Monday, April 22, 2013

The Impressions: Part 2 of Our Interview with Original Member Sam Gooden

In Part 2 of our interview with Sam Gooden of the Impressions, he talks about his nephew, the bassist Joseph “Lucky” Scott. Gooden talks about how Scott came to play bass for the Impressions after a tragic accident killed several of the group’s band members. And he talks about how, when Curtis Mayfield left the group, he took Scott with him and how the bassist later played on Mayfield’s famous Superfly soundtrack.
 He also talks in depth about two of the Impressions’ greatest hits, “People Get Ready” and “Move on Up,” giving an almost line-by-line interpretation of those songs’ lyrics.  It will definitely make you look at those recordings in a different light.

BBP: Tell me about some of your biggest hits. I remember the one I used to hear all the time when I was growing up was “We’re a Winner.”

Gooden: That was down the line a bit. You want to ask me about the Impressions, or you want to ask me about somebody else?

BBP: Well, I guess I want to ask you about everything. You have all of this knowledge in your head, and I guess I want to share it with the world. That’s just my attitude. I definitely want to know about Joseph (“Lucky” Scott, bass player and his nephew) because I was looking up stuff about him and there’s hardly anything about Joseph.  Well, let’s go to him now. Tell me a little about Joseph. How did he get into music?

Gooden: Well that’s my youngest sister’s oldest son. And he started playing bass here in Chattanooga. No, he had started very young here in Chattanooga, playing local, playing the city with musicians that we grew up with and listening to. There’s a group called the Upsetters Band and he started playing bass for them.

BBP: The Upsetters?

Gooden:  It’s just a group. Not the Upsetters that you hear. It’s another group that was here. And they had the same name. Not the one that became famous. And he played for them, and of course I knew with him being my nephew...well I had actually three nephews that played; two of them eventually came out to play for Curtis and play for us also. But Lucky, he started that, but we had a bass player that traveled with us, his name was Lenny Brown, and Lucky learned a lot from him because he used to listen to him play and he would copy different styles and different changes that he made. He didn’t read music, but he had the best ear you wanted to hear, because he could go into the studio and record anything that you want to record and still couldn’t read not a lick of music at all.

BBP: Wow. That’s incredible. Do you know what made him choose bass as opposed to, like, guitar ?

Gooden: That I don’t know. I think he played some guitar. Plus he played some keyboards. He’s a very all-around talented young man.

BBP: Did you and he collaborate on stuff? He played back-up for the Impressions for a while, right?

Gooden: Yeah, well he started with us.  What happened? Let me say this, is that in ’68 we were on tour with Jackie Wilson and our band got killed while we were on that tour.  We lost all of our musicians.

BBP: Oh wow…how did that happen?

Gooden: Well, we had just finished the show in the Carolinas and we had a day off. The sound system that we had for the tour, the switch broke on it and the only place we could get it fixed was in Atlanta.  So the band was putting it in the van and bringing it all the way to Atlanta to get it fixed, and then we would go have a day off. So the next day we were going to go back to Greenville, South Carolina to continue the tour. The group…Fred and I, and Curtis, we left right after the show, and the band left about an hour or two after that.

BBP: By plane?

Gooden: No, by car. But that morning, my road manager woke me up and told me they had had an accident on Interstate 85 and that all of them were killed.

BBP: Oh my God!

Gooden: So that kind of took us off the tour, but all of a sudden we had no musicians. So I knew that Lucky knew our stuff, knew everything that we had done because he had worked with Lenny quite closely, and I told Fred and Curtis that he could probably play our stuff. So we called him in, and then he started playing with the group. And he became our bandleader for quite some years, ‘til Curtis decided to step down from the group and be on his own. And he had no band. So we decided to let him take the old band that we had, and we started a new band.  And that meant Lucky went with Curtis. After that, Curtis started going in the studio. He used to sit down with Lucky and they just would do rhythm.  And they’d sit down and learn songs. And Lucky would listen, and they would play along with what Curtis was playing, and learning the songs, so that when they went into the studio, he knew exactly the way the song was going, so he didn’t have to read nothing. He was that talented. He could just pick up all the things and also add a little bit of himself within the song. That’s what he did as Curtis grew. And then when Curtis did the Superfly thing, then he had a bass pattern that he created himself, and he became famous for it.

