The top 10 bands from Ohio look into the history of the musical contributions brought forth by the talent pool that came from the Buckeye State. In what seemed like an unlikely American state to feature a collection of nationally and internationally famous recording stars, some of the best to ever grace the music industry came from here. There are very few fans who haven’t heard of The Isley Brothers at least one point in time or another. Among fans preferring edgier rock music as opposed to R&B, there were big names such as Devo, Nine Inch Nails, and Twenty One Pilots. In addition to bands making their mark on the music charts like the US Billboard 100, there were also talented musicians who became successful solo artists. Names such as Eric Carmen, Dave Grohl, and Chrissie Hynde each stood out as fan favorites that extended beyond the state of Ohio.
Ohio, The State That Rocks
Before jumping into the top musical acts that once upon a time called the state of Ohio their home, let’s not forget this is the state has the infamous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Located in Cleveland, this museum houses a massive collection of some of the biggest and most influential rock musicians of all time. Even within its halls, it proudly displays its collection of rock gods that came from Ohio before making it big as some of the world’s most popular musical acts in the history of the music industry.
On April 20, 1983, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was established after the founder and chairman of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, took it upon himself to showcase the accomplishments of the music industry’s biggest influences for all fans of rock and roll music to see, hear, and enjoy. Three years after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was born, Cleveland became the chosen city to set up a permanent museum completely dedicated to the history makers of rock music. I.M. Pei was the assigned architect to construct a building that would see its groundbreaking opening ceremony take place on June 7, 1993. Present at this momentous occasion were Chuck Berry, Ruth Brown, the Coasters, Carl Gardner, Billy Joel, Sam Moore, Sam Phillips, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, Sam and Dave, and Pete Townshend.
The dedication ceremony for the museum took place on September 1, 1995, as the ribbon was cut by an ensemble group that featured Little Richard and Yoko Ono. The next night featured an all-star concert performed at Cleveland Stadium that had some of the biggest names in the business at the time perform. Inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame include a number of Ohio-based stars who’ve made names for themselves as among the biggest influences of rock and roll the music industry has ever known.
Top 10 Bands from Ohio
#10 -Twenty One Pilots
Founded in Columbus in 2009, Twenty One Pilots had its starting lineup led by lead vocalist Tyler Joseph along with Chris Salih and Nick Thomas. Together the group released its self-titled debut album before Salih and Thomas left in 2011. They were replaced by a drummer named Josh Dun and it would be as a duo act Twenty One Pilots recorded and released 2011’s Regional at Best. Both albums were independent releases before Joseph and Dun signed up with Fueled by Ramen in 2012. It would be through this recording label Twenty One Pilots had Vessel made its debut as an album in 2013.
This album made history by having every single one of the tracks on it earn at least one gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. This also earned Twenty One Pilots a spot in the music industry’s history books to have every song on two albums earn either gold or platinum certification awards. As impressive as this was, Twenty One Pilots didn’t achieve breakthrough success until the 2015 release of its fourth album, Blurryface. This was actually the first album that had every single song on it achieve at least gold certification status with the RIAA. In fact, all five singles that were released from Blurryface ranged from becoming certified platinum to certified diamond.
What made Twenty One Pilots stand out was becoming the first alternative rock artist in history to have two top-five singles released from different albums sit in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at the same time. “Heathens” from the soundtrack belonging to 2016’s Suicide Squad: The Album and “Stressed Out” from Blurryface both tied for number two on the US Billboard Hot 100. These two songs also put Twenty One Pilots in the history books as the third rockers to have three top-five singles sit in the US Billboard Hot 100 at the same time. Sharing the spotlight was “Ride,” which sat at number five, while “Heathens” sat at number four, and “Stressed Out” sat at number two. The other two artists who earned this achievement before Twenty One Pilots were the Beatles and Elvis Presley.
What fueled Twenty One Pilotswhen it came to performing music was stressing the importance of enjoying life by sticking to beliefs that gave listeners a positive outcome. The name Twenty One Pilots came to Joseph after reading the 1947 play, All My Sons. The main protagonist of the story was a war contractor named Joe Keller who made warplanes out of various airplane parts. The play itself ended in tragedy as the hero character committed suicide but this was something Joseph took as an important message when it came to naming the band and heading down a musical direction that launched it into superstardom.
