personal heroes #8
the impressions – part 2
sooner or later 1987 - 2011
It had been 6 years since the name of the Impressions featured on Billboard's R&B chart when their solitary MCA 45 'Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow' flitted around the 90's for a fortnight before surrendering to the fast-breaking wave of Hip Hop and New Jack Swing in February '87. Sadly, times and tastes had really changed for Sam, Fred and Smokey temporarily putting soul music on the oldies circuit and their recording career on hold after three decades continuously great releases. Reggie Torian and Nate Evans had already gone and the group had relocated to Atlanta, then a short time later Sam and Fred re-settled in their old hometown of Chattanooga and Smokey (who kept his base in Chicago) joined them when and where their touring schedule required his presence. There was still plenty of interest in ‘live’ appearances and concerts by the guys who had elected to go into semi-retirement and tour for 6 months and spend more time at home with their families.
the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame
The Impressions were inducted into the 'Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame' in January 1991 at its sixth annual presentation ceremony and dinner. Other nominees that year included Wilson Pickett, Lavern Baker, John Lee Hooker, the Byrds and Ike & Tina Turner as well as R&B producers Ralph Bass and Dave Bartholomew with posthumous awards going to Howlin' Wolf and Jimmy Reed. Perhaps unaware of the historical friction between the founding members of the Impressions, the society had invited them all to the ceremony. At the pre-induction press meeting Fred Cash and Sam Gooden clashed with Richard and Arthur Brooks and they all refused to appear with each other. On 17 January '91, New York's 'Daily News' quoted Fred Cash as saying, "They were only there for two years (actually 6 years) - We've been with the group for 32 years and 27 Albums. I think it's a shame they're being inducted and I'm very mad about it. There's no reason." Jerry Butler countered with "Some of the questions about Arthur and Richard Brooks are based on their not being with the group for many of their hits. But they sang on (and co-wrote) 'For Your Precious Love', which is the reason for all of us being here, It's right we all be here." Of course every Impression was not there, Curtis Mayfield was still too ill to attend but spoke on a video hook up for his acceptance. As for Leroy Hutson, Reggie Torian, Ralph Johnson and Nate Evans it seems that they may not have been invited, at least they were not mentioned in press reports of the event.
After the ripple of interest that the Impressions Ripete 'Something Said Love' single caused in 1989, they went into the studio with producer Jerry Michaels and cut 30 tracks, enough music for two or three albums. At this time the group was a quartet as Ralph Johnson had returned to the line up of Sam, Fred and Vandy (aka ‘Smokey’). The vocal leads were shared by Vandy, (who took the high tenor leads) and Ralph who sang on the newer songs recorded at these sessions. Twenty of these cuts were updated versions of the Impressions back catalogue, written by Curtis and re-recorded to appeal to a new generation of fans unaware of the group’s long history. Johnson led on the new songs like ‘Draw The Line’, ‘In The Middle’, ‘Winning Combination’, ‘What A Feeling’ and ‘I Can Make It Go Away’ whilst Hampton handled the Mayfield songs and Fred Cash took the lead on ‘I Found You’ plus the single ‘Something Said Love/ Whatever It Is’ that he shared with Ralph. Gooden can be heard leading on 'For Your Precious Love' and 'Find Yourself Another Girl' but as is traditional with the Impressions, the lead often swaps from verse to verse. None of these tracks were initially picked up and issued in America or the UK. There was a tape circulating the UK record companies in the mid nineties with eleven tracks on offer but it wasn't until the spring of 2000 that Edel Records issued The Impressions - A Tribute to the memory of Curtis Mayfield in America and any of the above mentioned tracks were officially released. Unaccredited liner notes revealed that the Impressions were about to tour South Africa and record with Eric Clapton on his next album. In July '01 Norman Jopling and Terry Chappell of Ideal Music put together Remembering Curtis by the Impressions UK release later in the year. This album contains 20 Mayfield songs beautifully reinterpreted by the Impressions as only they can. "These are the Curtis songs that we've performed most over the years - in our stage act" Sam Gooden told me in February 2001.
In interviews given during the year before his tragic accident, Curtis Mayfield spoke of his intentions to reassemble the essential Curtom roster, once again. He reported his signing of Major Lance and spoke about their plans to record an album together, using a mixture of Mayfield and Smokey (Robinson) songs. He spoke enthusiastically about plans to sign the Impressions, who had no record deal at that time and Leroy Hutson, who by then was living in New York City. Curtis went on to report recent negotiations with Chris James, who had reformed a new version of the Natural 4. Mayfield stressed that he would not be going back - in the musical sense - and was very enthusiastic about future developments including new artists Sugar Ray (Raymondo Thomas), and his son Tracey (Mayfield). He said he was very happy with the Ichiban distribution of Curtom and had recently recorded tracks for the 'I'm Gonna Get U Sucka' movie at his Atlanta Studios. Curtis was rendered a quadriplegic when heavy equipment fell on him, crushing his spine in a freak storm that occurred when he was playing a concert at Wingate Field, Brooklyn on 13 August 1990. Because of these disastrous events sadly the Curtom label was never reactivated but Sequel Records used the logo to reissue the majority of the Curtom back catalogue on CD in the UK during the late ‘90s.
