RUDOLPH ISLEY – one of the founding member of one of soul’s most enduring groups – died on Wednesday 11th October. He was aged 84 and the sad news was confirmed by his lawyer who posted : “Rudolph Isley, a founding member of the world-famous Isley Brothers, died peacefully in his sleep on the morning of 11 October 2023. He died at his home, with his devoted wife Elaine by his side. They had been married for 68 years. Rudolph was a deeply religious man who loved Jesus.” Some reports suggest that Rudolph has suffered a heart attack.
Rudolph Isley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1939 and with his brothers O’Kelly, Ronald and Vernon they formed a family group in 1954, but they briefly quit performing in 1955 after Vernon was killed while riding his bicycle. They decided to reform as a trio and, after relocating to New York, they scored their first hit with ‘Shout’. This was followed by their version of ‘Twist And Shout’ which was covered, of course, by the Beatles. (A cover of ‘Shout’ was Lulu’s debut hit).
In the early 60s Jimi Hendrix was a member of their band but he left just before the brothers signed to Motown. Their stay at the Gordy stable was sometimes turbulent (they felt they were considered second stringers) but they produced many classic cuts reversed by the soul and mod communities – songs like ‘This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You’)’ and ‘I Guess I’ll Always Love You’ remain pop/soul classics while their ‘My Love Is Your Love (Forever)’ is still held in high esteem by the rare/Northern soul brigade.
After quitting Motown in 1968, the Isleys formed their own label – T-Neck – and developed a tougher, funkier sound , typified by the label’s debut hit – the perennial ‘It’s Your Thing’. In 1973, the trio expanded with the addition of younger brothers Marvin and Ernie Isley, along with brother-in-law Chris Jasper and the new six piece Isleys went on to enjoy their greatest period of extended success with albums like ‘3+3’ while songs like ‘Summer Breeze’, ‘That Lady’, ‘’Harvest for the World’ and ‘Footsteps in the Dark’ are acknowledged classics.
In 1984, the Isleys became a trio again when Marvin, Ernie and Chris left to form the Isley-Jasper-Isley group. O’Kelly died in 1986 and Rudolph left in 1989 to become a Christian minister. Ron and Ernie continued and still used the Isley Brothers name. As a sextet, the Isley Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
On hearing the news of his brother Rudolph’s death, Ron Isley was quoted as saying, “There are no words to express my feelings and the love I have for my brother. Our family will miss him. But I know he’s in a better place.” Ironic really when you remember that the pair were locked in an on-going legal battle about the use of the name “Isley Brothers” and ensuing royalties. Brotherly love!
RUDOLPH ISLEY RIP