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The Impressions

The quintessential Chicago soul group, the Impressions' place in R&B history would be secure if they'd done nothing but launch the careers of soul legends Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield. But far more than that, the Impressions recorded some of the most distinctive vocal-group R&B of the '60s under Mayfield's guidance. Their style was marked by airy, feather-light harmonies and Mayfield's influentially sparse guitar work, plus, at times, understated Latin rhythms. If their sound was sweet and lilting, it remained richly soulful thanks to the group's firm grounding in gospel tradition; they popularized the three-part vocal trade-offs common in gospel but rare in R&B at the time, and recorded their fair share of songs with spiritual themes, both subtle and overt. Furthermore, Mayfield's interest in the civil rights movement led to some of the first socially conscious R&B songs ever recorded, and his messages grew more explicit as the '60s wore on, culminating in the streak of brilliance that was his early-'70s solo work. The Impressions carried on without Mayfield, but only matched their earlier achievements in isolated instances, and finally disbanded in the early '80s.

The Impressions were formed in Chicago in 1957 as a doo wop group called the Roosters, a group of Chattanooga, TN, transplants that included vocalists Sam Gooden and brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks. Lead singer Jerry Butler joined up and soon brought in his friend Curtis Mayfield as guitarist; the two had previously sung together in a church choir and a couple of local gospel groups as youths. Renamed the Impressions by their manager, the group scored a major hit in 1958 with the classic ballad "For Your Precious Love," which hit the pop Top 20 and the R&B Top Five. Butler's gospel-inflected lead vocal was a departure from the norm, and the fact that the single billed him in front of the rest of the group foreshadowed his quick exit for a solo career, after just one more single ("Come Back My Love"). With new vocalist Fred Cash in tow, Mayfield took over the lead tenor role, eventually becoming the group's chief composer as well. First, though, he hit the road as guitarist and musical director for Butler's backing band, and also co-wrote some of Butler's earliest singles, including the R&B number one "He Will Break Your Heart" in late 1960.

Mayfield's success as a songwriter encouraged him to form his own publishing company. With the money he earned by working with Butler, he reconvened the Impressions and brought them to New York to record for ABC-Paramount in 1961. Their first single, the Latin-inflected "Gypsy Woman," was a number two R&B smash, also reaching the pop Top 20. Several follow-ups failed to duplicate its chart success, and the Brooks brothers left the group in 1962; now down to a trio, the Impressions returned to Chicago and began recording with arranger Johnny Pate, whose horn and string embellishments added a bit more heft to their sound. They struck gold in 1963 with "It's All Right," whose gospel-style lead-swapping helped make it not only their first R&B number one, but their biggest pop hit as well, with a peak of number four. The same year, they issued their eponymous first LP, which many critics still consider one of their finest. 1964 brought the hit single "Keep on Pushing," the first of Mayfield's numerous black pride anthems (though at this stage, his sentiments were much less explicit than they would later become). The album of the same name also featured a marching-beat cover of the gospel standard "Amen," inspired by the song's inclusion in the Sidney Poitier film Lilies of the Field. Gospel also informed what became perhaps the best-known Impressions hit, 1965's "People Get Ready"; if its lyrics weren't overtly political, Mayfield's intent was clear, as the song became an anthem of transcendence for the civil rights movement and an oft-covered soul standard.

The mid-'60s saw Mayfield trying to keep pace with the Motown hit factory by incorporating elements of its style into his own writing. The group recorded prolifically in 1965, but their commercial fortunes dropped off over the next couple of years. When the Impressions returned to the upper reaches of the R&B charts, it was with 1968's "We're a Winner," the most straightforward celebration of black pride Mayfield had yet composed. That summer, the group left ABC to record for Mayfield's newly formed Curtom imprint, which allowed them greater freedom in terms of the lyrical content Mayfield wanted to pursue. More aggressive message tracks like "This Is My Country," "Choice of Colors," and "Check Out Your Mind" followed over the next couple of years, as did some of the group's most consistent albums, particularly The Young Mods' Forgotten Story (1969). 1970's Check Out Your Mind was Mayfield's final album with the Impressions, but the group remained on Curtom after his departure, and he continued to write and produce some of their material.

