Marvin Isley, the bassist during the Isley Brothers’ legendary Seventies funk era, died yesterday in Chicago of as-yet-undisclosed causes. He was 56. Isley was responsible for the thick grooves on soulful hits like “(Who’s) That Lady” and “Fight the Power.” “Another precious stone has been removed from our legendary musical building block,” his friend Bootsy Collins tells Rolling Stone. “He’s part of the American soul foundation.”
Before Marvin joined the band in 1973, the Isley Brothers were hard-touring soul legends. Their 1959 rave-up “Shout” first propelled them on to AM radio, and their next big hit, 1962’s “Twist and Shout” sold three million copies and was famously covered by the Beatles.
Marvin joined the Cincinnati, Ohio act in the early Seventies with brother Ernie and brother-in-law Chris Jasper. The younger Isleys attended high school and college at Long Island’s C.W. Post during the week and gigged on weekends. Their youthful vigor shifted the band’s sound from horn-fueled soul to a guitar-driven rock best demonstrated on 1973’s 3+3. The disc, recorded when Marvin Isley was just 20, is a mix of Isley originals and radio-friendly covers.
“(Who’s) That Lady” propelled the Isley’s funk renaissance, with Ernie Isley’s fuzzy Hendrix licks and Marvin’s low-down groove. “That’s a classic bass line,” says Collins. “He would lay that groove — and he would lay it. You could tell he was very passionate about what he was playing.” 3+3 kicked off the band’s run of a staggering 10 platinum and gold records that decade. Marvin also co-wrote the band’s 1975 political classic “Fight the Power.”
In 1984, Marvin left the group along with Ernie and Chris to form Isley-Jasper-Isley, scoring a hit the following year with the smooth jam “Caravan of Love.” He rejoined the Isley Brothers in 1991, but was forced to quit in 1997, suffering from diabetes. The disease later tragically forced him to undergo a double leg amputation. Collins remembers Isley as a “smooth, humble guy — but when he had something to say on the bass, he would say it.”
The Isley Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. “I think now sadly but people will go back and realize, ‘Wow, he was really laying stuff down that we never really recognized before.’ It’s sad that things happen in that way,” Collins says. “I always said, ‘You never missed a kiss until the lips are gone.’ That’s pretty much what happened here. A classic player, a classic act.”