In the latest episode of “Drink Champs”, NORE and DJ EFN caught up with Ron and Ernie Isley of the iconic Isley Brothers to discuss their legendary career, memories of Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson, collaborating with legendary artists, 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 band have produced numerous chart-topping hits and critically acclaimed albums such as 3 + 3, The heat is onAnd Between the sheets. Their unique fusion of gospel, doo-wop and rock and roll helped 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 deaths 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 was instrumental 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 moving voice, has been the band’s lead singer since its inception.
Over the years, the Isley Brothers have collaborated with an array of legendary artists, further cementing their status as musical icons. Their lasting influence on the music industry is a testament to their talent and dedication to their craft.
REVOLT has 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 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, has been modernized by the two legendary artists. To kick off the interview, Ronald discussed the song’s arrival on the charts and called Bey’s mother to make the collaboration a reality.
“We’ve been charted all the way right now for eight decades. Our album has been on the charts now for five weeks – it was #1 – and for 30 weeks it’s been in the top 10. It’s #6 now with Beyoncé,” Ronald shared. “I called her mom and said, ‘We’re getting ready to do this album. I want her to do the record with us. Her mom called her and within 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 an active member of the band. Ronald claimed that John played keyboards for them for an entire month when they performed in London. He also revealed that John shared music with the band he was forming at the time, but none of them could have imagined it would be so big today.
“Elton John was our keyboard player. The next album we do, we’ll do a record together. They said to us, ‘You should all listen to some of his music. He wrote a hundred songs. Yeah yeah. We didn’t listen to anything,” Ronald explained. “He’s going to do a song with us and Mariah Carey. Elton is so talented. He’s a great songwriter.
3. Stevie Wonder almost got hit by a car while crossing the street
For years conspiracy theorists have been spreading the ridiculous claim that Stevie Wonder has the ability to see. After touring with Wonder, Ronald recalled a time when the blind singer was nearly hit by oncoming traffic.
Ronald said: “Man, Stevie Wonder was crossing the street and the cars were going wan-wan-wan… Yeah, man. Go get it, man! EFN chimed in 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 rising to prominence as a solo artist. As he died in 1970 of a barbiturate overdose, Ronald remembered him as a notable tenant in their home. He also shared how Hendrix helped his brother Ernie become the band’s lead guitarist.
“Jimi Hendrix lived in our house. He did his first tour with us, “Testify”. We thought he was the greatest guitar player, but we never thought he would be until we left,” Ronald said. He added: “My brother was playing baseball at the time. When he started playing with us, he was playing drums. He talked to Jimi Hendrix every day and all of a sudden, hey, he’s the next Jimi Hendrix. It’s all been wonderful.
Regarding his passing, the brothers added, “God blessed us, man. Our father and our mother took care of us. She said, ‘Never take drugs.’ No one in the family took drugs, and I think that’s a big part of us that lasts that long.
5. Meet a Young Michael Jackson
The revolutionary sound and style of the Isley Brothers had a major influence on the young Michael Jackson, shaping his artistic journey. As Jackson’s career soared, the brothers themselves became avid fans, admiring the King of Pop’s exceptional talent and accomplishments. Midway through the interview, they shared a story about meeting as a teenager alongside The Jackson 5 and Janet Jackson.
Ernie recalls, “I sat down at the table, and didn’t stay there very long, and someone tapped me on the arm. I turned around… it was Michael… ‘Hi Ernie.’ I said, ‘Hey Mike, how are you doing man?’ ‘Is it okay if I sit down,’ [Jackson replied]. “Yeah man, come sit here, it’s nothing.” 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 gonna bite you or anything.
Ronald added, “He was just such an admirer of me and the way I did songs, but later, over time… If I’m in a town where they have a Michael Jackson show on film, I going to stop to watch this show. My wife and I were in New York, and this guy who won a Grammy, Tony. This show was one of the great shows I’ve ever watched,” Ronald added.
6. On Rick James collapsing on stage
During a high-energy performance at the Spectrum Arena in Philadelphia, Rick James shocked the audience when he collapsed on stage after performing three days in a row. As Ronald recounted, the intense display of dedication to his craft left a lasting impression, signaling that it was time for James to step back a bit.
According to Ronald, “I remember shortly after, he was in Philadelphia, I think at the Spectrum. And he sold out three nights in a row, and they said he collapsed on stage. When I heard that, I said, “Rick, you’re having a lot of fun, but you’re going to have to rest.”
7. On “That Lady” being a smash hit
The Isley Brothers’ hugely successful single “That Lady” went gold certified by the RIAA, 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 cemented its status as a timeless classic, earning both critical acclaim and a lasting impact on the musical landscape. Reminiscing about the record, Ernie explained how the song came about.
“It was originally Ronald’s idea, and he told me we were going to go out and record ‘That Lady.’ It was done as ‘Bossa Nova Cha Cha’ and he said, ‘Uh uh, we’re gonna change the melody, we’re gonna change the tempo, we’re gonna change the lyrics, and you’re gonna play lead guitar. We went 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 film 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 has been over the years, the brothers pointed to it as a missed opportunity for a memorable collaboration.
“The Blues Brothers, they wanted us to act in this film. We refused it and they used another group. I regret it a little. They wanted to use one of our records in the movie Saturday night feversaid 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” see a revival on TikTok
The resurgence of legendary R&B songs on social media platforms, especially TikTok, has breathed new life into classic tracks, introducing them to new audiences. The band’s 2003 hit “Busted” saw a significant comeback with more than 20,000 video creations on the app, demonstrating the enduring appeal and relevance of these timeless tracks in the digital age.
Ronald explained, “On our show, we pull out furniture. We try to put out a whole set and a whole house to do songs like “Busted” and “Contagious”. The public, now on your cell phone, there are so many people doing “Busted” on TikTok. It’s amazing, it’s amazing. It’s one of the important parts of our show every night.