Getting to the heart of that dirty and devilish genre known as funk can be somewhat akin to searching out nude pictures of Martha Stewart on the Internet: The real deal is often more accessible to some than to others (and you can trust that, in either case, it is out there somewhere). And for Teaneck, New Jersey, siblings the Isley Brothers, access to the very soul of funk must have been granted at birth.
The Isleys began scoring hits in the '60s, among them the randy, gleefully chaotic "Shout Part 1 & 2" and "It's Your Thing"; they even employed then-up-and-comer Jimi Hendrix on guitar for some of their mid-'60s sessions. But it was their 1973 release, 3 + 3, that laid out what would become the group's most appealing formula, setting down a clean division between flamboyant groove throw-downs and mellower, sexed-up soul ballads.
3 + 3, which went platinum, was the first of a string of '70s successes that included several other gold and platinum releases, and a myriad of decade-defining hits. During their '70s heyday, Ronald, O'Kelly and Rudolph Isley (normally with able backup support from brothers Marvin and Ernie, and cousin Chris Jasper) consolidated rock, gospel and R&B into a steamy malt that became the prototype for the future of black funk -- or, at the very least, influenced a slew of imitators (they were wailing on guitars when Living Colour and Fishbone were slam dancing in their cribs). Airtight ballads such as "Footsteps in the Dark," "Voyage to Atlantis" and "For the Love of You" moved beyond mere confessions of lust and into the realm of pure poetry. And for those who long for the looser Isleys in all their party-down glory, there are the new reissues from the Sony/Legacy label, which cover the group's sweatier late-'60s/early-'70s period. Taken as a whole, 1969's The Brothers: Isley and Get into Something, 1971's Givin' It Back and 1972's Brother, Brother, Brother seem like logical steps in a smooth metamorphosis into a versatile group for all moods.
During more than 40 years of performing, the Isley Brothers have seen their share of adversity: A breakup in 1984 led to Rudolph joining the ministry, and O'Kelly died of a heart attack in 1986. That leaves Ron as the only lead Isley, though brothers Ernie and Marvin are still there to lend their support in carrying the funk/soul message to audiences everywhere -- all, of course, in the blessed name of Isley.
-- Craig D. Lindsey
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The Isley Brothers perform at 8 p.m. Friday, August 1, at the Arena Theatre, 7324 Southwest Freeway. Tickets are $37 and $43. For info, call 988-1020.
Tony Delafose -- Judging from the scads of rad accordion and rubboard players swarming the streets these days, the zydeco youth movement seems to have worked out a pipeline deal with Enron to funnel talent directly from Louisiana to Houston. Following closely on the heels of Chris Ardoin comes Tony Delafose, son of the late accordion wizard John Delafose. Joining his dad's Eunice Playboys band at age seven, Tony backed his father on bass, drums and rubboard and even managed the band for a time. After John's death, Tony assumed the leadership role and will carry the Eunice Playboys banner into the next millennium. Like brother Geno, whose French Rockin' Boogie band makes occasional stops in Houston, Tony sticks more to the basics than do some of his slicker contemporaries, serving up the meat-and-potatoes Creole material that has sated the masses for generations. This is the first show in Shakespeare Pub's first-Sunday-of-the-month zydeco series; the early-evening gig includes a barbecue dinner with all the trimmings and offers a more intimate setting than the typical cavernous dance halls. At 5 p.m. Sunday, August 3, at Shakespeare Pub, 14129 Memorial Drive. Cover is $5. (281) 497-4625. (Bob Burtman)
John Lydon -- As he spent much of last year mouthing off around the country with the reunited Sex Pistols, the artist formerly known as Rotten effectively made mincemeat of punk's more serious historical implications. He had every right to do so, of course: He was the lead singer of the genre's most infamous institution. More than anything, though, last year's reunion gave Lydon the room he needed to shed the cynical elder statesman persona he'd been riding into the ground with his increasingly inane post-punk project, Public Image Ltd. On the new Psycho's Path, his first legitimate solo release of a 22-year career, Lydon sounds largely revitalized, creatively and otherwise, and the perkier outlook is helped along greatly by remixes from the likes of the Chemical Brothers and Moby. Whether this signals a genuine new beginning for Lydon, however, should be determined on the road, where his interest in new material (or lack thereof) is normally written all over his performances. Either way, expect the unexpected -- or at least a silly outburst or two. Monday, August 4, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17. 629-3700. (Hobart Rowland