After Mayfield’s accident in the early 1990s there were a number of tribute albums compiled perhaps the most significant being All Men Are Brothers (A Tribute To Curtis Mayfield) issued by Warner Brothers in 1993 when the Impressions cut that glorious version of Mayfield's 'Fool For You' with Branford Marsalis. In America there was some interest in this collaboration and they performed it together, with a full orchestra, on the 'The Jay Leno Show'. It’s a great pity that this partnership did not persist with more records - they made great music together. The 'Darker Than Blue' documentary was first shown on UK TV on the 21 March 1995, through BBC's Omnibus series. It was written and presented by Caryl Phillips and directed by Michael Houldey. Generally Phillips did a great job telling the Mayfield/ Impressions story, set against a graphically stark view of the Chicago where Curtis grew up. The documentary was packed full of fascinating anecdotes from friends and collaborators Jerry Butler, Carl Davis, Fred and Sam. With interesting contributions from mother Marion Mayfield and son Todd, who at the time managed all Mayfield business. In the main, both pictorial and factual research was excellent but a little misleading in a couple of places. Some of the songs, allowing for artistic license, could have been better placed. Though this documentary centered on Curtis, his songs and significant musical contributions, Phillips missed an excellent opportunity to tell the early Impressions quintet story and stress the fundamental importance of ‘For Your Precious Love’, the first hit of the soul music genre. Perhaps, understandably, things had been made difficult for Phillips by the Impressions clash at the 'Rock & Roll Hall of Fame mentioned earlier. Irrespective of the personal differences between the group members, the Brooks Brothers played an influential role in the early development of the Impressions. Not only were they involved in the creation of 'For Your Precious Love' but also historically their voices made an important contribution to the group’s early identity. While it’s true that nearly all of the Impressions hits came after the Brooks Brothers departure and they did try to steal the Impressions name Richard and Arthur should not be ignored completely.
farewell to a genius
The tragic news of Curtis Mayfield’s death reached us on 26 December 1999 after his ten-year struggle against the almost total paralysis. Mayfield died at the North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, GA. Jet Magazine (17 January 2000 issue) reported that private services had recently been held for Curtis at HM Patterson & Sons Arlington Chapel in Atlanta. Attendants at the funeral service were his wife Altheida, the Mayfield family, Jerry Butler, Sam Gooden, Fred Cash, who sang an emotional and soul stirring version of 'Amen'. Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell announced that he was honoured that Curtis allowed 'People Get Ready' to be used as Atlanta's millennium theme song. The song Campbell said "...best reflects the accomplishment of our city and the challenges of a new century." Altheida said at a pre-funeral press conference "I lost my husband, the father of my children, my best friend and my soul mate. Thank God his music and his legacy will live far beyond today." Curtis was survived by his mother Marion Jackson, two sisters Judy Mayfield and Carolyn Falls, brother Kenneth, eleven children Tiffany, Curtis, Lebrian, Cheaa, Blaise, Lena, Tracey, Curtis III, Todd, Sharon, Carolyn and seven grandchildren. The same report revealed that Warner Bros Records were organizing a public memorial for fans and admirers to be held later (no date specified).
The Impressions were in California to appear at a Memorial Service for Curtis Mayfield, attended by many of his previous associates, including Lauryn Hill. One night while they were out having dinner with their manager Marv Heiman, he asked them if they would cut some background vocals with a singer in town, as a favour to him. Before they could phrase the inevitable question, he gestured and said "There he is - why don't you come and meet him now" and they found themselves shaking hands with Eric Clapton. Although both Eric and the Impressions had appeared on the Warner/ Curtis Mayfield Tribute album in '93 the two parties hadn't actually met before. Eric told them that he wanted to record 'I've Been Trying' and if he could arrange it, were they willing. They were in enthusiastic agreement. "We went into the studio (Record One I think it was called) and just did the one tune but it went so well that we put down a Reggae version too." As a result of this inspired collaboration, Eric invited them to record on his next album Reptile. "We began with just a couple of tracks but wound up singing on just about every one", added Sam (11 out of 14). In October last year shortly after the Impressions picked up a 'Pioneer Award' from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in New York, they came to London to record a version of the old Prisonaires classic 'Just Walkin' In The Rain' with Eric and they toured together, playing in Atlanta, Memphis and Charlotte NC in June and July 2000.
