It was a packed house at Curtis Hixon in Tampa (July 24), but the Isley Brothers could not make the most of their opportunity. They were plagued throughout their set with two sound-related problems: the overall mix was very muddy and indistinct, and they were simply not loud enough. Perhaps up front the audience could hear them, but for more than 4,000 of the enthusiastic fans, the vocals of Ronald, Rudolph and Kelly Isley were all but inaudible, and so was much of the guitar pyrotechnics of Ernie Isley, the Hendrix imitator who does a fine job of mixing the funk with the rock.
Halfway through the set, much of the crowd was sitting, almost bored by the performance which lacked the power to reach out and grab the way Earth, Wind and Fire and Graham Central Station do. There is nothing wrong with the Isleys’ show; visually, it is exciting, and the lights and special effects are fine, but in the end it is the music that people came to hear and could not.
Still, the audience was appreciative and enthusiastic, cheering on the rave-up numbers which featured Ernie wailing and wah-wahing, and screaming on the ballads, ladies’ choices like “Footsteps in the Dark,” “Voyage to Atlantis” (which got the most screams), and “For the Love of You.” Unfortunately, the background harmonies of Rudolph and Kelly were virtually non-existent, a fact which detracted from the beauty of the ballads.
As a single focus, Ernie Isley stands out; the band would not be where they are today without him. Hopefully some day he will embark on a solo career that should catapult him to stardom. He is right up there with the big boys, and as a Hendrix imitator he is a match for Robin Trower and Franke Marino, all of whom are paying homage to the acknowledged master. They turned him loose early in the performance, but only on the mellow “Voyage to Atlantis” and the barn-burner “That Lady” could he really be heard to best effect. He also stood out on the finale, “Livin’ the Life” and “Go for Your Guns,” which brought a deserving audience to its feet for the last time.
The show opened with the disco drumming of Hamilton Bohannon, a slick-looking character who made his entrance on a “flying” mattress. Apparently, Bohannon never heard the remark “You can fool all of the people some of the time, et cetera,” because, although the music paused a couple of times, everybody knew that the band was still playing the same song, even though it had different lyrics. To be fair, the music of Bohannon belongs in a nightclub, where the band’s superslick stage show is in direct contact with the crowd. The highlight of their performance was a guitar jamboree between the two guitarists, doing their interpretations of B.B. King, Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed.
[This review was originally entitled The Isleys Went for Their Guns, But… and was published in Music Media magazine, August 1977, Volume 2, Number 4. By this time I was a co-editor of the magazine.]
For some reason, when I wrote the review, I did not talk about the second act on the bill (or it got cut during editing). While I enjoyed Bohannon, Sylvester was hot! He performed his hits, including “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” joined by his back-up singers, Two Tons of Fun. Now THERE was truth in advertising!
At the end of the show, as people were preparing to leaving, a representative for the Isleys came on stage and offered this proposal:
“Are there any fine ladies who want to come party with the Isley Brothers? Now you’ve got to be a BRICK HOUSE!”