As musical as Twenty One Pilots have been they’ve also been equally theatrical whenever it came to music videos and stage performances. As far as the rock duo was concerned, every decision made comes with a series of highs and lows that shape a person’s outlook on life. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, it’s about focusing on the positives and flying with that. It’s been a formula that’s worked for Twenty One Pilots since 2009 and it still works today.
#9 – Devo
Out of Akron, Ohio was a new wave band that had its best lineup feature Bob and Gerald Casales, Bob and Mark Mothersbaughs, and Alan Myers. The song that put Devo on the international music map was 1980’s “Whip It” which became a number fourteen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. Devo’s niche as an artsy punk band with new-wave roots often dabbled into humor, science fiction, and social issues whenever it came to its brand of musical content. As a name, “Devo” was based on a humorous take on the devolving direction society opted to take instead of embracing evolution.
Part of the critical reasoning behind the name came about after the Kent State University massacre that took place on May 4, 1970. Four students were killed in an altercation that went from a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War to a violent conflict with the policing authority on the scene. The founding of Devo came about in 1973 and got its start from the illustration of “Jocko Homo Heavenbound,” a winged devil created by Mark Mothersbaugh that was labeled “D-EVOLUTION.” The 1977 song, “Jocko Homo” was inspired by the design of Mothersbaugh’s old pamphlet. Even prior to meeting with Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale was a Kent State University student who created a collection of satirical art pieces that reflected what was viewed as the devolving of American society.
As far as the press was concerned, Devo was regarded as a “joke band” as the lineup usually performed as theatrical characters. It was not a well-favored band going into the start of its career. This was evident when promoters unplugged Devo’s equipment while they attempted to perform at a concert in 1975. In 1976, the musical talent and theatrics of Devo in The Truth About De-Evolution earned the band’s director, Chuck Statler a prize at the Ann Arbor Festival. This event caught the attention of David Bowie and he played an engineering role to secure Devo a recording with Warner Music Group. In 1977, Neil Young approached Devo and asked the band to work with him filming Human Highway.
This was released in 1982, featuring Devo’s band members geared up as nuclear garbagemen. By the time Young’s movie aired, Devo was already popular after the recording and release of 1980’s Freedom of Choice. “Whip It” was the hit single that came from the album that was mostly dominated by an electronic sound. The only acoustic instrument that stood out was Bob Mothersbaugh’s guitar. Just as theatrical as ever, Devo sported red energy dome hats whenever the band performed in concert as it embarked on its Freedom of Choice tour. In 1981 and 1984, recordings of Devo’s idea of elevator music were distributed to Club Devo. This was the name of the band’s fan club.
#8 – Dave Grohl
Where would the Foo Fighters be without David Grohl? Born on January 14, 1969, in Warren, Ohio, he was the drummer for Nirvana from 1990 until 1994 before founding a rock band as its lead singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter. However, Grohl’s musical roots began when he was a seventeen-year-old drummer for a punk rock band known as Scream. After Scream broke up in 1990, he joined Nirvana and it produced its second studio album, Nevermind in 1991. This earned the group international stardom that ran until the death of Kurt Cobain in April 1994 which resulted in the decision to have it officially disbanded. When Grohl formed Foo Fighters that same year, this was done as a one-man project and he released Foo Fighters as his debut album. When he went on tour to promote it, he assembled a full band that has since worked with him to record and release a total of eleven studio albums.
In addition to his claim to fame with Nirvana and Foo Fighters, Grohl also was the drummer and co-founder of the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Josh Homme and John Paul Jones. He’s also recorded and toured with Queens of the Stone Age, which was Homme’s group. Grohl’s influence as a rock musician has earned him a long list of accolades, nominations, and awards. In 2014, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Nirvana’s lineup.
The same happened again as a member of the Foo Fighters in 2021. Also in 2021, Grohl and the Foo Fighters became the first recipients of a brand new Global Icon award that was presented at the MTV Video Music Awards. Grohl has come a long way since his days with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Already a songwriter at that time, he couldn’t help but become mesmerized by Cobain. Little did he know in 1990 that it would be he who served as such an iconic inspiration to a new breed of upcoming musicians who’ve also looked upon him with great admiration.
