R&B trio, with two Chattanooga members, still in the public eye after 50 years

R&B trio, with two Chattanooga members, still in the public eye after 50 years

December 2nd, 2012 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

The Impressions started out in Chattanooga as The Roosters in 1957. That group featured brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden. The current lineup, above, is Gooden, Reggie Torian and Cash, from left.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ROLL CALL

Current members: Reggie Torian, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden

Past members: Richard Brooks, Arthur Brooks, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, Leroy Hutson, Ralph Johnson, Nate Evans, Vandy Hampton, Willie Kitchens, Gary Underwood

Timeline

1957: The Roosters, featuring Sam Gooden and brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks, move from Chattanooga to Chicago.

1958: The trio joins forces with Jerry Butler, who brings in Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler & The Impressions is formed; the same year, "For Your Precious Love" becomes the group's first hit, charting at No. 11 on the Pop charts and No. 3 on the R&B charts.

1959: Former Rooster Fred Cash, now 18, moves from Chattanooga to Chicago and joins the group to replace the departing Butler.

1961: "Gypsy Woman," a Mayfield-penned song, becomes the first post-Butler hit for the Impressions.

1963: "It's All Right" is released, sells 1 million copies and tops the R&B charts. "The Impressions" is released as the group's first LP.

1964: "Keep On Pushing," the album and the single, are released and become instant hits.

1965: Mayfield continues to write socially conscious songs and the song "People Get Ready" is released; also released that year are "Woman's Got Soul" and "Amen."

1968: "I Loved and Lost" become the group's first hit in almost three years.

1969: "Choice of Colors" and "We're a Winner" hit No. 1 on the R&B charts.

1970: "Check Out Your Mind" reaches No. 3 on the R&B charts, but Mayfield leaves the group to pursue a solo career, although he continues to write songs for the group and produce its albums.

1974-75: "Finally Got Myself Together (I'm A Changed Man)" charts at No. 1 while "Same Thing It Took" and "Sooner or Later" both reach No. 3.

1990: Mayfield is paralyzed from the neck down after lighting equipment falls on him during a show.

1991: The Impressions - Richard and Arthur Brooks, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden -- are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1993: The Impressions are inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

1999: Mayfield dies at age 57 in Roswell, Ga.

2001: The Impressions are invited by Eric Clapton to sing backing vocals on his "Reptile" album.

2012: "Keep on Pushing" is included in the new James Bond movie "Skyfall" and also is featured in the new Samsung Galaxy Note II TV ad featuring basketball star LeBron James.

When The Impressions released the single "Keep On Pushing" in 1964, it marked a new direction for the R&B trio.

The group - with Chattanooga natives Fred Cash and Sam Gooden - had scored previously with the soulful "Gypsy Woman" and "It's All Right," but "Pushing" became an anthem for black pride, transforming songwriter and singer Curtis Mayfield into a musical leader of the movement.

"He became the voice of a generation," Gooden says. "He was telling you the way things should be."

"He was a young guy and he just had his finger on the pulse," Cash says. "I asked him where he came up with all these words and he said, 'I'm living.'"

Yet "Keep on Pushing" also foreshadowed the eventual exit of Mayfield, who left in 1970 to pursue a solo career that focused more directly on social and politically charged material.

"I think Curtis wanted to get down deeper," Gooden now recalls. "He found things that he just did not like and he wanted to express it in a way by himself."

Still, "Keep On Pushing" keeps on giving to Gooden and Cash who, along with longtime member Reggie Torian, continue to tour and record as the Impressions. The song is used in the new James Bond movie "Skyfall" and also can be heard in the new TV ad for the Samsung Galaxy Note II featuring basketball superstar LeBron James.

Cash says the manager of Jerry Butler, the Impressions' first lead singer, let him know about the connection between "Pushing" and "Skyfall," sending Cash to the movie theater.

"I just sat there and smiled when I saw it."

A few days later, he heard about the commercial.

"It means a big paycheck for Sam and I," he says with a laugh.

Political movement

"Keep On Pushing" was the first socially conscious hit for Mayfield, launching a trend for him and the group. In 1965, they released "People Get Ready," perhaps the song for which they are best known, and another tune picked up by the civil rights movement.

Things ratcheted up in 1968, though, when the Impressions released "We're a Winner," another hit but one that clearly telegraphed the new musical direction for Mayfield, who died in 1999.

