Introduction to the group
The Impressions are an R&B/doo-wop/soul band formed in Chicago, Illinois. Formed in 1958, the band’s original lineup consisted of Sam Gooden, Richard Brooks, Arthur Brooks, Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield; their first name was The Roosters. They churned their first charting single on both the R&B and pop charts, “For Your Precious Love”. By the early 1960s Butler and the Brooks brothers left the group, reducing the group until the arrival of Fred Cash; then they were signed the ABC-Paramount Records that year. This lineup was the most successful, achieving big pop and R&B hits such as “It’s Alright”, “Talking About My Baby”, “I’m So Proud”, “Keep On Pushing”, “You Must Believe Me”, “Amen”, “People Get Ready”, “Woman’s Got Soul”, “You’ve Been Cheatin’”, “We’re A Winner”, “Fool For You”, “This Is My Country”, “Choice of Colors” and “Check Out Your Mind”. Mayfield’s songwriting became more and more confident; by the mid-1960s he established two short-lived labels Windy C and Mayfield; his third label Curtom stayed comparatively longer than its predecessors. In 1970 Mayfield left to pursue a solo career, and he was replaced by Leroy Hutchinson, who also left in 1973. Reggie Torian and Ralph Johnson joined, and this new lineup scored another top 20 hit single “Finally got Myself Together” (I’m A Changed Man)” in 1974.
Although the newer lineup still continued to be active, much of the original members have also reformed occasionally. Butler also became a politician, and still serves as a Commissioner for Cook County, Illinois; Mayfield died in 1999. In the summer of 2013 the group released their first single in over 30 years, “Rhythm!”
From the Roosters to the Impressions
The Impressions rose from a previous group called The Roosters, formed by Sam Gooden and brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks. All were Chattanooga, Tennessee natives who had moved to Chicago, Illinois. Chicago natives Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield had sung together in a number of local gospel groups before joining the Roosters, and in 1958 a new group was born.
New manager in Eddie Thomas had secured the group their first recording contract with Vee-Jay Records. The group was initially named Jerry Butler and the Impressions; they were then re-named shortly after as simply The Impressions. Butler sang lead in the group’s first hit, “For Your Precious Love,” which was a major pop and R&B chart hit, charting at #11 and #3, respectively. He also did it again on the Top 40 R&B hit “Come Back My Love,” his last single with the group. Sensing that he was ready on his own, Butler quit the group early to start his solo career, which would become largely successful.
Original Roosters singer Fred Cash joined the Impressions upon Butler’s absence. Mayfield, who had initially worked with Butler’s now-solo career as a touring guitarist (and wrote Butler’s many hit singles), became the Impressions’ new lead singer as well as their primary songwriter.
With the money he earned from his gig with Butler, Mayfield went on to re-form The Impressions as well as to establish his own music publishing company. The group then signed a new deal with ABC-Paramount label in early 1960s.
Since becoming artists on that label, they would slowly build up their commercial fortunes. First though, they scored their first hit on ABC, “Gypsy Woman,” a Top 20 pop and Top 10 R&B hit in 1961. Subsequent singles failed to match the success of “Gypsy Woman,” prompting the Brooks brothers to quit in 1962.
And then there were three…
Now reduced to a trio, The Impressions hooked up with producer Johnny Pate, who overlaid the group’s soul template with more lush, strings-and-horn-laden input.
The gambit worked for the group, who started to hit the goldmine in 1964 with “It’s Alright.” It topped the R&B chart and went to #4 on the Hot 100. More hits came: “Talking about My Baby” (#12 pop, #2 R&B), “I’m So Proud” (#14 pop, #2 R&B), “Keep On Pushing” (#10 pop, #1 R&B), “You Must Believe Me” (#15 pop, #3 R&B), “Amen” (#7 pop, #1 R&B), and “People Get Ready” (#14 pop, #3 R&B), among many others.
Around that period, The Impressions were starting to show their increasing socio-political consciousness and black pride as evidenced by their songs “Keep On Pushing” and “People Get Ready,” although not yet as explicit as Mayfield’s future solo work. Their gospel single “Amen” was inspired by the film Lilies in the Fieldstarring Sidney Poitier.
Moving on to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label, and Mayfield’s solo career
In the summer of 1969, The Impressions left ABC to join Mayfield’s newly self-established label Curtom. Here, The Impressions exercised more freedom in terms of lyrical content as Mayfield had long sought. It was more obvious that their later material became more overtly social and political, with black pride anthems not straying far behind. “We’re a Winner” (#14 pop, #1 R&B), “This Is My Country” (#25 pop, #8 R&B), “Choice Of Colors” (#21 pop, #1 R&B), and “Check Out Your Mind” (#28 pop, #3 R&B) were examples of songs with such themes. Of course, they continued to record and release love songs on Curtom like “Fool for You” (#22 pop, #3 R&B), “Say You Love Me,” “My Deceiving Heart,” and others.
In 1970, Mayfield officially quit being a member of The Impressions although he continued to write and produce some of the group’s subsequent material. The Impressions still remained on the Curtom label at that time. Mayfield was then replaced by Leroy Hutson who debuted with the group on their 1972 album Times Have Changed.
Mayfield’s own solo career, at least initially, was massively successful. His brilliance gave fruit when his soundtrack album of the blaxploitation film Super Fly became a critical and commercial triumph. The soundtrack album, also titled Super Fly, went to #1 on both pop and R&B album charts in 1972.
The Impressions after Curtis Mayfield
The Impressions, meanwhile, were never able to achieve the same level of success as they did with Mayfield around. Hutson left in 1973, and the group recruited new members Ralph Johnson and Reggie Torian, making the group a quartet. The newly reformed Impressions achieved one last major hit, 1975’s “Finally Got Myself Together (I’m a Changed Man)” which peaked at #17 pop and #1 R&B.
Johnson left in 1976 to join another band Mystique; he was replaced by Nate Evans. The following year, the group finally ended their association with Curtom and recording with a couple of labels Cotillion and 20th Century/Chi-Sound with little success. Evans eventually left, and the band was trio once more. They released their last studio album to date Fan The Fire in 1981.
Occasional reunions of the classic lineup, and the Impressions today
The classic lineup — Mayfield, Gooden and Cash — would sometimes reunite for a few gigs. Original member Butler (who had also then successfully entered a political career) would occasionally join them.
Tragedy fell on Mayfield (perhaps also literally) when he was involved in an on-stage accident in New York in 1990. A piece of lighting equipment toppled over on him while he was performing, leaving him permanently paralyzed. Mayfield would never regain his health over the next few years before dying in 1999, aged 57.
Over the following years, The Impressions lineup had fluctuated. As of 2013, the current roster consists of Gooden, Cash and Torian. That same year they released their first single in over three decades, “Rhythm!”
The Impressions’ important and enduring contributions to the music industry were honored with inductions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003.