BBP: Like for “Pusherman” and “Freddy’s Dead….”

Gooden: All of those things. Every one of those songs. He could not read a lick. He had the greatest ear around as far as a musician is concerned. You figure, say, “Well okay, this guy reads music well. He reads this, he reads that.” No, he learns the track with what the rhythm does, and he goes in the studio and he plays it!

BBP: Now this was around the time that Larry Graham was doing his thing with the slapping and the popping and that kind of thing….

Gooden: Yeah.

BBP: In Lucky’s recordings, I didn’t hear him doing too much of that. Did he do that at all? Did he not like to do that? It wasn’t just part of his style?

Gooden: No, it wasn’t his style to do that. He just created the bass patterns. He did no popping, he did no pulling on the strings and none of that other stuff. He was just a professional bass player that created different sounds that other bass players have copied.

BBP: Yeah. For sure.  I know, getting back to Larry Graham, Larry Graham likes to use different amplification devices, and sound-altering devices. Lucky didn’t like that stuff either, I guess, right?

Gooden: No. He got a good amp and he played through it. That’s basically it. It wasn’t that he added four or five different amps up there to enhance the sound, he used a big amp—that’s it. What came out was beautiful music.

BBP: You’re right. It sure was. Especially Superfly. I was curious about that whole Superfly thing. Were you involved in that at all? You and the other Impressions? Or was that strictly Curtis’ thing?

Gooden: No. That was Curtis’ thing. When Curtis decided to stay in and basically run the company, then we moved on with Leroy Hutson. We added musicians, we added a singer. And we went from there. But with Curtis, he went in and all of a sudden now, he could kind of branch out the way he wanted to branch out. He could do the things that possibly, that he probably wanted to do when he was with us, but he didn’t want to take us over to that style of music. Even though we probably could have done it, you know, it’s just that it wasn’t for us to do. It was for him to do by himself.

BBP: Did Lucky ever talk to you about what he was doing on Superfly? I know that you mentioned that he and Curtis used to work out the songs together. And how did he feel about the reception to the soundtrack?  I mean that movie is known more for the soundtrack then it is for the movie itself.

Gooden: Well Lucky got a lot of publicity from it.  He got to meet a lot of different acts and the people that was in the movie, he got to know those people. He got to know those people, so, he got a way to establish himself in the hearts of music as one of your better bass players around.

BBP: Was he getting a lot of offers from other musicians after that happened?

Gooden: (chuckles): Well, yeah, cause at one point, he left Curtis and he started doing some church thing here in the city, which is where his heart was. You know, he liked playing in church.  And he also put the bass down and he started playing piano, keyboard, for one of the church choirs.

BBP: Was he a very religious person?  I mean….

Gooden:  I would say that he liked playing in church. I won’t say that he was constantly a church goer. Did he join a church, did he do this, did he do that? That’s something I don’t know because I didn’t sit down and ask him about something like that. Some things you ask and some things you just leave alone. Cause if you start throwing church at somebody, all of a sudden they clam up and they don’t want to say anything about it. But I know that he liked playing the church music. He traveled around with a lot of choirs, not only in the city but to Atlanta and some of the other places around outside of the city.

BBP: Do you remember some of the names, some of the groups that he did specifically?

Gooden: I couldn’t recall some of the people, because the thing is, I was living in Chicago then.  And that was before I moved back here.  And when I moved back here, I know a couple of people that he used to sit down with for rehearsal, for the choir rehearsal. But as far as knowing the names of the different groups, the people in the city that he’s done music for, I can’t recall them.

BBP: Did he consider the bass to be his primary instrument even though you said he gravitated more towards the keyboard when he started playing church music?

Gooden: That was his tool. That was his main thing: his playing bass. Anybody that knew him, that’s what they knew about him, by his bass-playing.

