Happy 30th: Isley Brothers, SMOOTH SAILIN’

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Happy 30th: Isley Brothers, SMOOTH SAILIN’

30 years ago today, The Isley Brothers released their 24th album, but it was one tinged with a certain degree of sadness, as it was the first LP released by Ronald and Rudolph Isley after the death of their older brother, Kelly Isley.

Sadly, Kelly’s death wasn’t the first time the Isley siblings had lost one of their brothers: their youngest brother, Vernon, had died in a road accident while the Isleys were still performing as a gospel group. In the wake of Vernon’s death, they shifted their focus to doo-wop, and the rest is musical history.

After Kelly – who had already been suffering from cancer – died from a heart attack at age 48 in March 1986, his brothers soldiered on, as Kelly no doubt would have wanted them to do, and eventually returned to the studio to work on a new album.

"People wondered whether we'd go on after [Kelly’s death], especially when we didn't go into the studio right away," Ronald Isley recalled in a 1987 interview with the L.A. Times. "But we couldn't quit. We're not ready yet. Music has been our life--and it still is. Rudolph and I had to go on without Kelly."

In what can easily been perceive as an attempt to fill the void left by Kelly’s absence, Ronald and Rudolph were joined in the studio for SMOOTH SAILIN’ by Angela Winbush, late of the duo Rene & Angela, who co-wrote seven of the eight tracks. Winbush had been invited to participate in the album by Warner Brothers executive Benny Medina, and it worked out well for all parties concerned: Ronald was so appreciative of Winbush’s talent that he soon took her under his wing and served as her manager.

The Isley / Winbush collaboration on SMOOTH SAILIN’ provided The Isley Brothers with a #3 R&B hit with the single “Smooth Sailin’ Tonight,” along with a pair of additional minor hits, “Come My Way” and “I Wish.” Kelly would’ve been proud.