The Impressions Biography

Formed in Chicago in 1957 and originally known as the Roosters, this group comprised Jerry Butler (8 December 1939, Sunflower, Mississippi, USA), Curtis Mayfield (b. 3 June 1942, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 26 December 1999), Sam Gooden (b. 2 September 1939, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA), and brothers Richard Brooks and Arthur Brooks (both born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA). Mayfield and Butler first met in the choir of the Travelling Soul Spiritualists Church, from where they formed the Modern Jubilaires and Northern Jubilee Singers. The two teenagers then drifted apart, and while Mayfield was involved in another group, the Alphatones, Butler joined Gooden and the Brooks brothers in the Roosters. Mayfield was subsequently installed as their guitarist. Dubbed the Impressions by their manager, the group’s first single for Abner/Falcon, ‘For Your Precious Love’, was a gorgeous ballad and a substantial hit, reaching number 11 in the US pop chart in June 1958. The label credit, which read ‘Jerry Butler And The Impressions’, caused internal friction and the two sides split after one more release, ‘Come Back My Love’. While Butler’s solo career gradually prospered, that of his erstwhile colleagues floundered. He and Mayfield were later reconciled on Butler’s 1960 single ‘He Will Break Your Heart’, the success of which (and of other Mayfield-penned songs) rekindled the Impressions’ career.

Signed to ABC-Paramount Records in 1961, they had a US number 20 hit with the haunting ‘Gypsy Woman’. Subsequent releases were less well received until ‘It’s All Right’ (1963) soared to number 1 in the R&B chart and to number 4 in the pop chart. The group was now a trio of Mayfield, Gooden and Fred Cash (b. 8 October 1940), and their rhythmic harmonies were set against Johnny Pate’s stylish arrangements. Magnificent Top 20 singles, including ‘I’m So Proud’, ‘Keep On Pushing’, ‘You Must Believe Me’ (all 1964) and ‘People Get Ready’ (1965), showed how Mayfield was growing as an incisive composer, creating lyrical songs that were alternately poignant and dynamic. During this period the Impressions had what was to be their last US pop Top 10 hit, ‘Amen’, which was featured in the Sidney Poitier movie Lilies Of The Field. Mayfield then set up two short-lived record companies, Windy C in 1966, and Mayfield in 1967. However, it was the singer’s third venture, Curtom Records, that proved most durable. In the meantime, the Impressions had emerged from a period when Motown Records had provided their prime influence. ‘You’ve Been Cheatin’’ (1965) and ‘You Always Hurt Me’ (1967), however good in themselves, lacked the subtlety of their predecessors, but represented a transition in Mayfield’s musical perceptions. Statements that had previously been implicit were granted a much more open forum. ‘This Is My Country’ (1968), ‘Mighty Mighty Spade And Whitey’ (1969) and ‘Check Out Your Mind’ (1970) were tougher, politically based performances, while his final album with the group, the quintessential Young Mods’ Forgotten Story, set the framework for his solo work.

Mayfield’s replacement, Leroy Hutson, left in 1973. Reggie Torian and Ralph Johnson were subsequently added, and the new line-up topped the R&B chart in 1974 with ‘Finally Got Myself Together (I’m A Changed Man)’. ‘First Impressions’ (1975) became their only UK hit, but the following year Johnson left. Although Mayfield, Butler, Cash and Gooden have, on occasions, re-formed, the latter pair have also kept active their version of the Impressions. Following his tragic accident in 1990, which left him as a quadriplegic, Mayfield continued to record until his death in 1999. The first four albums by the Impressions represent the very best of sweet soul music; uplifting without saccharine.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.