Deep Dive: Ernie Isley, HIGH WIRE
As part of Rhino’s celebration of Black History Month, we’re taking a few minutes today to look back at an underrated album from our catalog, and we’ve selected a solo LP from a man who’s better known for the work he did with his brothers Ronald, Rudolph, O’Kelly, and Marvin.
There’s probably not much suspense here, what with the name “Isley” front and center in the title of this piece, but just for those who can’t put 3 + 3 together, Ernie was a member of The Isley Brothers. If you don’t know the history of the group, though, you should know that he wasn’t one of the founding brothers, but he started contributing to their albums with 1969’s IT’S YOUR THING, even though those who only focused on the Isley Brothers’ image would never have known it. It wasn’t until 1973 that Ronnie. Rudy, and O’Kelly officially brought Ernie and Marvin into the fold in terms of marketing the group, but in doing so, they infused the already-successful group with new energy for a new Isley Brothers era.
Unfortunately, that era only lasted for about a decade, at which point Ernie, Marvin, and their brother-in-law Chris Jasper decided to hang out their own musical shingle, calling themselves – what else? – Isley-Jasper-Isley. The trio stuck together for three albums – BROADWAY’S CLOSER TO SUNSET BLVD. (1984), CARAVAN OF LOVE (1985), and DIFFERENT DRUMMER (1987) – before calling it quits in 1988.
It was at this point that Ernie decided to take a whack at a solo career, one which ultimately consisted of but a single full-length album: 1990’s HIGH WIRE. It’s an entertaining and musically interesting LP, but it’s one that must’ve mystified the Elektra marketing team at the time, since it was filled with rock and funk but didn’t really feature material that would readily fit into any radio format of the day. The opening track, “Song For The Muses,” is particularly fantastic, but it was never released as a single. Instead, the label favored the title track first and foremost, after which it pushed “Rising From The Ashes.” The latter song is a great spotlight for Ernie’s guitar skills, but it failed to spark enough interest from radio to result in any significant airplay.
Beyond HIGH WIRE, Ernie also made a contribution to Elektra Records’ 40th anniversary compilation, RUBAIYAT. The premise of the album involved artists from the label’s current roster to cover a song by some other artist from throughout the label’s history, and whatever song you might’ve expected Ernie to tackle, we’re betting that this isn’t it. That said, he still knocks it right the funk out of the park.
As noted, HIGH WIRE was ultimately the first and only solo album delivered by Ernie, who subsequently rejoined The Isley Brothers and continued to play with them through 2006’s BABY MAKIN’ MUSIC (and, yes, you read that correctly), but he subsequently played on Janet Jackson’s 2008 album, DISCIPLINE. Whether we’ll ever see a second solo album from Ernie remains to be seen, but if nothing else, we’ve always got HIGH WIRE.
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