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THE ISLEY BROTHERS

THE ISLEY BROTHERS AND MAGNIFICENT MONTAGUE
The Isley Brothers were one of the artists booked for a "farewell" show for WWRL DJ Magnificent Montague at Rockland Palace in New York City Friday 19 June 1964. I have been unable to find any ads for the evening so what the event was billed as is unknown, as is the full artist line-up.

Cash Box reported in the 13 June 1964 -issue:
"NEW YORK - The Magnificent Montague, popular WWRL-New York platter spinner, informed Cash Box last week that he is exiting the 24-hour-a-day outlet. Deejay, who has been with the r&b station for the past two years, will assume similar duties on WVON-Chicago on June 22. Montague said he is leaving the Sonderling station on his own account and has warmest possible feelings for WWRL`s management.

On June 19 the jockey will hold a farewell stage show at the Rockland Place here."

Based on the available photographs the show included an unidentified artist1, the Isley Brothers (with Jimi Hendrix on guitar), Ben E. King and Wilson Pickett with Magnificient Montague acting as the MC.

Montague can be (partially) seen in one of the pictures behind Wilson Pickett, with his hand on Pickett`s shoulder.



Here are all of the available Isley Brothers shots from the show (scroll left & right):



Ben E. King:



Unknown artist: 1


MONTAGUE AND "TESTIFY"
There may have been other direct connections between Magnificent Montague and the Isleys in addition to the band appearing at his NYC farewell show. I have, however, come across no specific evidence for this so what follows is "educated guesswork" on my part. There are many clues in the Isley Brothers song "Testify" that suggest it was either written for Magnificent Montague or done as a tribute / spoof of his radio show. Various soul artists make an appearance and testify, climaxing with the Beatles popping in from "way across the water".

1. "Testify" was released in early June 1964. The "farewell party" for Montague at the Rockland Palace took place 19 June 1964. This makes it very much look like the single release was exactly timed to coincide with the farewell concert.

the Isley Brothers Testify side A
"TESTIFY" T-NECK 45

2. Montague did release a theme song explicitly about himself, "The Montague WVON Theme PART I / PART II". The inclusion of "WVON" in the title suggests this was done after the move to Chicago in June 1964, though some copies instead use the title "The Montague Theme".

Regardless of the exact original release date Montague clearly wanted to have a theme song and got one. Exactly what "Testify" may or may not have had to do with this is an interesting question.

Teacho Wilshire who arranged the Montague song and conducted the orchestra on the recording got the same credit for the 1965 Isley Brothers single "Move Over And Let Me Dance". Both "The Montague WVON Theme" 45 and the "Testify" 45 were also distributed by Atlantic which isn`t surprising but does suggest that a lot of the same people probably worked on the two songs.



3. Unfortunately I haven`t been able to find any actual airchecks of Montague`s 1963-1964 radio shows in New York City. The 23 May 1964 issue of Billboard however includes a description of a Magnificent Montague broadcast:

"His emotion-packed delivery is punctuated with cries of "Can I Get a Witness?" "Tell It Like It Is," "Burn, Burn" and "Testify." [...] "His sing-songing all night long plays on the emotions of his listeners. Included in each six-hour program (which he does standing) is a liberal dose of sermonizing and preaching."

So, Magnificent Montague basically did his DJ:ing in the form of a church service with himself as the minister. Which is exactly the format that "Testify" follows, a mock sermon with various well known soul artist coming up to testify.

There are no known recordings from the Rockland Palace show, but another Wilson Pickett gig with Magnificent Montague as the MC was recorded the following year at the 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles, 7th & 8th August 1965. You can listen to a recording of "In The Midnight Hour" on YouTube: 2



The recording starts off with some call and response from Montague and Pickett which picks up again towards the end of the track. It`s very easy to imagine that this was the sort of performance that was taking place when the picture from the Rockland Palace was taken.

There are several clear connections between Montague`s on stage MC:ing and the lyrics for "Testify". The timings refer to the YouTube clip above:

0.38
Montague:
"Go ahead son"

1.05
Montague:
"If I can only just, just, just let me hear you say it one more time son"

6.25
Montague:
"Go ahead and burn"

6.44
Montague:
"I can feel it this morning"

Pickett:
"Can you feel it in your heart?"

Montague:
"I feel it way deep down in my heart"

Pickett:
"Can you feel it in your soul this morning?"

Montague:
"I feel it down in my soul"


And likewise the Billboard descriptions of Magnificient Montague`s catchphrases also include several that pop up in the lyrics for the 45 version of "Testify":

Billboard: "Burn, Burn"
Testify: "Burn, burn this morning", "Come on Jackie, burn, I know you got soul"

Billboard: "Testify"
Testify: "Go on and testify, son, go ahead, son, go ahead"

Billboard: "Can I get a Witness?"
Testify: "You wanna be a witness?", "It make us feel mighty good to know that you are a witness this morning, it make us feel mighty good to know that you have testified for us this morning"


4. The references to testifying in the morning in the lyrics of "Testify" have always seemed a bit odd. The Isley Brothers, when playing live, would have been performing the song in the evenings or late at night so the lyrics seem completely out of place. The lyrics could refer to an early morning church service but apart from everyone "testifying" there are no other religious references in the song. Magnificent Montague`s DJ slot on WWRL on the other hand took place daily between 12 o`clock midnight and 6 o`clock in the morning. And Montague can be heard exclaiming that he can "feel it this morning" in the 1965 Wilson Pickett live clip so this may have been a stock phrase of his.


5. The alternate lyrics on the lp version of "Testify" remove all specific references to Magnificent Montague or any kind of a sermon or radio show as well as all of the "cameo" appearances of various soul stars. We don`t know when the alternate lyrics  were written or recorded but it seems clear that the purpose was to make the song a more universal statement about soul music than the original single was.

It is possible that the lyrics may already have been written in 1964. Performing the single version may not have worked as well live as on record, or it may have been problematic doing all of the impressions each night. Also, live audiences hundreds of miles away from NYC may not have had the faintest idea who Montague was.

But it`s probably more likely that the alternate lyrics & vocal take were done in 1971. By that time Montague had left New York City 7 years earlier and the band may have felt that no-one would get the various out-of-date references in the original lyrics.


 


SOURCES
1 the unidentified artist might be Otis Redding but that`s just a guess. As the singer has his hand in front of his face it`s impossible to see his facial features properly. But he looks like a big man, wears clothes similar to what Otis wore, and has a ring in the same finger as Otis. The best known images of Otis Redding have him sporting natural hair trimmed short but circa 1964 he had a "conk" haircut. Otis also often gigged with a large horn section. I believe that I may have ID`d one of the sax players from another Otis gig shot but I`m not 100% sure. So this all remains guesswork - if anyone can ID the singer or can point to something that definitively rules Otis out please let me know.

2 You can also listen to an incomplete mono mix of the song on the Magnificent Montague website. Other artist`s recordings from this show were issued on the album Funky Broadway Stax Revue Live At The 5/4 Ballroom but apparently only one song from Wilson Pickett`s set has ever been released, on the compilation A Man And A Half (Rhino Records R2 70287), which is where the YouTube clip comes from.