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Isaiah Sharkey Takes Center Stage with New Album “Love is the Key”

Written by on September 3, 2019

Isaiah Sharkey grew up in Chicago, but he’s traveled the world with D’Angelo, Chaka Khan, John Mayer and many more, and he’s picked up Grammys and fans along the way.

His new album is called “Love is the Key,” and he joined Jill Hopkins to talk about it.

Isaiah, tell me about growing up in Chicago.

I grew up in a place called Cabrini Green, which is in the northwest side of the city. It wasn’t the most pleasant area at that time, but up and coming. Now I’m living in Broadview, Illinois, which is much more of a calm, cool, and quiet neighborhood. 

When did you pick up a guitar?

I picked up the guitar when I was four years old. My uncle Eugene gave me my first acoustic guitar to mess around with. My mom and dad got me my first electric guitar at the age of seven.

What were you listening to? Because, you know, I grew up in the ’80s and I didn’t see a whole lot of Black folks with guitars that weren’t named Jimi Hendrix. What made you want to be that guy for another generation?

I actually grew up in a very musical family. My mom, my dad, my uncles and my brothers and sisters are all musicians and singers. My grandfather owned a record store back in the ’80s, and the family for whatever reason didn’t keep the store, so my dad got all of those records. So I was listening to a little bit of everything but I think early on I was gravitating a lot toward old R&B and jazz music.

Listening to your music, it’s pretty obvious that you have a lot of respect for the folks that you learn from.

You have to! They built the foundation and they were the pioneers. In order to take something and hopefully go forward with it, you have to know where you start.

I’m curious as to how you honed your skills well enough to get noticed by folks like D’Angelo because there’s a lot of competition out here. How did you stand out?

I am a huge D’Angelo fan. The first time I saw him live was on TV in 1997 or ‘98. It was an amazing performance and I remember guitarist standing out and how I loved the way he played. His name was Eddie “Spanky” Alford. I actually got to meet him, and come to find out, we had a lot of similarities with how we grew up listening to music and our interests and stuff like that. When I finally met D’Angelo, because of the similarities between Spanky and how I played guitar, I think D’Angelo gravitated toward my style of playing and we hit it off. 

Now you’re playing with D’Angelo, selling out shows, and traveling the world? How did your life change because of that? What leveled up at that time besides just your career?

It gave me more appreciation for life in general. I had been in situations where money wasn’t that great and life wasn’t treating me fairly. Outside of this being a great gig, it is also a job to do. Going from a kid who’s four years old picking up that guitar, now I’m here doing something that I’ve always wanted to do. God’s great, and there’s nothing more I can say about that.

I’ve seen you open for the legendary Chaka Khan and the legendary Michael McDonald. That was an amazing show, first of all, but something that I noticed during your set was that everybody was there to hear what you had to throw down. I noticed that, as your set went on, people started talking less and paying attention more, and you grabbed them. Did you notice that vibe coming back from the crowd while you were playing on tour? How was the experience touring with those two legends?

It was great. It was amazing. I had their records when I was kid. It was a joy and a complete honor for me to be there. As far as the crowd, I just wanted to connect with them. And we always go off of the energy of the people and they’ll guide you to them, and that way you can all walk together through an experience. 

It’s got to be pretty freeing to go from being in someone else’s band to getting out here and having your own words shared. What is the Isaiah Sharkey story that we’re hearing in 2019? What are you trying to get across?

Right now, my goal is to give love to everybody. I think that a lot of the songs from back in the day touched on a lot of different subjects but it was still very positive messages they were sending out in their music, and that’s what I want to do. That’s why the titles of my last two albums are “Love.Life.Live” and “Love is the Key.” There is a theme and an overall energy of living life in unity and peace and love. Let’s talk about the good, the bad, the ugly without, you know, being negative.

Isaiah Sharkey is performing at Joe’s on Weed Street Friday, Sept. 27 in Chicago. This event will be an official album release party, and more info can be found here.

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