BBP: I guess his death must have been hard—especially for you—I mean you’re his uncle. That must have been …

Gooden: You…you…you…you love your niece and your nephew….you look at him, you think about what other things he could have done. You know if he could have survived that situation….he didn’t survive that. I know I went to the wake, and uh…have you ever been to a wake where you looked down at somebody and their eyes moved…

BBP: ….yeah, I think I know what you mean, or at least something gives the impression that they do, yeah.

Gooden: But, I looked at him, I stood there and I looked down and his eyes moved. His eyebrows moved, and it wasn’t me the only one who saw it.  So, you don’t know. I don’t know. Because I know some people say—and that’s hearsay—that a person always remains until the funeral is over, even at the cemetery, and then they leave. But they are there, overlooking their funeral. Which is something I can’t relate to.  I won’t say it’s true and I won’t say it’s not true.

BBP: (laughing): Well, we’re not going to know until we get there ourselves, I guess!

Gooden: (laughing) Yes! Exactly!

BBP: Well, what do you think was happening there? Do you think he was just acknowledging the people who came to see him?

Gooden: I think so. I think he knew that we were there, and that he was saying “it’s alright….I’m going on.” And take his talent to the Lord.  And play there.

BBP: Hmm. So he’s probably in a band up there with a lot of other great….

Gooden: A lot of other great musicians and singers and friends of mine. It scares me some time. I know quite a few of my good friends have passed on there. It always makes me sit back and try to overlook my own life, and just try to do better and try to live the right way and try to take care of myself, take care of my body and stuff.  And try to stay here as long as I possibly can. Because I know I’m not going to be here forever. You know, just as long as the good Lord allows me too.

BBP: Yeah. That’s all you can do. You just try to do the best you can with what you have.  Did Lucky have kids? Was he married?

Gooden: Yeah. He had kids. I’m not sure how many, but I know he does.  I met his daughter, and I think he had a son.  But yeah, he had kids.  And they’re actually grown up.  I see his brothers now and they talk about it. Because I know they probably see his kids.  But he had two brothers who also play.

BBP: What are their names?

Gooden: Larry Scott, he was a guitar player. He played mostly for church and around the city. And Vinnie Scott. He also played for us. He also was the last person playing for Curtis when Curtis had the accident.

BBP: Oh yeah, in 1990-1991 I think it was.

Gooden: Right, and that was Vinnie playing—he was Curtis’ band leader, just like his brother was. And played bass also.

BBP: Did he learn from Lucky?

Gooden: I don’t know.  I know the style of playing; he plays very similar to Lucky. He’s not as tall as Lucky. He’s a shorter guy. But Lucky was a tall guy. Lucky was probably—I guess Lucky was probably about six-one, six-two. Tall and slender, but his brother was short…

BBP: Yeah.  Lucky’s kids: are they gravitating towards music at all?

Gooden:  Never kept up with them because, like I said, most of the time I was in Chicago so the family that he had was here in Chattanooga.  I just moved back here in 1977.

BBP: I want to ask you a few more questions about The Impressions. You guys have quite a footprint, you know, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and all that?

Gooden: We kind of made a name for ourselves and thank the Good Lord that he had kept Fred and myself to a point where we could copy what we’d done years ago and with us not drinking, not smoking, or anything like that. Then we have a tendency to do songs in the same key that we did years ago. Same songs, same keys, same everything.  Anybody who comes in with us, they will have to learn exactly the way we do things.  The way people will recognize everything that we do.  So we have them to make sure that they learn the song the way the song is, because you find so many lead singers that replace the other lead singers. They always come in; they always want to change the flow of a song. And it takes away from what the people remember of the song. So the main thing for us is that everything remains the same.  If you’re going to ad lib anything, do it on the end, or just before you start the song. This way, once the song starts, you’d be surprised how many people sitting out there are singing along with you.  And they’re saying each word, each note, exactly what you’re doing, and like the record. So if you go any way from the record, then you’re not singing the song right.

BBP: Hmm. I’m curious. We were talking about footprints earlier; how much of a footprint did Curtis have on the Impressions? I mean is his influence still with your group today?