As the Impressions moved into the new millennium Jerry Butler, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash seemed to have at last settled some of their differences with Richard and Arthur Brooks at the R&B Foundation Awards in September 2000 as there was no repeat of the clash last time they were honoured by the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in January '91. This time things were a tad more harmonious as the photograph suggests. (Sam confirmed recently that the photo had been taken at the Brook Brothers request). After receiving ‘The Prestigious Pioneer Award’ the current Impressions line up performed 'It's Alright' and 'I'm So Proud' as well as they ever did, their long and continuous career once more on the incline. In the first year of the millennium the Impressions - Fred, Sam, Vandy and Ralph (who had temporarily rejoined) flew to South Africa to play two concerts over 10 days in Durban where they were the only act on the bill. Sam told me about their experiences during their first African visit. “It was amazing, the reception was overwhelming and many people I spoke with expressed the joy of seeing us. One gentleman said he never thought he would have the opportunity to see us in person. We were all in awe over the response and appreciation. The weather was great, we had a welcome/ farewell dinner at the home of Mr. Endabelle, transportation co-ordinator for Nelson Mandela. There were outstanding dancers performing and we had the chance to tour the outer regions to see animals we‘d only seen at the zoos before”.
Other honours followed and the Impressions were inducted into the ‘Vocal Group Hall of Fame’ in 2004 and into ‘The History Makers’ in July 2005. These days the Impressions were a quartet once again, Ralph Johnson quit on their return from South Africa and Fred, who in recent years has managed Impressions affairs, recruited Willie Kitchens Jr. (23) in Chattanooga where he ran his own record label and production company. Until this opportunity came his way Willie had worked exclusively in the Gospel field writing and producing for the Inner Ministry's Church. He has also issued solo Gospel albums. Willie joined Vandy, Fred and Sam later that year. At that time Vandy, or ‘Smokey’ as the other guys called him, was the only Impression that still lived in Chicago and didn't think he'd ever leave. He had his own small label, Smokestack Records that he ran a small production company through. Smokey and his son Ekima wrote and produced for artists like Danny Reed and the Machine Company Band.
impressions in london
'Juke Blues' magazine reported that the Impressions were in London in October 2000 recording with Clapton. Columnist and photographer Seamus McGarvey held out little hope for fans to see them perform with Eric in the UK but added that American fans were likely to be more fortunate. Eric Clapton engaged the Impressions to appear on his Albert Hall dates in February '01 and they joined him on a few other UK dates as well. I took this opportunity to interview the group on 11 February '01 at The Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London. Despite touring here on several occasions over the years, the Impressions had never really played to their UK fans. "Except for that one time at the 'Speakeasy' with Leroy back in '72. We've only performed here for the US military", Fred Cash confirmed. So this was a first - albeit to audiences who had primarily come to see Eric Clapton. Certainly this exposure to a broader audience was bound to create a wider interest in their own timeless music. Sam Gooden, who has sung bass vocal with the Impressions since their formation back in '57 is (along with Fred) a soul survivor. "We had a big hit with our very first record - 'For Your Precious Love' - and that can be a hard act to follow" said Sam. After just one year, their charismatic lead singer Jerry Butler quit (Fred joined to replace him) and the Impressions now under the guidance of a 16-year-old Curtis Mayfield, struggled in vain to craft another hit. They looked destined to become one hit wonders but they survived and Mayfield bought the quintet back in 1961 with 'Gypsy Woman'. This international hit was their now legendary introduction to most of us, certainly outside America. As previously mentioned Fred & Sam had moved back to their old hometown Chattanooga via Atlanta in the mid ‘90s after spending most of their adult lives in Chicago. In the forties and fifties they had lived just three houses apart from each other on Calhoun Avenue and attended school at Park City and East 5th Street. Sam and Fred sang at their local church and on the street corners trying their luck with neighbourhood groups before forming the 'Roosters'. At the time of this interview Sam (64) and Fred (62) looked younger than you might expect, the constant touring in America and their excursions to other countries kept them both fit. Though thankfully the pace had eased off and they could afford to take time out, travel or relax with their families and friends. They were in the UK to appear with Eric Clapton, having recently finished recording an album with him. "We loved the concerts at Albert Hall. But Eric caught a virus and had to cancel one night. He's OK now and we're going to appear with him in Sheffield tomorrow (Monday, 12 Feb ‘01) and then on to Manchester" Sam reported.