#7 – Nine Inch Nails
Not only is Cleveland, Ohio home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it was also the home base of the industrial rock group known as Nine Inch Nails. Founded by Trent Reznor in 1988, made its album debut with 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine. It was released by TVT Records but Reznor encountered issues with the label over how to have it promoted. This led to signing up with Interscope Records and the release of the EP, Broken, in 1992.
Followed by 1994’s The Downward Spiral and 1999’s The Fragile, Nine Inch Nails found itself one of the biggest influencers that would revolutionize alternative rock as the world knew it. After taking a break that wouldn’t see Reznor and Nine Inch Nails return until 2005, With Teeth demonstrated he was just as razor-sharp as a rocker as ever. This was followed by 2007’s Year Zero before he ditched Interscope over a series of issues that threatened the progress of Nine Inch Nails as a recording artist.
In 2008, Reznor independently released two albums, Ghosts I-IV and The Slip. In 2013, Nine Inch Nails made its second comeback with Hesitation Marks. This was followed by a trilogy of EPs, starting with 2016’s Not the Actual Events. Add Violence was released in 2017, then finished off with 2018’s Bad Witch. In 2020, Nine Inch Nails added to its Ghosts musical series with Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts.
The impact Nine Inch Nails had on a global fan base witnessed over twenty million records sold, as well as thirteen Grammy Award nominations. “Wish” earned a Grammy Award in 1993 for Best Metal Performance while “Happiness in Slavery” did the same in 1996. This award-winning single was performed by Nine Inch Nails at Woodstock ’94 and was one of the songs featured on its compilation album. The song’s music video became widely banned for the torturous treatment Bob Flanagan received in it. In 2020, Nine Inch Nails was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral as an album in 1994, this won over the attention of mainstream musicians such as Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses. This iconic rock group began to change its musical style so it was closer to the industrialized approach Reznor presented with his material. As far as already well-established stars in heavy metal and rock and roll were concerned, Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails was pure genius. Not only did he make a profound impression as a musician but also as someone who refused to be buckled down by the music industry’s executives with its idea of what wins fans over and what doesn’t. Nine Inch Nails embraced the power of unbridled artistic creation in the form of some of the best heavy metal and industrial rock music that has ever been produced.
Before Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor played keyboards for a synth-pop band, Exotic Birds, which was managed by John Malm Jr. After the two formed a friendship, Malm became Reznor’s manager while Reznor was working at Cleveland’s Right Track Studios. The two were given free access to the studio between bookings to record demos where Reznor performed all of the musical instruments himself. The only exception was the drums as this was accomplished by electronic programming. Any attempt to find musicians to form a band that could play the style of music he wanted seemed futile at the time so he was on his own for the time being.
Reznor continued to apply this formula for all his recordings as Nine Inch Nails but as his popularity grew, so did the interest of musicians who loved his brand of music. This opened the door for session musicians and touring musicians as part of the Nine Inch Nails lineup. Some of those key members include keyboardist Charlie Clouser, guitarist Danny Lohner, and drummer Chris Vrenna. When asked why he chose Nine Inch Nails as a name, Reznor commented it was easier to abbreviate. Although its acronym is NIN, the spelling was arranged to appear as NIИ. As a logo, the inspiration came to Reznor and graphic designer Gary Talpas after viewing the typography displayed on Remain in Light, a 1980 album that was released by the Talking Heads. Like Reznor, Talpas was from Cleveland.
#6 – Bobby Womack
Born on March 4, 1944, in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood, Bobby Womack began his music career as the lead singer for the Valentinos. He, along with his brothers Cecil and Warren, teamed up as an R&B act in Cleveland while at the same time, he performed as a backing guitarist for Sam Cooke. As fate had it, Cecil Womack married Sam Cooke’s daughter, Linda, and the two became a duo act known as Womack & Womack. As for Bobby Womack, he moved on to enjoy a career as a solo artist.
The man’s musical repertoire includes songs that have influenced the genres of doo-wop, gospel, jazz, R&B, rock, and soul. In addition to gracing the world with his phenomenal singing voice, Bobby Womack was also a well-respected songwriter who originally recorded a collection of tunes that would become big hits for other recording artists such as the Rolling Stones. “It’s All Over Now” became the UK-based rock group’s first number-one hit a feat that was made possible thanks to Bobby Womack’s penmanship. As a singer, some of Womack’s most popular songs featured a series of hits that also included “It’s All Over Now.”