Gooden: I think Curtis’ influence will be with us forever. Because Curtis was a genius. Curtis did not get all of the recognition that he should have gotten. They waited until he was handicapped and couldn’t move or anything, and then all of a sudden want to give him all of these different awards. But why couldn’t they have done that when he was walking around, talking and active? They could have done that then. But no, they waited until he had this accident and he couldn’t even move nothing but his head. And now they want to hand him a Life Achievement Award, they want to give him this, they want to give him that. And he can’t even touch it. And you know that’s the said part of it. Because I feel that Curtis is the best writer that ever lived. He writes songs, not for right now, but he writes songs for years ahead.  If you listen to some of those songs and the words to the songs that we sing now, they relate to today, instead of years ago.

BBP: Superfly and some of the things they talked about in that—you’re speaking from the point of view of lyrics, right?

Gooden: Well, all of the things.  You take songs like “People Get Ready.”  You take songs like “We’re a Winner.” There’s another song that we’ve done called “The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story.” He was talking about bombs and explosions and stuff, and back then, that wasn’t happening. But if you look at it today, it’s happening right now. There are bombs going off all over the place right now. So it actually—he was so far ahead—that he wrote songs that are up-to-date music.

BBP: I tell you one thing I hear all of the time in the clubs—I still hear this song— “Move On Up?”

Gooden: (laughing) Oh yeah. That was a tune that could have went two ways. When Curtis left—he had just left—that was a song that was supposed to have been a part of The Impressions album. And when it came out, it never was on there. But when Curtis’ album came out it was on his album. But we do it now on our show. And it’s a nice upbeat tune; it’s almost like a get-together song. You know, no matter what you do, what obstacle that comes in front of you in life, you can always move on up. And that’s the whole thing: just keep on pushin’ and keep on movin’ on up. And that’s in life, with anybody that are doing anything, like whether you are a singer, or whether you are a boxer, any kind of musician, baseball player or football player or basketball player, you still look forward and move on up! If you have faith in yourself, and then faith in your system and faith in the good Lord; hey, you can’t do nothing but do better!

BBP: Yeah, that sounds like…who wrote that song? How did that song come about?

Gooden: Curtis. Curtis wrote it.  It’s one of those—like I said, it’s what you call a “together” song that everybody can sing together. And a lot of songs that Curtis wrote are similar to that, that the whole audience can sing along with you. And “Move on Up,” well it just, you know, “Hush now, child, don’t you cry. Your folks might understand you, by and by. Just move on up.”  And it keeps telling people to move on up, and it also—you wouldn’t believe it—but it’s a religious song.

BBP: Oh wow…

Gooden: But you have to sit down and you have to carefully listen to the lyrics of the song and all of the stuff it’s telling you. No matter how this world is around you, you keep on moving, keep on moving on up.

BBP: Wow that’s so interesting, because I always see that song used as kind of a dance song, because it’s got a long instrumental part.

Gooden: You know it’s the same thing. It has two parts to it. You have the group part and then you have the rhythm part, which is part one and part two of the song. And it has a blues R&B sound. But you have to look at the lyrics of the song and listen to them. And it tells you a different thing about spirituals within there. But you have to figure out the lyrics. And that’s the way Curtis wrote. Sometimes he wrote songs that are hard to understand until maybe years later.  You have to sit down and say “Man, I didn’t know that was in this song until I listened to the lyrics!”  Because, well, of course, when I first heard “People Get Ready,” I didn’t know it was a spiritual until later on. But then you start listening to the words of the song, but what he’s talking about in that particular song, is that “People get ready, there’s a train-a-coming,” which is—it’s going to be the last train. There will be no other train coming. Like they say: when Christ returns here, it’s like a train.  It comes to collect everybody that’s ready. You don’t need no ticket. You don’t need no baggage. You don’t need no money. You don’t need anything. You just get on board when you’re ready, and once you get on this train, and once this train comes and once this train leaves; there will not be another train. You’ll just be left here. So it kind of analyzes the words and stuff in it. It’s that—it’s like, when Christ comes back to earth to gather his flock, he won’t return again for that. He’ll take all of the Blessed Ones with him. And all that’s left are sinners.  And if you notice some of the lyrics, they’ll tell you about the sinners. It also tells you about the diesels humming, which also can mean angels singing.

