The Isley Brothers, the legendary soul and R&B group, are headed to the Chicago area to headline their first show since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and after their highly-publicized Verzuz battle with Earth, Wind & Fire.
The “Sundress and Sandals Concert,” which is scheduled for Friday at Hazel Crest’s Cross Pointe Park (gates open at 5 p.m.), is the brainchild of PR Popups. The concert also features Kindred the Family Soul, Chantay Savage, and Carl Thomas of the recently formed R&B supergroup The Chi.
“I know it’s gonna be nice to be in front of a live audience, and to sort of pick back up where everything suddenly stopped,” said guitarist Ernie Isley. “We were supposed to have an international tour in 2020 and we didn’t go anywhere. Carlos Santana didn’t go anywhere. Earth, Wind & Fire didn’t go anywhere. The Rolling Stones didn’t go anywhere — nobody went anywhere.
“There was a complete shutdown of all live shows, and when you experience something like that for the first time in your life it’s an adjustment. It’s great to sort of get back out again.”
In the aftermath of the Verzuz battle, not only did the Isleys garner yet another generation of fans to appreciate the longevity of their music, a story also surfaced regarding the Isley family connection with a legendary musician: Jimi Hendrix.
Isley says Hendrix lived with his family in New Jersey for two years (1963-1965). During Hendrix’s stay there, Isley says the enigmatic singer-guitarist received his first Fender Stratocaster guitar and had his first professional recording session.
“We’ve been fortunate to have our catalog, and the fact that folks appreciate our music,” said Isley, who says he idolized Hendrix. “We’ve been involved with the music beyond our catalog, and a lot of rappers in the MTV generation were leaning on Isley Brothers songs for their hits. Certainly, they embraced us and we embraced them.
“I was 11 years old at the time that I met [Hendrix]. I never heard anybody playing guitar like that. He played it all the time, and I would imagine, if he had been around when ‘That Lady’ came out, he probably would have given me something between a bear hug and a tackle saying: ‘How did I learn how to do that [guitar riff]?’ I’d say: ‘Man, when you were in the dining room playing the guitar and I had a social studies book, I wasn’t doing social studies.” I was listening and observing him. … You never know who you’re rubbing elbows with.”
As Isley was influenced by Hendrix, Kindred found inspiration in the Isley Brothers’ music. In fact, as the duo’s Fatin Dantzler and his wife Aja Graydon started out in their careers, they often sang a rendition of “Voyage to Atlantis,” one of the Isleys’ well-known songs.
“The Isley Brothers play a significant role in our careers,” said Dantzler. “When we first got started as a group before we really even had signified what we were, that song — and the refrain of it — is ‘I’ll always come back to you.’ That’s the love affair we have with Chicago, and that style of love affair we’ll always come back to.”
And Graydon echoes her partner and husband’s sentiments, saying how “exciting” the time is for the two groups to perform together again.
“We’re getting an opportunity to be back out there, but also with something new to offer our fans,” said Graydon, whose Kindred album “Auntie & Unc” was released earlier this year. “I think everybody was there for the Isley Brothers’ Verzuz battle with Earth, Wind & Fire, so for us our first time coming back into Chicago in a major way to be with the Isley Brothers, an iconic and legendary group — that’s huge.”
Isley recalls a Chicago concert that broke out in chaos.
“We had a show in Chicago in 1975 when [the Isleys’ single] ‘Fight the Power’ was out, and it was a sellout show — a great show,” said Isley, who couldn’t recall the venue. “And there was so much pandemonium that we had to literally leave the building in a police wagon.”