Impressions, The

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Impressions, The

Impressions, The, vocal group that combined a gospel-soul sound with socially conscious lyrics (f. 1958, disbanded 1983). Membership: Jerry Butler, voc. (b. Sunflower, Miss., Dec. 8, 1939); Curtis Mayfield, voc., gtr. (b. Chicago, June3, 1942, d. Atlanta, Dec. 26, 1999); Fred Cash, voc. (b. Chattanooga, Tenn., Oct. 8, 1940); Sam Gooden, voc. (b. Chattanooga, Tenn., Sept. 2, 1939). Going against the prevailing doo- wop sound of the late 1950s, The Impressions came by their gospel-without-God soul sound honestly. The group came together as The Impressions with the merger of the secular group The Roosters, which featured Sam Gooden and Richard and Arthur Brooks, and two members from the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler. Butler sang lead on their groundbreaking debut, “For Your Precious Love,” which was released as “The Impressions featuring Jerry Butler” and went to #11 pop. This generated some inter-group jealousy, and Butler left the group to begin one of the great solo careers in soul music. Mayfield split his time between working as Butler’s music director and fixing the foundering Impressions. For Butler, he wrote and played on “He Will Break Your Heart,” which topped the R&B charts for seven weeks, rising to #7 pop.

The Impressions recruited Fred Cash to replace Butler, and the Brooks brothers left the group, leaving them to seek their fortunes as a trio. Mayfield started writing in earnest, becoming the group’s chief song writer. They returned to the pop charts in 1961 with his Brazilian-flavored “Gypsy Woman,” which introduced the world to Mayfield’s trademark falsetto and his remarkable guitar playing.The song rose to #20. After two years away from the Top 40, they returned with their biggest hit, “It’s All Right.” A light-hearted bluesy shuffle with big three part harmonies, it topped the R&B charts and rose to #4 pop during the fall of 1963. This started a string of ten big hits in a little over two years. All but the traditional “Amen,” which went to #7 in 1964, werewritten by Mayfield. These include soul standards like “Talking about My Baby” (#12, 1964) and “I’m So Proud” (#14, 1964). “Keep on Pushing” (#10, 1964) and “Amen” sent the Keep on Pushing album to #8. “You Must Believe” (#15, 1964) and the epochal “People Get Ready” (#14, 1965). The People Get Ready albumrose to #23. Mayfield proved a versatile creator, writing songs of love, songs of devotion and songs that began to reflect the conditions in African-American urban America. Even those often had an element of inspiration, as the R&B chart toppers “We’re a Winner” (1968, #14 pop) and “Choice of Colors” (1969, #21 pop). The We’re a Winner album went to #35.

By 1968, the band was releasing their records on Mayfield’s own Curtom label. Mayfield also continued to work outside of the band, producing hits like “The Monkey Time” for Major Lance (#8, 1963), and “Just Be True” (#19, 1964) for Gene Chandler. In 1970, he left the band, pursuing a decidedly funkier sound starting with the #29 hit “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go” in 1971, from the Curtis album, which went gold and hit #19. The apex of his solo career came a year later with the soundtrack to the film Superfly. This produced two gold singles. The title track, with its funky beat and swirling strings (a precursor to the sound that would inform disco several years later), went to #8 pop. The jazzier “Freddie’s Dead,” with it’s gritty themes of drug abuse and men dying young, went to #4. The album topped the charts for four weeks, going gold.

The group had one more pop hit without Mayfield, “Finally Got Myself Together (I’m a Changed Man).” In 1974, the song rose to #1 on the R&B charts, hitting #17 pop. They went through several singers over the years. In 1983, Butler, Mayfield, Gooden and Cash got back together for a 25th anniversary tour, after which The Impressions disbanded. Butler and Mayfield continued to record and perform as solo artists. Additionally, Butler became the Cook County Commissioner and a Chicago City Alderman. In 1990, while setting up for a show in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a lighting rig fell and severely injured Mayfield, paralyzing him from the neck down. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, and Mayfield was inducted as a solo artist in 1999, but was too sick to attend either ceremony. He did manage to record his 25 solo album, New World Order in 1996, no mean feat for a 54- year-old quadriplegic. He died the day after Christmas, 1999.


The Impressions (1963); Keep on Pushing (1964); Never Ending Impressions (1964); For Your Precious Love (1964); One by One (1965);Big 16 (1965); People Get Ready (1965); Ridin’ High (1966);The Fabulous Impressions (1967); We’re a Winner (1968); This Is My Country (1968); Versatile (1969); The Young Mods’Forgotten Story (1969); Check Out Your Mind (1970); Times Have Changed (1972); Preacher Man (1973); Finally Got Myself Together (1974); Three the Hard Way (1974); First Impressions (1975); Sooner or Later (1975); It’s About Time (1976); Originals (1976); Loving Power (1976); Come to My Party (1979); Fan the Fire (1981);Right on Time (1983); It’s All Alright (1995); Impressions/Never Ending Impressions (1995).

—Hank Bordowitz