Much of the musical material he sang and wrote was covered by other artists from a variety of different genres. Among the most famous songs from Womack’s collection of hits was “Trust Me,” which was covered by another icon, Janis Joplin.
Womack’s influence as a songwriter was considerably stronger than his influence as a singer, even though it was clear the man had talent. So many of Bobby Womack’s songs were covered by many recording artists all over the world. He was among the most prolific and talented songwriters of all time which earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. Even after his death on June 27, 2014, the legacy of Bobby Womack continues as the recording artists of today continue to be inspired by the songs he wrote and performed throughout a span of over sixty years.
As a singer, one of Bobby Womack’s most endearing hits was “Harry Hippie.” Written by Jim Ford for Bobby, it was a dedication to Harry Womack. What started out as a comedic tribute to his younger brother became tragic after the guitarist was killed in a domestic dispute he had with his girlfriend. The hit that was released in 1972 as a single became a number thirty-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. After Harry’s death in 1974, “Harry Hippie” took on a whole new meaning, both for Bobby Womack and the fans who knew a thing or two about the entire Womack clan.
#5 – Chrissie Hynde
Before putting the Pretenders on the musical map as one of the most popular acts during the second half of the 1970s, Chrissie Hynde was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. While the majority of her high schoolmates were into dances and dates, she was more interested in going to rock concerts. Because of her interest in recording artists such as Brian Jones and Iggy Pop, the boys in her neighborhood didn’t seem nearly as interesting. As soon as she graduated from high school, he headed for Kent State University for three years.
While there, she met Mark Mothersbaugh, an artsy musical student who’d later become part of the iconic Devo lineup that would alter the course of music history through the 1970s and beyond. While at Kent State University, Hynde befriended a student whose boyfriend was among the four victims of the Kent State massacre that took place on May 4, 1970. He was one of the students Neil Young sang about with his legendary hit “Ohio,” a song that served as his outrage against an incident that could have ended with an outcome that was less violent.
As soon as May 1973 hit, Chrissie Hynde relocated to London, England. She used the knowledge she earned as a university student with an art background to land a job with an architectural firm. It was a short-lived experience as she left her position less than a year later after meeting with a rock journalist named Nick Kent. She briefly worked for New Musical Express magazine, then SEX clothing store, before heading for France in an attempt to start her own band, The Frenchies. This met with failure and Hynde returned to Cleveland in 1975 and joined an R&B group known as Jack Rabbit. However, Hynde’s restlessness prompted her to return overseas, first to France then back to London.
The UK was in the midst of an early punk musical movement that had Hynde attend various band auditions before deciding to form the Pretenders in 1978. She was in Hereford, England at the time as she teamed up with Martin Chambers, Pete Farndon, and James Honeyman-Scott. This marked the beginning of Hynde’s success as a recording artist as she and her Pretenders bandmates rose to stardom. Named after “The Great Pretender,” the hit song the Platters performed in 1955, Hynde’s group made its recording debut with “Stop Your Sobbing.” It was a Kinks cover originally written and performed in 1964 by its founder and frontman, Ray Davies.
The Pretenders experienced its first hit with its version of the single after it peaked as high as number thirty-three on the UK Singles Chart in 1979. It was also the same year Hynde sang the lead vocal to “Brass in Pocket.” This became the group’s signature hit that became a number-one hit in the UK in 1980, as well as among the nations of Ireland, South Africa, and Sweden. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number fourteen.
In 2005, Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers, along with Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the Pretenders. “Brass in Pocket” made history as Hynde performed as a confident woman looking to win over the interest of someone who caught her eye. Using a familiar Northern English term to express monetary value, “Brass in Pocket” was Hynde’s way of letting her love interest know she was a woman of value.
Another term used in the song was “Detroit leaning,” which is referenced to how a person drives a car. While it’s not uncommon for rock songs to have a sexual theme, it was rare in 1980 for a woman to boast so much self-confidence in herself. The sultry and suggestive tone of voice Hynde used as she sang this song was one of the main reasons why it became so popular.