When they came off the road in 2002 Fred and Sam started looking for a new record deal. They began gathering songs together for an album and booked local studio time but travelling proved problematic for Vandy. In an email Sam told me that they (the Impressions) had to let Smokey go in April ’03. So once again the Impressions went back to the trio. After label searches proved unsatisfactory they decided to set up their own label ReBirth. The guys began making preparations to record two albums. The first idea was for a Christmas album and the second a collection of new songs with updated versions of a few highlights from their past. The trio went into Studio East, Charlotte, NC and laid down ‘You Kept Me’, ‘Eternally Blue’, ‘I Found You’ and a new version of ‘Loving Power’. But Sam and Fred were unhappy with the results, though Willie, who sang leads on some of the new cuts, disagreed and while work went ahead with Fred and Sam taking leads on the Christmas album, the second album stalled. Fred got increasingly unhappy with Willie and he became the second member to leave within a few months.
It was a sad day when I heard that recent high-tenor lead vocalist with the Impressions. Vandy ‘Smokey’ Hampton had died in mid February ’05. I had the good fortune to meet Vandy when interviewing the Impressions in London, September 2001. He told me that he got his earliest break with Dean Williams in the Soul Majestics during the early 70’s when they cut some singles on small Chicago labels Music Bag and Al –Tog. Then he joined the Chi-Lites after Eugene Record had gone solo in the mid 70s when they were with Inphasion Records. He was offered the lead spot with the Impressions in ’81, while they were still in Chicago and both groups were on ChiSound. Vandy toured internationally with the Impressions and was in the line up that celebrated their ‘Silver Anniversary US Tour’ in ’82-’83. For me Smokey’s highlight vocal track with the Impressions was ‘Fool For You’ which they recut for the Curtis tribute album ‘All Men Are Brothers’ in ’94 with Branford Marsalis. Despite logistical problems Hampton toured with the Impressions for six months of the year and was present when they came to the UK to promote ‘Reptile’, the album they had recorded with Eric Clapton in 2000. He sang with the Impressions for 22 years between 1981 and 2003 and his contribution greatly enriches their legacy.
Vandy Hampton leads with the Soul Majestics were ‘I Done Told You Baby/ Missing’ You (Al-Tog 001) and ‘Time And Time Again Pts 1&2’ (Al-Tog 771). With the Chi-Lites – ‘Stay A Little Longer/ Higher’ (Inphasion 7205) and ‘Only One For Me (One In A Million)/ You Won’t Be Lonely For Long’ (Inphasion 7208).
Reggie Torian, who sang lead for the Impressions 25 years ago, rejoined veteran members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash in January 2006. In a radio interview on Chicago Radio Station WHPK in April 2008 Reggie told spoke about how his reconciliation with the Impressions came about. He had kept in touch with Fred and Sam and “I was on the phone to Fred after New Years and towards the end of the conversation I hung up the phone, but he was still talkin’, so I called him back and I said were you sayin’ something? and he said Yes! I was asking you if you can still do this - I said still do what - he said you think you can still handle the road? - how’s your falsetto? I said I guess it’s fine - he said well you know why don’t you come down, we’re thinking of making a change and we’d like to have you back. So I went down and we rehearsed for a few days and I was right back into it”. This trio cut some new tracks for their Yuletide album I’m Coming Home For Christmas on their own new label ReBirth formed by Fred with Jerry Goodman and Tim Eaton. Once Reggie was back on board their bookings increased dramatically. Sam had returned to the line up by 8 February ’07 when the Impressions played some dates in California and Las Vegas. Gooden told me in an email “Now that Reggie is back, the group is where it needs to be for future success on stage and for recording. The work is coming in like wildfire – God is blessing us abundantly and we thank all our fans for hanging in there with us – we have bookings through to January 2008”. A recording of ‘Rhythm’ (the old Major Lance hit) by the Inmen backed by the Impressions (produced by Jerry Goodman of Gad Music) was getting a lot of airtime in the Carolinas.