Mayfield was replaced on lead vocals by Leroy Hutson, who debuted on LP with 1972's Times Have Changed. At this point, the Impressions were still overshadowed by their ex-leader, who was riding high with brilliant works like Superfly. But Mayfield's solo momentum cooled down a bit, and after Hutson departed in 1973, new singers Ralph Johnson and Reggie Torian joined Cash and Gooden for the R&B chart-topper "Finally Got Myself Together (I'm a Changed Man)," cut with ex-Motown producer Ed Townsend in 1974. Townsend continued to work with the group for the next couple of years with some success, but in 1976 Johnson left to join the unsuccessful Mystique. Around that point, the Impressions parted ways with Curtom; Nate Evans replaced Johnson, and the group recorded for Cotillion and 20th Century/Chi-Sound with little chart success. Evans eventually departed, leaving the group a trio again. They recorded their final album, Fan the Fire, in 1981; Gooden and Cash occasionally reunited with Mayfield and sometimes Butler for touring commitments. Mayfield was paralyzed in a heartbreaking stage accident in 1990, when a lighting scaffold toppled over on him; he passed away in 1999. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

mimivo.mm
Its too bad you couldnt come to me personally, you lied when I gave you the chance.
LOVE THIS ONE TO RASHON IBN ALMUHYI HIT BACK
They should do Curtis Mayfield biography on TV
Awesome! Understand the words...RQ/r x h
GOT ME FEEN SOME KINDA WAY!!!!
Listen...... . . . . #Faith is the key
Yep we're a winner keep on pushn movn up!!!!
One of the greatest DUO'S of all times Mayfield-But l e r , S a m - D a v e , Marvin-Tamie etc... batman-robin , green hornet-kato, superman-lou i s e lane
They're a great and talented group...one of the best ever.
Just luv this group.
@EJ Rupert , yes there are many black performers that can sing but not like these guys , there's a big difference .
Once in a lifetime-Cur t i s Mayfield
Sounds so good to me, you understand
Curtis Mayfield is a genius.
@bobonnit you're listening to the wrong people. There are plenty of black performers today who can sing (and rap).
This. Was. Music. Kind u. Can. Fall. In love. With
Make that WHY is rap so horrible ?
Why are today's black music performers seemingly unable to sing and only rap instead ? And is rap so horrible ?
Curtis Mayfield is one of the most prolific songwriters ever and one of my favorites right up their with Gil Scott Heron. Rooted in gospel and blues their is the balance of the two genres one and the same bringing a different perspective to the approach to the music and yet the gospel singer and the blues singer tackle the music with the same passion authenticall y bringing their soul to the music translating their communicatio n into a total sensual experience.
the Impressions are immortal
love the Impressions
the impressions were the best
Forever loving the Old School Music
The Impressions were a very,very good group. I enjoyed their music.
There a great group and dig their style of music
no CM & THE IMPRESSIONS today is like death in the family!
Such as well written song...love the Impressions!
it is stupid
We need more music like that today !!!
zydecomark
This is One of a Kind...! Nothing Like it.....
im so proud that i can listen to this great music
my favor curtis was miss black america
I hear u h_montor
Thank you, Impressions for your timeless contribution s of Curtis and Jerry to the world of music.
lady hutch what are you up to dont let your old man find out that your in touch with g-mo. just playing have a good day.
the best ever
I love this song!! So pretty!
I dig these cats C .Madden...Th e Wolf
I want to dance to this and move it, with a partner. Oh yea!!
Curtis...the ultimate arranger...n e v e r afraid to be rich, tasteful, and sophisticate d .
Love the mighty mighty Impressions. Now that's what you call singing!!!
the real thing so badddddddddd d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d
phyllish_58
This is the best music back in the day.
the Impressions gave the Temptations a ride for their money
renee caldwell its not happening no more,be blessed that you had a chance to experance it, thank the lord,you dont need no ticket lol.
CURTIS MAYFIELD AND JERRY BUTLER AND OTHERS ARE NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN AT ALL THESE KATS ARE DYNAMITE.
Cutis Mayfield & The Impressions, music is time tested...Mus i c really meant something
Lord have mercey what happin to this kind of singing
The Impressions have helped to shape, and form music as we know it today.Everyo n e stands on the shoulders of others, and the Impressions had very broad shoulders!
old school dj
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