#4 – The James Gang
Formed in 1966 in Cleveland, the James Gang was a rock band that was founded by Jim Fox after he left the Outsiders in 1965 to attend college. He did temporarily rejoin the group after its drummer was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War but went back to finish his education. As a fan of the musical styles brought on by the infamous British Invasion, Fox fancied coming up with a band of his own as the Beatles, the Who, and the Yardbirds each served as a source of inspiration for Fox.
He teamed up with fellow schoolmates Phil Giallombardo, Tom Kriss, and Ronnie Silverman to form the James Gang. During this process, the band recruited Greg Grandillo as its lead guitarist through an audition process that went through over twenty potential candidates. However, this was a short-lived stint for Grandillo as he left and was replaced by Dennis Chandler, then by John Michalski.
Until becoming the power trio that made waves as a recording artist, the James Gang underwent a series of auditions and lineup changes before finally settling on what became the star lineup. Jim Fox was still in but was now teamed with Tom Kriss and Joe Walsh. Right before the group was scheduled to open for Cream in Detroit on June 9, 1968, Ronnie Silverman bailed out on his bandmates at the last minute. Despite this, Fox, Kriss, and Walsh decided they needed to go through with their scheduled performance at the city’s Grande Ballroom.
As they performed on stage, these men realized they were better off staying in a three-man band instead of looking for a fourth bandmate. After this, the James Gang brought in Mark Barger to become its manager. By January 1969, the James Gang was signed to an ABC Records subsidiary label, Bluesway Records. Three months later, the group made its debut with Yer’ Album. Bill Szymczyk was the album’s producer as an ABC representative, as well as the music coordinator for the 1971 movie Zachariah. Arrangements were made for the James Gang to appear in the movie as it performed two of its songs, “Country Fever” and “Laguna Salada.”
Before the movie was released, the James Gang experienced additional lineup woes that included Tom Kriss leaving after learning his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was replaced by Dale Peters. In 1970, the James Gang released its second album, James Gang Rides Again. This was the album that released one of the band’s most popular singles, “Funk #49.” This led to a spring 1970 meet-up that had members of the James Gang introduced to the Who and its guitarist Pete Townshend.
This marked the beginning of a longstanding friendship between Townshend and Walsh. Before Walsh left the James Gang in 1971, the James Gang produced two more albums that were released the same year. Thirds came out first, then James Gang Live in Concert. Thirds was the album that featured the group’s biggest hit, “Walk Away.” It seemed to serve as a prelude to what was to come as Walsh embarked on a solo career before joining the Eagles in 1973.
Although the James Gang continued to enjoy success going into the 1970s, the group couldn’t quite achieve the same level of fan appeal as it did while Walsh was in the lineup. It disbanded for the first time in 1977 after Fox was the only band member left. Even he admitted after losing Walsh, that the magic that made the James Gang one of the most vibrant musical acts in the business was gone.
It wouldn’t be until July 1991 that the trio of Fox, Peters, and Walsh reunited as the trio performed at the Nautica Pavilion in Cleveland. This led to a performance at an election rally for President Bill Clinton on November 4, 1996, at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center. “Funk #49” and “Walk Away” became cult classics that not only play in heavy rotation in the state of Ohio but across retro rock radio stations across North America.
#3 – Eric Carmen and the Raspberries
One of the most endearing male vocalists the music industry ever heard belonged to Eric Carmen. Born on August 11, 1949, in Cleveland, he was raised in nearby Lyndhurst, a small city that has since become fully integrated with Cleveland’s urban landscape. Ever since he was a small kid, Carmen was an entertainer at heart. Between doing impressions and learning music, by the time he was fifteen years old, he knew how to play the guitar, the piano, and the violin.
Songwriting was already something he took up as a passion and it was originally the intent to pursue classical music as a career choice. However, the British Invasion featuring the Beatles and the Rolling Stones changed all that while he was still in high school. He began to play with local rock bands as a pianist and singer by the time he was enrolled at John Carroll University.
His first taste with recording music for a label came as a band member with Cyrus Erie. The singles that were recorded failed to get anywhere but its guitarist had friends who played for one of Cleveland’s most popular bands, the Choir. Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley were part of the lineup when the Choir scored a minor hit in 1967 with “It’s Cold Outside.”