the golden anniversary
Sam who hadn’t missed a gig in 50 years had to take some time out to have a triple bypass operation in January 2007. Band member Flynn Pickens filled in for a couple of gigs. The guys phoned the hospital every day to keep tabs on his progress and January 4th, the day after the operation when Fred came in to visit, Sam was sitting up in bed eating a breakfast of eggs and bacon. He was looking forward to a swift return to work and by February 8th he was back on stage with the rest of the guys. The Impressions celebrated their 50th Anniversary in the music business on 5 May 2007 playing a concert in Chattanooga with Jerry Butler, Leroy Hutson and the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra accompanied them in their celebration. Eddie Thomas (ex manager) was also in attendance. The concert was a sell out with many standing at the back of the theatre. My good friend and Impressions specialist Mel Nichols and his wife Pat made the pilgrimage to Chattanooga for the concert and he supplied the following review – They looked like a million dollars in their new stage suits, designed by Harold Williams, they go straight into Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’, Reggie Torian taking lead vocals standing very much like Curtis throughout this and the following songs ‘Mighty Mighty’, ‘Choice Of Colours’, ‘We’re A Winner’, a short exit by Reggie left Sam and Fred swapping lead vocals on ‘I Loved And I Lost’, with Reggie returning in a long white overcoat and a long Panama hat, going straight into ‘Superfly’. After presenting Robert the conductor with the hat who wore it for the rest of the show, it was back in time for ‘Gypsy Woman’, and my favourite ‘I’m So Proud’ – At this point Chattanooga mayor Ron Littlefield declared May the 5th “Impressions Day” and after a standing ovation everyone present was invited to sing along to ‘It’s Alright’ and ‘Talking ‘Bout My Baby’. Enter the first Impression after Curtis, Mr. Leroy Hutson, and a voice matching his immaculate appearance. Here I would have loved to hear something from the Times Have Changed album, not so, instead we were treated to a beautiful version of the Beatles ‘Yesterday’ very fitting words for the occasion; “All my troubles seemed so far away”. Back to Sam, Fred and Reggie for the classic, ‘People Get Ready’ another song full of Mayfield’s message. Not for the first time over two weeks I reached for my handkerchief. There, on stage, is the Iceman, Mr. Jerry Butler singing the awesome ‘For Your Precious Love’. Had I died and gone to heaven? THE song, THE man, THE guys on backing vocals and what applause! All good things come to an end, tonight’s show being no exception, everyone joining in with the Impressions anthem ‘Amen’ another fitting word. – A few days later Sam said to me “The only thing that was missing at the concert was Curtis, he should have been there.” I said “Perhaps he was, up in the gods smiling down on you all.” The Tivoli theatre located on Broadway and 7th Avenue in Chattanooga was their chosen venue, seating between 16-1700 people it was built in 1929. The Impressions had planned to take their Gold Anniversary Show to Los Angeles but that did not occur, however they did do another concert with the Symphony Orchestra in Chattanooga.
Sadly Candy and I had already booked our tickets to America before the Anniversary tickets went on sale. We hired a car in North Carolina and drove up to Chattanooga and called Sam on our arrival and he came over to our hotel. They knocked on our door and there they were. I couldn’t believe how good he looked - so fit after six years and a triple by pass, it hardly seemed credible. We met Gloria his wife for the first time who told us about their early days – how they met in Chicago when she was just 16. “Sam was like my big brother, my guardian at first. But a couple of years later it had all changed”. They took us on the central Chattanooga tour in their Lincoln, showing us the sights and pointing out the recent changes to their city. He talked about the recent 50th anniversary concert. “You should have been there Peter - Jerry, Eddie and so many friends came down. The concert was a sell out”. I said I really wished I’d been there. “Leroy was so great – everyone gave him compliments – so many people came backstage to wish us well - it was packed solid. He flew up from Florida where he lives now with his family”. The legendary station that inspired Glen Miller’s 1941 hit ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ no longer functions but is now a museum, tourist centre and hotel complex. Chattanooga has that reconstructed feel around the Aquarium a major attraction that is a tourist magnet. As we sat outside the Big River restaurant that spills out onto the wide sidewalk looking down onto the river, Sam told us “The city was run down in the latter part of the 20th Century”. We sat in the sunshine talking about his adventures on tour with the Impressions. “We were on tour in 1958 and we ran into the Drifters. We went into a diner where they were playing pool and we didn’t recognize any of them. We asked them – Where’s Pinkney and the Thrasher brothers? And they told us the story about their manager and how he’d hired them - a completely new group and given them the Drifters name. And you know… later on that nearly happened to us”. Touring America for 50 years you meet just about all your contemporaries in the music business. He told me that in a couple of days they were about to fly down to Augusta, Georgia then onto New Mexico with David Anthony their keyboards man and MD with a 7 piece band including Anthony Benford (guitar), Darrell Kelley (drums) and Flynn Pickins (bass guitar).
