. After all, we couldn't use every day of every month of every year, could we?! It's like one of those long-range projects and eventually, we'll get into producing other acts, so then it will be a great asset. But I don't see that particular situation of outside production on our part really coming for some time. We still have a lot more music to produce on ourselves."
The international acceptance that much of the Isleys' music gets suggests that there will continue to be a big market for their future product and it only remains for the group to cement the interest with an overseas tour. "That's right! The group — the three, Kelly, Rudolph and Ronald — haven't been to England since 1964! They remember that the English really dig potatoes!" laughed Ernie. "But, seriously, none of the others — myself, Marvin or Chris — have ever been over and we would like to go. It's just a question of the right timing, the right situation. We've had offers but we only want to go when it's right."
Whenever that is, the group are bound to get a warm welcome — that's for sure!