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ED GORDON, host:

The younger generation calls him by his musical alter ego Mr. Biggs. But since the 1950s, when he and his siblings started a gospel quartet in Cincinnati, the voice of Ron Isley has been unmistakable.

Powered by that voice, the Isley Brothers became one of the most influential and versatile bands in all of popular music.

(Soundbite of music)

ISLEY BROTHERS (Musicians): (Singing) Time is really wasting. There's no guarantee. A smile isn't going to make it. You've got to fight the powers that be.

GORDON: The group has taken a number of forms over the last half century. Now, as The Isley Brothers, featuring Ronald Isley, they have a new CD called Baby Makin' Music. The new album features collaborations with current hit makers R. Kelly and Jermaine Dupri.

The latest hit single, Just Came Here to Chill, echoes that classic Isley sound.

(Soundbite of the Isley Brothers performing "Just Came Here to Chill")

ISLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) 'Cause you don't want to see (unintelligible). Pretend it's only you and me. I just came here to chill.

GORDON: Despite Ron Isley's continued musical success, his private life has been in turmoil lately. Last fall, he was convicted for failure to pay more than $3 million in federal income taxes. He's still waiting to be sentenced and could serve up to 26 years in prison.

Isley declined to discuss the issues surrounding the case, but he's more eager to discuss the future of his music and his growing family.

Ron Isley, good to have you with us, man.

Mr. RON ISLEY (Musician, The Isley Brothers): Glad to be here.

GORDON: Let's talk about the new project, Ron: Baby Makin' Music. Now some people are going to say, what took you so long to name a CD, this, because you've been doing it for so long?

Mr. ISLEY: You're absolutely right. But, I'm still making music, and I'm still making babies. My wife is five weeks pregnant.

GORDON: Oh, congratulations, Ron.

Mr. ISLEY: Yeah.

GORDON: Ron, we've been real blessed over the course of the last year to have real legends on the program and talking about the library that they have built. When you look at the Isley Brothers' library, do you see it in the same way that your fans do?

Mr. ISLEY: No, I don't. I think about the beginning, where we wanted to go. And now, you know, I want to make history. I want to, you know, I just want to carry it as far as I can carry it.

(Soundbite of music)

ISLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) Who's that lady? (Who's that lady?) Beautiful lady. (Who's that lady?) Lovely lady. (Who's that lady?) Real fine lady. (Who's that lady?)

Mr. ISLEY: You know, with the fast records, (unintelligible) and Who's That Lady, we wanted to stay ahead of everybody, you know, and what they were doing and what kind of dances were out, and that type of thing.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ISLEY: But for the slow music, I guess you can say I love you a million different kind of ways, you know? And I'll say I love you in the way it feels for right then.

(Soundbite of music)

ISLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) Ooh baby. I feel your love surrounding me. Ooh baby. Making love between the sheets.

GORDON: Ron, what's it been like for you to go from, what was the Isley Brothers of the late '50s, early '60s, where you had all of your bothers performing, to really, it's you and Ernie now?

Mr. ISLEY: Well, I think about my brothers every day. When I accomplish something great, it's like a celebration for the family--for my father and mother. It's like a total celebration.

GORDON: Ron, we should note, it's not easy, as you know, to keep a group together, family or otherwise. What's been the secret for you guys?

Mr. ISLEY: The love we have for each other. The respect that we have for each other. The dream that my father had, and the dream that my mother had, from the beginning. That's kept the Isley Brothers' name there. You know, I did records by myself and I always will say the Isley Brothers, and featuring Ronald. I won't, you know, just, I won't try to deviate from the Isley Brothers, because that's what the family dream was all about.

(Soundbite of music)

ISLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) Well, sometimes it seems, girl, I'm neglecting you. While, I'd love to spend more time, I got so many things to do. Whoa. I got work to do. I've got work baby.

GORDON: The second single comes off with a magnificent collaboration that you've had with a young man that you've really taken under your wing, and that's R. Kelly. The marriage has been good for the two of you guys. Talk to us a little bit about working with him again in Blast Off.

Mr. ISLEY: Well, you know, we really, really had fun. I took a few of the cuts out to his house, and then he said, come downstairs, I want you to listen to something. And we started working on Blast off. He said, This is a song we're going to do together. This is a song about where we are now in our careers.

(Soundbite of Isley Brothers and R. Kelly performing "Blast Off")

ISLEY BROTHERS and R. KELLY (Musicians): (Singing) Ten, nine, eight...

Mr. ISLEY: We've had a lot of success together. And so definitely, we wanted to make this a special thing too.

(Soundbite of Isley Brothers and R. Kelly performing "Blast Off")

ISLEY BROTHERS and R. KELLY: (Singing) Rocket (unintelligible), oh that's what you are to me. (Unintelligible) You helped me reach my destiny. Lying here counting down before we take our flight up there...

GORDON: Do you ever envision a day where you're not going to sing professionally? Where you don't go on tour, where you don't go in the studio? Or is that something that you want to do until you reach your end?

Mr. ISLEY: You're absolutely right. Famous Frank Sinatra, you know, it makes me feel good to sing. You know? I was put here to sing.

(Soundbite of music)

ISLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) Why am I worthy of, love from an angel? Princess Imperial, of my soul. Don't really matter if you choose not to answer. Hoo, baby, what I really feel, you already know. You know. Don't make me say it again, girl.

GORDON: There's so many of us, Ron, that have been the beneficiary of you being put here to sing, my friend. And so many people looking forward to the new CD, Baby Makin' Music. And we appreciate, not only your time today, but all of the great music you've given us over the years.

Mr. ISLEY: All right. God bless you.

(Soundbite of music)

ISLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) Gotta tell you baby, but you probably know...

GORDON: That was the great Ron Isley.

More R&B greats this week, the queen of raunch, Millie Jackson, joins us tomorrow. And songstress Teena Marie will be with us Thursday to talk about her new CD and reflect on her friendship with the King of Funk, the late Rick James.

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