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Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Tue Nov 22, 2011 2:52 am

Listening to the Isley Brothers this weekend and going over their story, it’s always surprised me how long it took them to find themselves. By the time, “It’s Your Thing” went Top Ten in 1969 they had been around for 13 years, mostly without success. Usually, if you’re around that long and you haven’t made the big time in pop music, you’re probably not going to make it. In 1959 they scored with the great gospel rave up “Shout,” a record that helped found the soul genre. That song missed the Top 40 and a lot of its current reputation is based largely in a remake done by a cinematic group in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House In 1962 the Brothers made the Pop Top 20 with a Bert Berns produced rendition of “Twist and Shout.” Two years later though that tune would become irretrievably linked to the Beatles. In the mid-1960s they would sign to Motown and have one big hit- the now standard- “This Old Heart Of Mine” and a few smaller hits. But even Motown was unable to make them a consistent chart presence. By 1969 they had only four R&B Top 40 hits and only two on the pop charts.

That year though the group made a bold move adding three new members- guitarist brother Ernie, brother, bassist and composer Marvin, and keyboardist/brother-in-law Chris Jasper to the original trio of brothers- Ronald, Rudolph and O’Kelley. The brothers also made the move of starting their own record label “T-Neck.” It was a pretty radical reinvention. The original trio had been a vocal group. Now it was largely a self-contained unit. The original trio was steeped in the ‘50s rock and roll, gospel and early soul. They never lost those roots but the new members were more in touch with the current music scene. Ernie, especially, was steeped in the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone. He would become one of the most inventive and exciting guitarists of the 1970s. You can see the difference he brought to the group in their two versions of “That Lady.” The 1960s record is kind of mild bossa nova without a lot of character save Ronnie’s usually fine vocal. The 1970s version is jittery, full of sexual excitement which Ronnie builds and then Ernie finishes off with an extended solo. The jump start the younger members gave the group was really incredible when you think about. Since the group hit with its legendary Three Plus Three album in 1969 they’ve become a minor institution. More than 50 hits have made the R&B Top 40 since then, and nine singles made the Pop Top 40 including three Top Tens “It’s Your Thing” (as much a cultural standard as “Twist and Shout” or “Shout” and more fully identified with the Isleys), “That Lady” and “Fight the Power.” Artistically, their music was for a very long while was some of the most interesting in soul incorporating often incorporating political statements and folk philosophy into the more traditional love man stuff and funk rave ups. They were also one of the few black acts in touch with what was happening in white rock n’ roll of the era, or the counter cultural aspects of that movement, as demonstrated by their inspired remakes of “Summer Breeze” and “Love the One You’re With.”

You really have to hand it to these guys not only for sticking around and persevering but also for having the courage to change. They were presented with a new way and were not afraid to take it.

What other acts have made it to the big time after a long time on the margins? Charlie Rich springs to mind, any others.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Tue Nov 22, 2011 3:08 am

Willie Nelson.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Tue Nov 22, 2011 3:37 am

Would you consider Johnny Otis with the song "Willie and the Hand Jive" which hit the chart in '58.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Tue Nov 22, 2011 5:20 am

Image

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Tue Nov 22, 2011 10:11 am

John Stewart.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Tue Nov 22, 2011 10:42 am

I made a mistake in the opening post. While 3 +3 was the LP that formally introduced the new lineup and the other members had been in the group unofficially since 1969, that LP did not come out until 1973. The album that contained "It's Your Thing" (which featured Ernie in his first session playing bass and not yet lead guitar) was It's Our Thing.

Willie Nelson is definitely one. By the time he hit the big time, he was in his early 40s and had been around the industry for nearly two decades. When he became superstar he was almost 50.

Johnny Otis is a little bit iffier I think because he had more than a dozen R&B hits before "Willie and the Hand Jive" and he didn't continue his momentum on the pop charts and only had a few more R&B hits after that. Plus, I always got the impression that he was happier as an impresario than as someone with his name on a performer's credit.

John Stewart is a good one, although he only had that one hit. He was in the Kingston Trio in the early 1960s. It was almost 20 years before he had that hit on his own. Shows it's good to stick around.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Tue Nov 22, 2011 11:42 am

Kenny Rogers and Charlie Daniels are two others.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:20 am

Conway Twitty comes to mind.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:31 am

after 80 years in the entertainment business George Burns hit his stride with this little ditty
phpBB [video]

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Thu Nov 24, 2011 9:02 am

Commercially, it took Charlie Rich a long time to break through. First records, on Phillips International, were, what, late 50's? "Lonely Weekends" hit in 1960, and "Mohair Sam" in '65, but he wasn't a consistent chart presence until he hooked up with Billy Sherrill at Epic, with records like "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl". Artistically, though, many Rich fans prefer his earlier recordings.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Thu Nov 24, 2011 12:32 pm

Can anyone think of female artists ?

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:29 am

Robt wrote:Can anyone think of female artists ?


Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and Patty Loveless.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:32 am

midnightx wrote:Image


Never heard of him and he has a "Greatest Hits" album!

By 1957 Hunk Houghton was already pretty old, I guess along with the Big Bopper it took some time for all these young folk to 'catch on'....

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:43 am

Julian Grant wrote:
midnightx wrote:Image


Never heard of him and he has a "Greatest Hits" album!

