Mates’ Crates: Isley Brothers – Keep On Doin’

Mates’ Crates, a series headed up by our friend Andrei Sandu, dives into the tales behind records and digs deeper into our connections to music. These are not reviews, they’re stories. Up next, The Isley Brothers’ funk whirlwind Keep On Doin’.

Label: Buddah | Year: 1970 | Discogs: Isley Brothers – Keep On Doin’

A couple of weeks ago, I went along to the launch of Classic Album Sundays’ fantastic new book, Classic Albums by Women. Hosted at BBE Records in London Fields, we were treated to a Q&A with CAS founder Colleen Murphy and listened through Nina Simone’s It Is Finished – Jamie XX and Raj Chaudhuri’s pick for the book. Nina’s album – and its story – is incredible, though you’ll have to wait a while for that story.

Arriving early, I had some time to wander the shelves so went straight for the bargain bucket. After just a couple of minutes digging, I stumbled upon a (slightly beat up) original pressing of The Isley Brothers’ Keep On Doin‘, for less than it had cost me to get to London Fields in the fist place.

The Isley Brothers – initially Vernon, Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph – began performing together in Cincinnati in 1954, but disbanded when Vernon was killed in a car accident aged thirteen. Eventually convinced to regroup with Ronnie taking over lead vocals, they moved to New York in 1957 and recorded their first composition, Shout, in 1959.

They went on to have one of the longest, most influential and most diverse careers in popular music, spanning doo-wop, gospel, funk, soul, disco and more. Younger brothers Ernie and Marvin joined in 1973 alongside brother-in-law Chris Jasper, for the band’s most successful period until the mid 80’s.

Keep On Doin‘ was recorded in 1969, just after the (then) trio scored a smash hit with It’s Your Thing. At the time, the Brothers were recording by day, touring by night, and then recording again after shows. In that year alone, they produced three studio albums and a live album. Keep On Doin‘s guitar licks, big brass and rolling drum fills are quintessential, dictionary-definition funk. Perhaps owing to its repetitiveness, however, the single charted poorly when released in 1970, only peaking at measly 75.

Later that year, James Brown’s backing band, the J.B.’s (which included Fred Wesley and Bootsy Collins), recorded an instrumental of Keep On Doin’, adding their own arrangement and retitling it The Grunt to avoid a lawsuit. James Brown credited himself and the J.B.’s with composition (as was the case with his 1974 release My Thang, which was heavily inspired by The Isleys’ It’s Your Thing)

Like Keep On Doin’ The Grunt was given limited attention upon release. Decades later, however, it was picked up and sampled by several hip-hop producers. By several, I mean that clips from The Grunt feature on records by Wu-Tang ClanPublic EnemyPete RockThe Pharcycle, Erykah Badu to name but a few of the 216 times it was sampled. On an only tangentially related note, Kendrick Lamar’s i  which samples The Isley Brothers’ Who’s That Lady is one of my favourite hip-hop tracks of recent years.

To leave you with one of those white-text-on-a-black-screen facts you find just before the credits of every film which claims to be based on a true story, Ronnie and Ernie Isley are still performing today, sixty five years since Ronnie first started playing.