BBP: Diesels humming?

Gooden: (quoting the song) there ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner, whom would hurt all mankind just to save his own.” Oh…I got to go back to my head to find the lyrics! (Continues) ”People get ready, there’s a train to Jordan...”

BBP: Yeah! That’s the line I’m thinking of…

Gooden:”Picking up passengers coast to coast.” “(first few words of sentence not clear) diesels humming.’” But actually you could say “Angels singing.” You could turn the whole phrase around. It’s just the way Curtis put it.  And what it did, he just left it—he left it just like that—for you to figure out. For you to figure out “what do I mean by that?” Those lyrics, what did I mean by a “diesel humming?” Train humming. And I know you never heard of a diesel humming. But you have heard Angels singing. So if you can just reverse what he had said in that line of that song, then you can figure that that’s what he really actually meant. But see the thing is, it’s there for you to figure out yourself. And if you are a religious person then you could figure it out. But if not, then you just sing the song the way it is.

BBP: Hmm. I never looked at that song like that, but yeah, I see what you mean now (both laughing).

Gooden:  A lot of people have recorded (this song), from church people like Al Green, Aretha Franklin; other great spiritual singers have sung this particular song. And they know. And that’s why they sung the song. Sure they sang it the way the record is, but they know the meaning of the song.  And they know the reverse words that they would put in for themselves. But of course they can’t do it on record because they have to sing the song the way it is. But if you had a minister that was teaching in church, then he would reverse the words for a sermon that he was teaching. Then he would teach it a different way, than saying diesels humming. You see Curtis is gone since ’99 and they’re still trying to figure the song out (laughing).

BBP: Yeah. And they probably won’t until long after we’re gone. Let me tell you how I used to interpret that song “People Get Ready.” I know the song came out in the 60’s. And there was a lot going on back then.  There was the Vietnam War; I mean I was a little kid then.  And then there was the Civil Rights Movement, you know, black people were trying to get rights.  And there was other stuff going on. There were protest marches going on. The country was in a lot of upheaval then, and I kind of interpreted that song as sort of a reflection of that upheaval.

Golden: It was. It was a wake-up call not only black people, but it gave other people food for thought. You know all of a sudden now, not just black people, but white people, whatever colors, and Latinos and whatever, people get ready, there’s a train a coming. That means it’s coming for everybody, not just for one but for everybody else. But mainly it’s for to enhance black people to kind of stand up and be counted. You know, you’re not the tail. You can be the head too. You know you’re not the tail. So it’s just that when you’re called out your name, that name…could signify to anybody because anybody can be that name.  You know it’s not whether you’re a black person and they call you that particular name. Then that other person can be called that same name because all it refers to then are ignorant people. That’s what it stands for.

BBP: You’re talking about the n-word.

Gooden: Right. And if there’s an ignorant person you can call them the same name.

BBP: So basically in terms of black people, the message is “Take charge of your destiny.”

Gooden: Exactly! Stand up and be counted! You’re not the tail. You can also be the head. You know you’re not the lowest part of the totem pole, you can be the top. All you have to do is get off your tail and represent yourself. And stand up and be counted.  Because we’re just as good as anybody.  Maybe better than some others. It’s just that, if you believe what people call you and people tell you, then that’s exactly what you’re going to be.  But if you stand up and be counted as just as good as or better than anybody else, then you will be.

BBP: Right.

Gooden: It’s up to you to learn.

BBP: So the message “People get ready, there’s a train a-coming” that could also refer to social issues as well.

Gooden: Exactly. Well the song, it hits different ports. It hits church. It hits black people. It hits white people. Everybody! It hits everybody. But mostly with my race of people, it gives them something to live by, to stand  by, that we can do this if we stand together. If we separate and scatter, that’s exactly what it will be: we’ll be scattered everywhere.  But if we band together as a race and be counted, we can be just as good as or better than anybody else.

Tomorrow Gooden talks about the group’s association with Bob Marley and touring (and praying!) with Eric Clapton.


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