By 1957 Hunk Houghton was already pretty old, I guess along with the Big Bopper it took some time for all these young folk to 'catch on'....

lol..it's Garth Brooks under another name..I'm going to assume the poster was only kidding..

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Wed Nov 30, 2011 4:39 pm

Conway Twitty is definitely one. Although he would never again achieve the pop success that he did on those early Elvis imitation type songs, he didn't become the legend of country music until a decade a later and instead of Elvis imitations, these were his own style.

Bonnie Raitt's another one. She had some moments around the fringes but for a long time she was only somebody people with a diehard interest in pop music knew. In her late 40s she became a massive mainstream celebrity.

Kenny Rogers I guess would qualify as well as he didn't reach super stardom until more than a decade into his career, although he'd found his formula about a decade before that and had fairly consistent success. But the Kenny Rogers everyone knows is based in those late 1970s and 1980s recordings.

Rich is a good one, lonely summer, as I touched on in the opening. He was kind of around the edges but was a real mainstream and country super star in the early 1970s. You're right that many people feel his Smash and Phillips recordings are his best, but many fans would argue that his Epic period up until and and including the crossover Behind Closed Doors rivaled anything he ever did.

Another act that took a long time to find itself was the Four Tops who were playing supper clubs around the Motor City for a decade by the time they hit with "Baby I Need Your Loving" in 1964. They weren't that old at the time- late 20s/early 30s- but they had been at it for a long while. Maybe it was that time they spent wandering before Motown that gave them kind of a consistent commercial durability rivaled by few acts. They was never a really long time when they were not around the mainstream. After that great hey day with Motown, they had a nice run on ABC in the early to mid-1970s. When that ran out they had great comeback with "When She Was My Girl" on a Casablanca in 1981. (One of their flops on that label "I Believe in You and Me" has become a cult classic over the years. Remade by Whitney Houston, fans feel it's one of their best.) Then in 1988 they were back yet again with the theme from the 1988 Olympics "Indestructible."

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Thu Dec 01, 2011 9:33 am

likethebike wrote:Conway Twitty is definitely one. Although he would never again achieve the pop success that he did on those early Elvis imitation type songs, he didn't become the legend of country music until a decade a later and instead of Elvis imitations, these were his own style.

Bonnie Raitt's another one. She had some moments around the fringes but for a long time she was only somebody people with a diehard interest in pop music knew. In her late 40s she became a massive mainstream celebrity.

Kenny Rogers I guess would qualify as well as he didn't reach super stardom until more than a decade into his career, although he'd found his formula about a decade before that and had fairly consistent success. But the Kenny Rogers everyone knows is based in those late 1970s and 1980s recordings.

Rich is a good one, lonely summer, as I touched on in the opening. He was kind of around the edges but was a real mainstream and country super star in the early 1970s. You're right that many people feel his Smash and Phillips recordings are his best, but many fans would argue that his Epic period up until and and including the crossover Behind Closed Doors rivaled anything he ever did.

Another act that took a long time to find itself was the Four Tops who were playing supper clubs around the Motor City for a decade by the time they hit with "Baby I Need Your Loving" in 1964. They weren't that old at the time- late 20s/early 30s- but they had been at it for a long while. Maybe it was that time they spent wandering before Motown that gave them kind of a consistent commercial durability rivaled by few acts. They was never a really long time when they were not around the mainstream. After that great hey day with Motown, they had a nice run on ABC in the early to mid-1970s. When that ran out they had great comeback with "When She Was My Girl" on a Casablanca in 1981. (One of their flops on that label "I Believe in You and Me" has become a cult classic over the years. Remade by Whitney Houston, fans feel it's one of their best.) Then in 1988 they were back yet again with the theme from the 1988 Olympics "Indestructible."

I love the Four Tops, my favorite Motown group. I consider myself lucky to have seen them back in 1996 when all four originals were still together. Great harmonies, and of course the incredible singing of Levi Stubbs. Of course, it didn't hurt that they had the Funk Brothers backing them up on most of their hits.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Fri Dec 02, 2011 1:54 am

likethebike wrote:Kenny Rogers I guess would qualify as well as he didn't reach super stardom until more than a decade into his career, although he'd found his formula about a decade before that and had fairly consistent success. But the Kenny Rogers everyone knows is based in those late 1970s and 1980s recordings.


Kenny Rogers started recording in 1955 and he had put out a handful of singles that bombed before joining the First Edition.

Re: Artists who took a long time to hit their stride

Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:56 am

Kris Kristofferson was in his early 30s, but that's not really "a long time." As most know, he worked as a janitor at Columbia studios, trying to get attention. By the late sixties, he had his own hits and wrote hits for others. He was involved with Janis Joplin, as I understand, both musically and otherwise. It wasn't really a long wait, but he wasn't an adolescent. When Elvis was beginning his "new career" in '68, Kris was starting his career, period. They were both still young (Kris was born in '36, Elvis in '35), but Elvis had a local hit as a teenager and was the biggest star in history at 21. Dylan started recording at 20, after hitting it in New York folk clubs at 19. By the time he was 21, he had written and performed an anthem: Blowin' . . . Kris took a bit longer. Dunno if that really counts, as he was still young at the time.

Joplin, too, hit it big post-25. Which is not exactly "waiting" except in rock'n'roll terms.

rjm