Isley Brothers' Catalog Securitized

Investor paid group $30 million up front against future royalties; Isleys maintain their music's original copyrights.

With the announcement last week that investor David Pullman had securitized the Isley Brothers' catalog in an eight-figure deal, things are looking up for singer Ronald Isley.

Just six months ago, Isley faced bankruptcy and the possibility of losing his financial stake in the huge Isley Brothers catalog, one that includes "It's Your Thing" (RealAudio excerpt), "Fight the Power" and "Shout" among dozens of other R&B and pop hits.

"This deal allows the Isleys and their families to keep control over their music," Pullman said from his New York office in Midtown Manhattan. "It lets them stay independent."

In a statement, Isley said that Pullman and his company, the Pullman Group, "embody the hit song we wrote, 'Fight the Power.' "

The Isley Brothers have a long history of trying to maintain control of their work. In 1964, they formed their own label, T-Neck Records, and Ronald Isley handles all of his own business dealings.

To securitize the catalog, Pullman paid the Isleys — Ronald, Rudolph Isley and the estate of the late O'Kelly Isley — $30 million up front against future royalties on the group's music. Investors can buy the bonds and earn interest on them, while the Isleys themselves maintain the original copyrights to the music they wrote.

"It's kind of like creating a mortgage on the music," Pullman said. "The Isleys' catalog has such depth and age that it generates all sorts of earning streams, from radio play to television to movies."

The Pullman Group has securitized more than 100 artists' catalogs, including those of James Brown, David Bowie and the Motown songwriting team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Because a securitization is not a sale, the royalty owners maintain decision-making power over how their music is used.

Within the past year alone, Pullman noted, the group's 1964 song "Who's That Lady" (RealAudio excerpt) appeared on the soundtrack to the movie "Boys Don't Cry," and their hit "That Lady" (a 1973 remake of "Who's That Lady") was featured in a TV commercial for shampoo. The movie "Animal House" featured a raucous version of the Isleys' first single, 1959's "Shout."

In February, the Pullman Group settled Ronald Isley's federal bankruptcy hearing by purchasing the catalog and assets for $4.8 million. In May, the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals upheld a plagiarism suit the Isleys had filed against Michael Bolton, accusing the singer of copying their 1964 song "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" for his 1991 song of the same name. The court awarded Ronald and Marvin Isley 66 percent of all past and future royalties from Bolton's single, as well as 28 percent of all past and future royalties from Time, Love and Tenderness, the Bolton album on which the song appeared.

Rudolph and Ronald formed the Isley Brothers with their brother O'Kelly in 1958. They had a string of R&B hits in the early 1960s, including the #1 R&B single "Twist and Shout," later a rock hit for the Beatles, in 1962. Brothers Marvin and Ernie Isley joined the group in 1969, and the Isley Brothers found new success with a funkier, rock-edged sound on songs such as "It's Your Thing" and "Fight the Power," which was a #1 R&B and #4 pop hit in 1975.

Rap group Salt-n-Pepa had hits in 1988 with a hip-hop version of "Twist and Shout" and "Shake Your Thang (It's Your Thing)," which heavily sampled the Isley Brothers' original.

O'Kelly Isley died of a heart attack in 1986.