While the words to "Keep on Pushing" and "People Get Ready" can be seen as simply urging all people to get together and keep striving for a better world, "We're a Winner" was a direct cry of black pride, with lyrics that linked back to "Keep on Pushing," saying "Keep on pushin'/like your leaders tell you to."

"Winner" took off as an anthem of racial politics and, in the months after it was released, other similar songs were released, including James Brown's "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and Proud" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People."

Gooden and Cash say Mayfield wrote constantly but always ran the songs by the two of them before recording. Those that the three didn't agree on were offered to other artists. And, while he left the group to go solo, they say Mayfield also was thinking about them when he decided to depart.

"He wanted to leave us and do things on his own. He kind of said, 'Now I can spread my wings,'" Gooden says. "But he respected Fred and myself so much, I don't think he wanted to bring us totally into some of the stuff he wanted to do."

Musicians were being blackballed by venues, record labels and radio stations for taking a political stance, and Mayfield, who went on to release political songs such as "We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue" and "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below" as well as across-the-board hits such as "Superfly" and "Freddie's Dead," didn't think it was the right next step for The Impressions, Gooden says.

During an interview in Chattanooga, the two longtime friends and collaborators listen patiently and respectfully to each other, but they clearly have differing ideas on whether Mayfield's more political direction could have or should have worked with the Impressions. Cash agrees with Gooden on why Mayfield chose to go solo, but he believes the group could have done those songs and more.

"When you think about it, he was doing the same thing with us," Cash says. "We were doing 'This is My Country' and 'Choice of Colors.' He went in a new direction, but we could have recorded those songs. I liked 'Hell Below.' Now 'Freddie's Dead,' he could have kept that to himself."

Gooden says the tone of Mayfield's songs changed along with the messages, and that tone probably wouldn't have fit snugly with the Impressions.

"I think when he moved on to these real, in-the-gut songs, for me, I don't think it was for us to do and continue in this business. People will kindly blackball you. I'm not saying that was something I was afraid of."

Even after he left, though, Mayfield continued to write and produce songs for the Impressions. Still, his leaving left a hole and the group went through a serious of singers over the ensuing years, including Torian, who was a member in the 1980s and rejoined 11 years ago.

But more than 50 years after they first blended their voices as first The Roosters and then The Impressions, they are still actively touring and recording. This spring, they will release an album called "Rhythm" comprised of new material and including a lost Mayfield song called "Homeless." Cash recently found a demo tape of the song, which Mayfield gave him during their last visit together before Mayfield's death.

"It's a beautiful song that is as relevant today as when he wrote it, I'm sad to say," Gooden says.

The Impressions' longtime producer Jerry Pate agreed to come out of retirement to arrange and produce the song, Cash says.

In March, the Impressions also will be honored during ceremonies for the newly refurbished History of Rock exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, where the group was inducted in 1991.

Early years

Both Cash and Gooden were born in Chattanooga and still live here. But in 1957, Gooden left for Chicago with brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks to pursue a musical career as The Roosters. Gooden was also going to play baseball for a semipro team, he says, figuring he had a better chance at making a living in sports than singing.

Cash was a member of the group, too, but his mother would not let him go because he wasn't 18. After Cash's birthday in 1959, Gooden returned to Chattanooga, picked him up and took him to Chicago.

While in the Windy City, the trio met Butler, who was working as a short-order cook at the local YMCA. Jerry Butler & the Impressions were formed, but they quickly decided they needed someone who could play an instrument as well as sing to round out the a capella group. Butler knew a guy named Curtis Mayfield, who played guitar.

In 1958, before Cash joined, the group released "For Your Precious Love," which became their first hit. As was the practice of the day, the record label, Vee-Jay, then pushed to have Butler, the lead singer, leave to become a solo singer. Label execs were not interested in the remaining singers.

"The record company ... just didn't think we could sing at all," Cash says.

Gooden says Vee-Jay executive Calvin Carter "says we wouldn't make another hit record. We had another lead in Curtis, but he had a falsetto and a unique but soft lead and they didn't like that. They told us, 'You can't sell any records.' It was disheartening."

But Gooden was friends with L.C. Cook, whose brother Sam Cooke (who used the "e" in his stage name) came to their defense and tried to convince Carter he had a good group in The Impressions. Carter would not be swayed, so Cooke bet him $100 they would succeed.

" 'Gypsy Woman' came out and the hits started rolling in," Cash says. "Hit after hit."

Eleven Top 20 hits on the Billboard's pop charts and 25 Top 20 hits on the R&B charts, to be exact.

Cooke collected on the bet, Gooden says, as both men burst into big laughter.