After Cyrus Erie and the Choir broke up as bands in 1970, the Raspberries was formed as Eric Carmen, Jim Bonfanti, Wally Bryson, and Dave Smalley teamed up to start their own rock group. At first, the men engaged in power pop as their musical style with Carmen serving as the lead singer. Among the hit songs the Raspberries had before breaking up in 1975, all the band’s hit material had Carmen’s penmanship as a songwriter involved. He either wrote or co-wrote the songs.
The experience he earned with the Raspberries played a key role in his development as a recording artist when he decided to go solo. Before the breakup, the Raspberries made a name for itself with its clean image and matching suits. This won over the attention of teens as it used the influence brought over by the British-based groups that were dominating the music charts across America and the rest of the world. Where the teens loved Eric Carmen and the Raspberries, the mainstream media didn’t care for them so much. However, there was no denying the impact this band made across the nation and around the world.
Before and after its breakup, the Raspberries influenced the music industry as pioneers of power pop. This became a popular musical style that earned a fan following that extended well beyond teenyboppers. Even well-established acts such as the Rolling Stones became fans, most notably Ringo Starr. While the Raspberries were active as a group, Jimmy lenner was the producer responsible for the recording and release of the band’s four studio albums before it officially disbanded.
In 2004, all four of the original members of Eric Carmen and the Raspberries were reunited before embarking on a popular reunion tour in 2005. As a group, the most popular hit it had was “Go All the Way,” a single that was released in 1972 and became a number-five hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and the Canadian Top Singles Chart. It even won over overseas attention as the song peaked as high as number fourteen in Australia. The song came from the group’s debut album, Raspberries while it was signed to Capitol Records. While with Capitol, the Raspberries also recorded and released 1972’s Fresh, 1973’s Side 3, and 1974’s Starting Over.
#2 – The O’Jays
Originally out of Canton, Ohio, The O’Jays had been entertaining the audience as an R&B group since 1958. The original lineup featured Bill Isles, Eddie Levert, Bobby Massey, William Powell, and Walter Lee Williams. The first chart appearance the group made was in 1963 with “Lonely Drifter,” a minor hit that would mark the beginning of an awesome musical journey that would lead it to Gamble & Huff in 1972. While with its Philadelphia International label, the O’Jays found itself becoming one of the most popular acts as leaders of the Philadelphia soul music movement.
This started with 1972’s “Back Stabbers,” which became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 1973, this was followed with another equally popular classic, “Love Train.” In 2004, the O’Jays were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. In 2005, it was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then in 2013, an extra feather was added to the band’s cap as it was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.
Before becoming the international superstars known as The O’Jays, the men were students at Canton McKinley High School and started off as The Mascots. The band’s name was changed to The Triumphs and recorded its first single, “Miracles,” in 1961. It was a modest regional hit that earned the teens its first taste of success before opting to go with another name change in 1963. The O’Jays became a name to pay tribute to Cleveland’s radio disc jockey, Eddie O’Jay. As the O’Jays, the men scored its first national hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 with “Lonely Drifter.”
It was a minor one at best as it peaked at number ninety-three but it was enough to get the band noticed by Gamble & Huff. Also joining the O’Jays was guitarist and songwriter Frank Little, Jr. Known as “Frankie,” he worked with the band’s lead vocalist, Eddie Levert. At first, he joined the O’Jays when it first ventured from Cleveland to Los Angeles but became homesick as he had a love interest back in Ohio he yearned to return to. This was the same Frankie Little whose remains were found in 1982 in Twinsburg, Ohio, but it wasn’t until 2021 forensics was able to identify who the decomposed body belonged to.
As for the O’Jays, its career run as one of the top acts while Philadelphia soul music was at its prime was impressive, to say the least. However, in 1972 the men almost called it quits as Bill Isles and Bobby Massey decided they had enough and were ready to move on. This left Eddie Levert, William Powell, and Walter Williams to continue as a trio without them. It was at this time that “Back Stabbers” was released as a single that would catapult the O’Jays as Philadelphia International’s top recording act. As an album, Back Stabbers produced a string of hits that also included the cult classic “Love Train.” It was enough to keep the remaining members of the O’Jays together.