movin’ on up
Towards the end of 2008, Reelin’ In The Years Productions issued Movin’ On Up through Universal featuring the ‘Music & Message of Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions’ that was Directed by David Peck, Phillip Galloway and Tom Gulotta. This is a great package featuring a 28-page booklet that includes a good mixture of known and previously unseen photos. Breaking down the 3 hour running time runs as follows - Hour 1 Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions. Hour 2 - Curtis solo. Hour 3 - Bonus Features. There were 2 editions issued - Deluxe (colour pack) & regular (black & white). The main factor that puts this DVD compilation above the documentaries made previously is that the Impressions are given their due recognition. While Curtis Mayfield was their lead vocalist/ writer/ producer, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash contributed a great deal to the Impressions sound and their considerable contributions have been rather overlooked in the past, even though they have continued to record and work for 40 years since his departure. After the intro, Sam & Fred tell the early story of the Impressions formation and the period when they struggled to find a follow-up to their big Vee-Jay hit ‘For Your Precious Love’, though there is not much early musical reference on the soundtrack. They skip ‘Gypsy Woman’ and the first Impressions performance is ‘It’s All Right’ cut after their years in New York as a quintet, when they had returned to Chicago as a trio. Also the great Johnny Pate’s input gives the story a dimension not previously available. For the first time the fans are able to understand in detail just what a big part Pate played in the creation and development of the Impressions unique sound. The other talking heads are also particularly good and feature guitar hero Carlos Santana, rapper Chuck D, Civil Rights activist Ambassador Andrew Young and Altheida Mayfield in addition to Curtis, Sam, Fred and Johnny. Performances run through many of their singles, the civil rights anthem ‘People Get Ready’, Meeting Over Yonder’, ‘We’re A Winner’ - the record many radio stations banned because they thought it too militant, ‘This Is My Country’ with Clifton Davis’ poetic recitation over an Impressions performance, using quotes from Mayfield’s lyrics as part of it’s message. ‘Check Out Your Mind’ flagged the change that was about to come with Curtis’ departure from the group, though he still used their voices on some of his early solo records ‘Move On Up’ etc. After the first hour the story moves into Mayfield’s solo career with an interesting video of ‘If There’s A Hell Below We’re’ All Gonna Go’. This DVD covers Curtis’ story with a much more rounded perspective than before making use of those closest to him – namely Sam, Fred and Johnny. Johnny Pate’s and the Impressions recollections were particularly interesting and informative. Reggie’s first recordings with the Impressions this time, were cut for the ‘Live’ DVD Jazz at the Drew, a Festival for the Negro College Fund issued mid 2008 that features a stunning version ‘People Get Ready’. Unfortunately I have not been able to lay my hands on this DVD yet but when I do I will give it a thorough review.
the northampton ‘in crowd’ weekender
In America the Impressions had been pretty busy, putting the finishing touches to their new album, the two DVD’s and touring. They made appearances on their old stamping ground Chicago with the Chi-Lites, Dramatics, Emotions and the Dells at the Crown Theatre on Lakeshore Drive. The Tennessee House of Representatives honoured Sam, Reggie and Fred in April ’08 for their contributions to American music. They made preparations to fly to the UK for an appearance at the Northampton ‘In Crowd’ Weekender (Friday - Sunday 23-25 May ’08) at the Park Inn Hotel. Impressions leader Fred Cash had been interviewed about their forthcoming UK visit on BBC Radio 2s Soul show ‘All Dancing, All Singing All Night’ on New Years Day. BBC Radio's Craig Charles ‘Soul & Funk’ DJ also reviewed the concert with Fred on the phone. Reggie, Fred and Sam were featured on the front cover of the April edition of ‘Manifesto’ magazine and Mel Nicholls also wrote a good article ‘Then and Now’ for ‘On The Scene’ (May/ June Issue). When we checked in at the Park Inn on Friday, the Impressions had already arrived – in fact we bumped into Sam at the entrance. Saturday afternoon was rehearsal time and David Anthony their MD put the back up band Soul Patrol through a detailed preparation until they had every cue and nuance nailed. Then the Impressions went through their paces, David leading on his synthesizer, the Soul Patrol septet (guitar, bass, sax, trumpet, drums, piano and congas) trying to get it right with very little practice and generally succeeding. The guys did about 10 songs, stopping now and then to get something just right. After an hour or so the band left the stage but the Impressions were enjoying themselves and sang a couple of numbers not in the programme like ‘I Loved and I Lost’ and ‘A Fool For You’ with David weaving keyboard magic behind them. It was a glorious sound that the few of us in attendance felt privileged to witness. When I asked about MD Anthony Fred told me “David is family, he’s second cousin to my wife –we don’t play nowhere without him.” David later told me he had majored in music at the University of Illinois in 1975 – he looked way too young. After 12 pm Motown’s Undisputed Truth finished their set and suddenly, at last, there they were, decked out in immaculate mustard and black suits and rolling into a superb set that included ‘Move On Up’, ‘Mighty Mighty…’, ‘We’re A Winner’, ‘People Get Ready’, ‘I’ve Been Trying’, ‘It’s All Right’, ‘This Is My Country’, ‘Woman’s Got Soul’, ‘Gypsy Woman’, ‘I’m So Proud’, ‘You’ve Been Cheatin’’, ‘Superfly’, ‘Choice Of Colours’, ‘Keep On Pushing’, and ‘Amen’. Ear shattering roars of approval emanated from a captivated audience at the end of each song - there was dancing, singing and in some cases crying. The enjoyment both on and off stage was evident resulting in an atmosphere that crackled with excitement. Towards the end they honoured Curtis Mayfield, without who none of us would have been there. It was a seriously good performance and the Impressions gave it their all – they could only be tempted back for an encore verse of ‘Amen’ but everyone was delighted and well satisfied with what they’d witnessed –it was absolutely great. When I spoke to the guys in their dressing room as they relaxed prior to an autograph session – they too were enthusiastic about the event and were talking about an early return to the UK. We made our farewells and headed back to the bar where the chatter was exclusively about ‘the’ best gig for ages. The supporting act Undisputed Truth were also pretty good. I always liked their ‘Smiling Faces’ hit record and talking to Sam later I realized why when he said their lead singer had told him that the song was a tribute to him and when you listen to it, again they sound just like him.
