Ron Isley: Who's That Lady

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The Isley Brothers' That Lady was released 40 years ago this summer. It has always been a favoritee of mine—with its wailing hard rock guitar and Ron Isley's falsetto. It packs a funky, psychedelic punch. So when I spent time with Ron at his home in St. Louis a few weeks ago for my Wall Street Journal profile, I had an opportunity to talk to him about it:

Marc Myers: Most people aren't aware that the Isley Brothers' That Lady in '73 was actually a cover of your own song recorded first in 1964.

Ron Isley: Right. Back then it was called Who's That Lady. We recorded it for United Artists but it didn't go anywhere. It should have been a hit.

MM: What was the song's inspiration?

RI: The Impressions' Gypsy Woman from '61. We were crazy about that Curtis Mayfield song. I was crazy about it. I loved the sound of it—from the Latin feel to the seductive vocal. We used an organ and got in the same groove. It was sensual and seductive.

MM: By the end of 1964, you and your brothers had formed T-Neck Records. Why bother re-doing Who's That Lady in '73?

RI: Times had changed and we thought we could give it a fresh spin, bring it up to date.

MM: So what did you do?

RI: The remake had a more Latin-funk thing going on and the ripping guitar solo was inspired by Jimi Hendrix, who had played with us in '64. My brother Ernie played that fuzz guitar in '73. That song went to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the R&B chart. [pause] That's what happens when you do it yourself [laughs].

JazzWax clips: Here's the Impressions' Gypsy Woman, the Isley Brothers' Who's That Lady from 1964 and the group's That Lady in 1973...

Gypsy Woman (1961)...

Who's That Lady (1964)...

That Lady (1973)...

JazzWax tracks: Ron Isley's new album, This Song Is For You, can be found here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.

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