As a group, it continued to produce a string of hits until one of its original members, William Powell, died of cancer in 1977. He was thirty-five years old. Even after this tragedy, the O’Jays continued to move forward as a popular R&B act. Over the stretch of time, it has undergone a series of lineup changes but continued as a recording artist. However, the best days of its run of big hits were now behind them but the love of music shared by its members was too great. The twenty-ninth and final album the O’Jays produced as a group was 2004’s Imagination. This recording produced the band’s final hit song to date, “Imagination,” which peaked as high as number twenty-five on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 2005.
#1 – The Isley Brothers
Originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, was the infamous Isley Brothers. Before starting off as a trio with Kelly (O’Kelly), Ronald, and Rudolph, the brothers first grew up in the Lincoln Heights suburb before the family relocated to Blue Ash while they were teenagers. As members of a church the Isleys attended, they sang gospel before becoming a quartet when their brother, Vernon, joined the lineup. The musical style they had going into 1954 featured the influence of Billy Ward and His Dominoes, as well as The Dixie Hummingbirds.
After winning a competition while performing on Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, the brothers performed as a touring quartet in different churches across the eastern United States. This came to an end when Vernon was struck and killed while riding his bike in his neighborhood when he was only thirteen years old. The death of their younger brother, who also happened to be their lead singer, was so devastating that Kelly, Ronald, and Rudolph decided they didn’t wish to continue as The Isley Brothers anymore.
Starting in 1957, The Isley Brothers decided to regroup. Now as the lead singer, Ronnie accompanied his two brothers to start recording popular music in New York City. The trio met with Richard Barrett and it was he who lined them up to meet with various record producers in the Big Apple. The first set of recordings took place with producer George Goldner and The Isley Brothers performed “Angels Cried” and “The Cow Jumped Over the Moon,” two songs that became regional hits before The Isley Brothers signed up with RCA Records in 1959.
Before the year was over, “Shout” was recorded and released as The Isley Brothers’ debut single as a group. The mix of doo-wop and gospel-style harmonies got its origin from a club performance The Isley Brothers did while in Washington, D.C. The first version of “Shout” became a number forty-seven hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 but failed to make an impression on any of the R&B charts. However, it became popular enough to become certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after selling over one million copies. After achieving stardom from this classic, The Isley Brothers experienced a hit drought before deciding to leave RCA in 1961.
After signing up with Scepter Records, The Isley Brothers were back on the charts as of 1962, first with “Twist and Shout” a song that peaked as high as number seventeen on the US Billboard Hot 100 and at number two on what is now referred to as the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart. The significance of this achievement came from Bert Berns’s penmanship as a songwriter as he taught Phil Spector how to produce hit music so he could turn his struggling recording label into a success. Combine this with the talent of The Isley Brothers and the fate of Sceptor Records as one of the top producers of hit music seemed to be set.
However, The Isley Brothers still struggled with recordings as a group. Together, they moved to New Jersey and formed T-Neck Records in 1964. It would be at this time a young lead guitarist named Jimi Hendrix played with the brothers before he moved on to become one of the most iconic electric guitarists of all time. While with The Isley Brothers, Hendrix performed in the studio to record “Testify.” Unfortunately, neither this song nor “Move On Over and Let Me Dance” failed to make a chart impression, despite the fact it was distributed by Atlantic Records.
Once Hendrix left, The Isley Brothers signed up with Motown Records in 1965. It would be with this label the boys from Cincinnati would realize the height of their success but it was not enough to put them back on top as major hitmakers. By 1968, The Isley Brothers decided to move on and start recording again under their own label, T-Neck. At the same time, the brothers teamed up with Buddah Records with a distribution deal that brought “It’s Your Thing” out as a single in 1969.
Now with Ernie Isley in the lineup, playing bass, it was the first time The Isley Brothers experienced a major hit in nearly seven years. It was actually the group’s biggest hit to date as it topped the R&B charts and was a number two hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also sold enough copies to earn The Isley Brothers its second certified gold single. It also earned them a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
As it turned out, “It’s Your Thing” began a dispute between The Isley Brothers and Motown Records as the group’s previous label insisted the song belonged to them as the group as part of a contract agreement. However, a 1975 court ruling favored the Isleys’ argument. The legacy of The Isley Brothers, It’s Our Thing, and “It’s Your Thing” continued in 1969 as the group independently recorded a concert they held at Yankee Stadium. The Isley Brothers also featured a collection of musical artists who took part in the show. Live at Yankee Stadium was released a year later as an album, as well as a filmed documentary that included the concert titled It’s Your Thing.