i’m coming home for christmas
The long awaited new album from the Impressions I’m Coming Home For Christmas was issued in plenty of time for the 2009 yuletide festivities. These were the first new recordings issued by the Impressions since 1993 and the return of their lead singer Reggie Torian - as you heard it was great to have him back. A superb new version of their hit ‘Amen’ begins this yuletide feast. Reggie, Fred & Sam are backed by John P Kee and the New Life Singers on some of these cuts. The title track ‘I’m Coming Home For Christmas’ written for them by Geoff Smith bass guitarist/ engineer at Studio East where this fine album was recorded and this song should rise to become a big hit and remain one of the future season annuals. The traditional songs ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘’Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ are all given a contemporary twist by the Impressions (who take their turn on lead vocals), the instrumentation and the great production values of Tim Eaton and Fred Cash give this fine album a rich flavour. Every one of the fifteen tracks has a yuletide aspect that will appeal to different family members. It was actually cut a couple of years back for their own ReBirth Music label and just missed last Christmas release. Since then it has been re-sequenced and is that bit better for it. The legions of Impressions fans worldwide should get behind this great album, it is the best Christmas collection for many a year! – And really does deserve to do repeat business. They are after all the best vocal group on planet earth. This is all the music you will need for quite a few Christmases to come.
the impressions ‘soul of curtis mayfield’ uk tour
The Impressions were soon to appear in the UK! This time, due to the demand for tickets at their previous UK appearance (Northampton – 24 May ’08) they were playing in larger venues at the Barbican, London (Friday 10 June) and the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (Saturday 11 June) with possible other dates to be added that did not materialize. Their show ‘The Soul Of Curtis Mayfield’ backed by the Curtom Orchestra and MD the excellent Mr. David Anthony featured many of Curtis’ biggest hits like ‘Superfly’, ‘We’re A Winner’ and ‘Move On Up’. This superb programme was packed with soulful music delivered as only the Impressions can. Within minutes it was clear that the Impressions were still at the top of their form featuring Fred Cash, Sam Gooden and Reggie Torian. Recently speaking about their new show Fred said “Most of those songs that we recorded back then really speak to what’s happening today. You know they’re inspirational and they’re givin’ people hope and that’s the reason why we cannot stop singing these songs. The foundations that we laid back then - well that’s what’s keeping us out there today.” – 50 years later. Bass man Sam was reminded of a concert back in early 1965. “We started getting a lot of encores and we began to run out of songs. So the only thing we could think to do was to sing something that we had only rehearsed just after Curtis had finished writing it – that was ‘People Get Ready’.” Reggie, the youngest member of the group with a mere 18 years in the line up told me “I'm really looking forward to our return to the UK fully recognizing the tremendous energy our fans there transmit. We hope to provide a great show for those who may only get to see us this one time. Get ready to have good memories of times gone by.” In a recent email Sam confirmed that the trio will only be in the UK from June 8 to 13. Before the concert the atmosphere was gradually building as the hall began to fill up with expectant Impressions fans. The show began with the Curtom Orchestra comprising of well-respected UK musicians convincingly working their way through the intro of ‘If There’s A Hell Below’, 'Freddie’s Dead', and 'Give Me Your Love' with good vocals by Mazen Bedwell. Impressions MD David Anthony was on stage and a few bars from his keyboard announced the trio we had all come to see. And suddenly there they were, all smiles responding to a very enthusiastic reception, looking sharp in matching slate grey suits. They were swiftly down to business taking us all back 50 years in an instant with a superb rendition of their first international hit ‘Gypsy Woman’ and from that point on they had the audience on song. Then came another favourite ‘It’s Alright’ that put us all in the groove - a song inspired by tenor Fred Cash’s way of talkin’ but brought to life by Mayfield’s magic. The audience were already on their feet but these guys were not going to peak too early, no they have so many great songs in their portfolio that they could sing all night without the slightest dip in quality. They rolled on with a superb selection of their hits including ‘Talkin 'Bout My Baby’, ‘I'm So Proud’, ‘Keep On Pushing’, ‘I've Been Trying’, ‘Woman’s Got Soul’, reaching a mass high with ‘People Get Ready’, after which due respect was paid to Curtis to whom this tour was dedicated. Next came Mayfield’s nod to Motown ‘You Been Cheatin’’ and the pride anthem ‘We're A Winner’, the generally under appreciated ‘I Loved And I Lost’, the emphatic ‘This Is My Country’, and the poetic ‘Choice of Colours’. Then the spotlight fell on Reggie Torian who had donned his ‘Superfly’ duds to talk us through a Blaxploitation redux before singing Curtis’ big movie hit. We all sensed it was coming to an end when they broke into ‘Mighty Mighty Spade and Whitey’ their integration anthem. They were gone as quickly as they came but returned to a hall-shaking roar to finally leave us with ‘Amen’. I don’t believe this concert could have been better. Somebody sitting behind me said that Reggie was a better-suited Impressions lead than Curtis had been. From that I took it to mean he had a broader vocal range. His falsetto isn’t as high but his tenor has more depth. True he’s perfect for today but no one could ever replace Curtis without him none of us would have been there. By the time we arrived in the foyer there was a long line of fans waiting for autographs etc and Sam, Fred and Reggie were happy to oblige even if it did take them a couple of hours. These guys have nothing but time for their UK fans, they have waited a long time to perform for them so the mutual admiration cuts both ways. So glad we didn’t miss our chance to see the fabulous Impressions in a show that will stay in our memory long into the future. In these austere times when all we hear is the fat cats telling us to cut back and constantly reminding us how much in debt their greed has put us - just listen to what the Impressions still say “Hum a little soul, make life your goal and have a good time ‘cause It’s Alright.”
When a group has enjoyed such a long and successful career as the Impressions have, it is always easier to look back at their glittering past than to look forward into the unknown. But as recent London appearances proved their performances are as great as ever, their voices are as pure and their enthusiasm for what they do remains undiminished. Historically the Impressions have been among the top five vocal groups of all time. Their influence and contribution to popular music would take too long to calculate. They sure made an indelible impression back in the day when their records topped the US R&B and Hot 100 charts and for many of us especially in the UK where most of their catalogue has been reissued on CD, it became a lasting impression. Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield both made significant contributions to the Impressions before leaving for their own stellar solo careers but it has been Fred Cash and Sam Gooden who have consistently been the heart of this great group, they were and still are the sound of the Impressions and now with Reggie these three gentlemen are the future - the Lasting Impressions. Many of their fans worldwide anticipate more great concerts like we’ve seen recently and hope that more new recordings will emerge in the near future.
the impressions digital renaissance
Between 1996-99 I was engaged by Sequel Records as a Curtom specialist/ authority to organize the reissue on CD of the labels complete catalogue. The sequence of releases began with a triple Curtis box set Love Peace and Understanding and continued with all Mayfield’s albums plus bonus recordings and those of Leroy Hutson, Linda Clifford, (in 2CD sets), the Natural Four, Baby Huey, the Notations etc and eight Impressions albums plus Indelible Impressions a 45 track anthology of their singles with some rarities – some of these CDs are still available on Amazon and the like. Due to changes of location and numerous distributors, the Curtom vaults had been falling into some disarray for a number of years. In some cases, during the process of reissue, difficulties had been encountered in tracking down previously unissued sides and alternative versions. In the mid 90s, an inventory of the entire Curtom product revealed many as yet unreleased recordings by some of the labels artists that had not been issued since ‘68. Just how much of this product will find future release will depend on a number of factors. The Impressions tracks that still lie in the vaults are 'All Over The World', 'Colors Blow My Mind', 'Double Your Pleasure', 'Exorcist', 'I Get High', 'I Will Overcome', 'Just My Imagination', 'What Happened To A Thing Called Love' and 'Where Is My Love'. Also still un released are the 'live' performances from the Impressions, Curtis and Jerry, recorded from their 1982/ 83 'Silver Anniversary Tour' that like the other as yet unissued ABC Impressions 'live' at The Club Chicago, recorded in September '66 and the Johnny Pate produced Cotillion album – all must see the light of one day soon. (peter burns)
Sam, Fred and Reggie
My sincere thanks to Mel Nichols for the use of his reviews of the Chattanooga, Barbican and Bridgewater concerts
and photos supplied by Lisa Parker
Thanks to Chicago Radio Station WHPK for use of their quotes from programme ‘Sitting In The Park’
Photo credits: Richard Corkery, Norman Seeff, Seamus McGarvey, Peter Burns, Lisa Parker,
Impressions CD listing compiled by Peter Burns
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