” Soul” is a genre of music that has its roots in African-American gospel music and rhythm and blues. It originated in the African American communities from across the United States during the late 1950s. The phrase “blue-eyed soul” was a term coined a few years later to describe those white artists who chose to emulate the distinctive “soul” sound. Here’s a brief overview of five really great soul “Brothers” groups that originated between the 1950s and 1980s:
The Doobie Brothers
The American rock band, The Doobie Brothers, was formed in San Jose, California in 1970. More than five decades and 40 million record sales later, they are still performing. Original band member Tom Johnston is also back as lead vocalist. Starting out as a mainstream rock band, their music has diverged significantly through the years, with influences from blue-eyed soul, R&B, folk, and country. However, one constant of the band has been their strong harmonies.
Lead vocalist Tom Johnston quit the group in 1975, following a number of health problems. He was replaced by Michael McDonald, who was largely influential in changing the band’s sound. The band broke up in 1982, but it reformed five years later in 1987. This time Johnston was back at the helm as the group’s lead singer and songwriter. However, it was in the ’70’s that the band enjoyed their greatest success, when they released such iconic songs as “Listen to the Music” (1972), “Long Train Runnin'” (1973), and “What a Fool Believes” (1979).
The Blues Brothers
“The Blues Brothers” are a fictional pair of siblings that feature in the 1980 American musical comedy film of the same name. The brothers, Jake and Elwood Blues are played in the film by John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. The characters were developed from a recurring musical comedy sketch, featuring Belushi and Ackroyd as “The Blues Brothers” on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. As well as performances by the Blues Brothers themselves, the surreal ‘road trip’ movie also features real-life soul and R&B icons, such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, and John Lee Hooker.
The film, directed by John Landis and released in June 1980, was a box office and critical success. The Blues Brothers Band toured and released an album in 1980 (The Blues Brothers: Original Soundtrack Recording) to promote the film, which sold over 1 million copies. The popularity of ‘The Blues Brothers’ has meant the film has now achieved cult status, and thus, similarly, have Jake and Elwood, themselves. Unfortunately, the highly talented comedian, singer, and musician, John Belushi, died in 1982, aged just 33. His death followed a fatal drug overdose, after a long battle with addiction. Dan Ackroyd, born 1952, is still very much active in the entertainment industry.
The Righteous Brothers
The Righteous Brothers consisted of the blue-eyed soulsters Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. They both started out in 1961 as two members of a newly formed quintet The Paramours. However, in 1962, the duo left the group to go their own way. The pair adopted their stage name from a comment made by a devotee of the Paramours. The fan had been heard to shout out after one concert, “That was righteous, brothers!”.
With their emotive and distinctive vocals, the pair enjoyed moderate success with their first two albums. However, in 1964, after they released the single “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”, they topped both the UK and USA charts. They followed up the following year with several other big hit singles, including “Just Once in My Life” and “Unchained Melody”. The pair continued to record together up until 1968, after which Bill Medley decided to pursue a solo career.
However, Medley and Hatfield continued to reunite regularly as The Righteous Brothers. That ended in 2003 when Bobby Hatfield, aged 63, suffered a fatal heart attack just before he was due to appear stage. In 2016, Medley re-formed The Righteous Brothers with Bucky Heard, with whom he continues to perform to date.
The Isley Brothers
The American soul and R&B vocalist trio The Isley Brothers, began recording in the mid-1950s and continued to have hit records in the ’60s and ’70s. In 1959, the singing brothers Kelly (aka O’Kelly), Rudolph, and Ronald Isley, gained recognition after their composition “Shout” became a chart success. Their big hits of the 1960s notably included “Twist and Shout” (1961), the Motown single “This Old Heart of Mine ” (1966), and the Grammy Award-winning hit “It’s Your Thing” (1969).
In 1973, younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, as well as brother-in-law Chris Jasper joined the group. The six-member musical outfit enjoyed more chart success for a decade before deciding to split in 1983. The original Isley Brothers trio of Kelly, Rudy, and Ronnie reformed in 1985 and signed with Warner Brothers Records. However, tragedy struck just a year later when Kelly died of an heart attack. The Isley Brothers carried on as a duo making records until 1990, whereupon Rudy retired. Ronnie continued as a solo artist, eventually reforming the Brothers act in 1992 with Ernie and Marvin. Ronnie and Ernie still perform as The Isley Brothers to date (May 2023)
The Walker Brothers
The Walker Brothers were an American pop/blue-eyed soul group that formed in Los Angeles in 1964. The group members John Maus, Noel Scott Engel, and Gary Leeds all adopted the name ‘Walker’, which saw them become the Walker Brothers. Some saw this as a show biz ploy to gain popularity by emulating the likes of the Righteous Brothers. After little success in the USA, the trio moved to Britain in 1965. In Britain, they found immediate success by taking a cover of “Make It Easy on Yourself” (1965) to No. 1 in the UK charts. They followed up with the UK No. 3 hit “My Ship is Coming In” (1965) and another No. 1 “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” (1966). Their first three albums also released between 1965 and 1966, all reached the top 10 of the UK charts.
In 1968, the threesome split up naming growing artistic differences as the cause. All three then pursued solo projects to enjoy some degree of success. The trio then reunited in the mid-1970s and had a final top-10 UK hit with “No Regrets” (1975). They released their sixth and final album Nite Flights in 1978. Though critically acclaimed, the album was a commercial flop. By the end of 1978, the group had split up for good.
John Walker remained active in the music business and toured as a solo artist until his death in 2011. Scott Walker also resumed his solo music career and gained recognition as an experimental artist. He died in 2019. Gary Walker went on to become successful UK businessman, who is also still active in the music industry.
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