Starting in 1971, Ernie and Marvin joined their older brothers, along with brother-in-law Chris Jasper. Together, The Isley Brothers recorded and released Givin’ It Back, an album that mixed funk and gospel music into a collection of rock songs they covered. In 1972, Ernie, Marvin, and Chris became more prominent as members of The Isley Brothers with Brother, Brother, Brother. With them, the hits continued that later featured the 1973 recording and release of 3 + 3.
The brand of music featured in this album had a mix of folk-rock, funk, and hard-rock elements that ultimately served as The Isley Brothers’ most successful album yet. It sold over two million copies, becoming the group’s first certified platinum album by the RIAA. In 1974, Live It Up also became another platinum seller for the brothers. As far as many fans and critics were concerned, the album’s title track was like listening to heavy metal music people could dance to. In 1975, The Heat Is On featured two hits that surged the album to become number one on the US Billboard 200. It also became certified platinum, this time twice over. Also becoming platinum was 1976’s Harvest for the World, 1977’s Go for Your Guns, and 1978’s Showdown. By the time 1979 hit with Winner Takes All, The Isley Brothers ventured into disco music and quiet storm music to add to its diverse repertoire.
1983 marked the final album that would feature all six men in The Isley Brothers lineup. Between the Sheets sold more than two million copies and was certified gold but it was not enough to rescue The Isley Brothers from a series of issues that would result in its splintering into two different groups. Ernie, Marvin, and Chris moved on to form Isley-Jasper-Isley to embark on their own recording career as their creative direction took them down a path the older Isley Brothers didn’t seem to care for. Now back down to the original trio of O’Kelly, Ronnie, and Rudy, The Isley Brothers signed up with Warner Bros. Records in 1985 and released Masterpiece as their next album.
This would be their final recording together as a trio as O’Kelly’s complications with cancer included a heart attack that claimed his life. Now as a duo, Ron and Rudy continued with 1987’s Smooth Sailin’ and 1989’s Spend the Night. After the release of these two albums, Rudy decided he had enough of the music industry and shifted his career path to become a church minister. This left Ron Isley to continue as a solo act as of 1990 before his younger brothers, Ernie and Marvin, decided to revive The Isley Brothers as a three-man act again. In 1991, the trio recorded and released Tracks of Life.
As an actor, Ron Isley became popular after he was filmed in 1996 as a villain known as Mr. Frank Biggs for “Down Low (Nobody Has to Know),” a hit single and music video produced by R. Kelly. All three members of The Isley Brothers were credited as featured artists. This resulted in the trio’s 1996 album, Mission to Please, becoming the ninth album from The Isley Brothers to achieve RIAA platinum status. 2001’s Eternal accomplished the same thing but now as a duo as Marvin Isley’s career came to an end after his battle with diabetes escalated to the point where he needed both of his legs amputated.
“Contagious” was the hit single that would place The Isley Brothers in the record books as the only musical act to score a US Billboard Hot 100 hit over a span of six decades. However, the mighty Isley Brothers were far from done producing hit music. In 2003, Body Kiss became the number one selling album on the US Billboard 200 after it was released. It was the second time for The Isley Brothers to achieve this with The Heat Is On being the first. The momentum of The Isley Brothers in the recording studio continued until Ron Isley was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion in 2007.
Upon the year he was released, Marvin Isley’s battle with diabetes claimed his life. While the career of The Isley Brothers as a group was on hold, Ernie joined the Experience Hendrix concert festival while Ron Isley recorded and released his first album as a solo artist in 2010 that was titled Mr. I. As of 2011, Ron and Ernie have paired up as The Isley Brothers picked up where they left off.
The legacy of The Isley Brothers continues as its family members and closest associates continue to keep the name going as one of the music industry’s greatest influencers. In 1992, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a group. Five years later, they were inducted into Hollywood’s Rockwalk. In 2003, The Isley Brothers were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. As for the Grammies, “Shout” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a single in 1999. In 2010, the same thing happened with “Twist and Shout.” In 2014, The Isley Brothers earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. There are few groups in the history of the music industry that have made the level of impact The Isley Brothers have made.
Top 10 Bands And Artists From Ohio article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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