From seduction to salvation…Isley Brothers legend now performs for the Lord

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Chris Jasper promotes new album, prepares for honorary Grammy Award

Chances are you have heard a well-known song performed or written by Chris Jasper.

Best remembered as a member of the legendary soul group The Isley Brothers, Jasper has made a significant impact on popular music.

Today, Jasper is a gospel solo artist and producer, and is currently promoting his latest album “Inspired.”

In addition,  Jasper will appear at the Grammy Awards Sunday in Los Angeles to accept the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy for his work with The Isley Brothers.

“It’s amazing and something that I could have never envisioned when we first started,” Jasper told the Recorder in an exclusive interview. “We were just trying to do music that could be current and keep pace with the other great artists who were out at the time.”

Journey at the top

During The Isleys Brothers’ 1973-1983 hey day, Jasper, who plays piano, keyboards and synthesizers, co-wrote and produced several of the group’s most famous songs like “Fight the Power” and “Harvest for the World.”

His soulful, classically influenced playing defined popular bedroom ballads such as “For the Love of You,” “Sensuality” and “Between the Sheets.”

Jasper remembers having enjoyable performances with the group in Indianapolis during concerts at the old Market Square Arena, which was demolished in 2001.

“We had some really good shows in Indianapolis during our Midwest tours,” Jasper said.

Formed in Cincinnati, The Isley Brothers, with Ronald Isley singing lead, and brothers Kelly and Rudolph on background vocals, had their first major hits with 1959’s “Shout” and “This Old Heart of Mine” (1966).

In the meantime, Jasper, Rudolph Isley’s brother-in-law, studied music in college with younger Isley brothers Ernie (guitar, drums) and Marvin (bass). In 1973, the older brothers united with Jasper and the younger brothers to form a powerhouse six-man lineup that consistently topped the R&B and pop charts for a decade.

However, by the mid-1980s The Isley Brothers split up.

“In short, the older guys had more problems than we did financially and wanted to file bankruptcy and break the contract with CBS Records. They wanted all of us to do it,” Jasper said. “We (the younger guys) didn’t have to file bankruptcy and it was against our better interest to do so. We had to create a new group out of necessity.”

Jasper and Ernie and Marvin Isley formed the spin-off group Isley-Jasper-Isley. With Jasper on lead vocals, the group became best known for 1985’s “Caravan of Love,” a stirring call to social unity based on Scripture in the book of Isaiah.

In 1988, Jasper began his solo career and scored a No. 1 R&B hit with “Superbad.” At the same time, he underwent a spiritual conversion and became a devoted Christian.

“I had a lot of experiences that led to that,” he said. “When I finally did start to read the Scriptures and understand more about God’s will, who he is and who he wants me to be, my life changed. I put that in my music.”

Coincidently, Rudolph Isley, Jasper’s brother-in-law, left The Isley Brothers in 1989 to become a Christian minister.

Love and eternity

Since the early ‘90s, Jasper has gone from recording songs perfect for the bedroom or dance floor, to songs designed to uplift listeners spiritually and enlighten them socially.

“Inspired” is Jasper’s fourth inspirational album. It includes a mix of biblically based gospel songs like “In My Dream,” clean love songs such as “Any Day,” which is inspired by Jasper’s own happy 31-year marriage, and funky up-tempo jams like “Keep Believing,” which sounds similar in style to 1975’s “Fight the Power” and encourages youth to embrace education and stop using violence to deal with problems.

“Inspired is sort of a concept album in that I wanted to touch on three issues; love relationships, our life experiences and our spiritual connection with God,” Jasper said.

Each of Jasper’s songs has information that encourages listeners on positive steps they can take in life.

“They’re not just feel good songs that say ‘shout hallelujah’ like some gospel songs,” Jasper said. “Lyrics are very important, so I have a lot more in my songs lyrically. Some of those things can help a person with their spiritual journey.”

In the meantime, The Isley Brothers, now featuring Ronald and Ernie, reformed and had a major comeback hit with 1996’s “Keep It on the Down Low,” produced by R. Kelly. Kelly is also credited with creating the Mr. Biggs alter ego for Ronald Isley, which helped The Isley Brothers attract a younger audience and top the charts again with 2001’s “Contagious” and “Just Came Here to Chill” (2006).

Ronald and Ernie Isley will be at the Grammys on Sunday to accept lifetime honors alongside Jasper. Will that appearance lead to a long awaited musical reunion for Jasper and the Isleys?

Jasper is not opposed to the idea, but says it’s unlikely.

“There’s no indication that they (Ronald and Ernie) are willing to do anything like that, and I am certainly happy with what I’m doing,” Jasper said.

He added that being a Christian, he is “not comfortable” with some of the bold sensual imagery found in some of the Isleys’ recent material.

“I’m also not down with the whole Mr. Biggs thing, that would never work for me,” Jasper added, laughing.

Jasper did seem open to an idea presented by the Recorder of a reunion album with a mix of gospel music and positive love songs with lead vocals shared by himself and Ronald. However, he affirmed that he has been busy with another solo project at his New York based Gold City Records company and is producing a dance album by his son Michael.

“I’m really excited about the upcoming album,” Jasper said. “It’s like ‘Inspired’ taken to the next level, and will be both positive and entertaining.”

For more information about Chris Jasper and his album “Inspired,” visit chrisjasper.com.

http://www.indianapolisrecorder.com/news/print_highlights/article_f5b8e05e-8511-11e3-95fd-0019bb2963f4.html?mode=image&photo=0

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