This week’s Free Ride* muses on the songs of an r&b icon, Ronald Isley of the Isley brothers, who turns 70 today. He has covered a lot of ground, musically and personally, in those 70 years. Musically, he got his first break at age three, when he won a $25 war bond at a spiritual-singing contest sponsored by his church. I love the irony of that – winning a war bond by singing spirituals. By age seven he was singing on stage at notable venues, and at age 18 he and his brothers wrote and recorded their mega-hit that is still a staple at r & b dances – Shout.
I found the song Freedom a few years ago on one of those Starbucks compilation CDs. I’m not much on Starbucks coffee, so when someone gave me a gift certificate there, I went straight for the CD display. I don’t remember listening to the song back when it was released in 1970 on T-Neck records, the label that the Isley Brothers created so they wouldn’t be under Berry Gordy’s control at Motown. I don’t know what else was on that Starbucks disc, but the song Freedom really struck a chord with me. It’s classic Isley brothers, in the riffs and inspired vocals. The message is simple:
This is what I call freedom:
when you can do what you wanna do
And go where you wanna go
And live where you wanna live
And love who you wanna love
And be what you wanna be
Join what you wanna join
Well, well, well, that’s freedom
When you can learn what you wanna learn
And read what you wanna read
And write what you wanna write
This song makes me think that another irony of Ronald Isley is in the freedom he missed out on for three years of his life, when he served time for tax evasion. I wonder how often this song ran through his head before he was released in April of 2010. I’m sure the whole experience made him want to shout. But now he’s free again, going where he wants to go, learning what he wants to learn, being what he wants to be. Whatever that is, I hope it continues to have something to do with music.