In Part III of our interview, Sam Gooden of the Impressions talks about his group’s influence on and its relationship with the late Bob Marley. Gooden also recounts a tour the Impressions had with Eric Clapton, during which all performers began each concert by praying together.
BBP: I understand that the Impressions were a very big influence on Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Gooden: (laughs) yeah. We had fun with them.
BBP: You actually met them? Bob Marley?
Gooden: Oh yeah. We knew since we first went to Jamaica back in—boy that was the early years—that was ’61, something like that. We went there, we met Bob…Bob, Bunny (Wailer) and the rest of the guys, they used to come and see our show. And I know they would take some pattern sometime when we did an album and we had a cover where the three of us had hats on and we were dressed in suits. And somebody said that Bob and Bunny and them would have an album cover with the same type of layout as ours. They were calling them the “Jamaican Impressions,” and it was a very big compliment for us.
BBP: Hmm. Did you talk a lot with Bob; did he ask you for advice on how to do things?
Gooden: Only things where we saw and songs. He would learn things that we did and he would use, within his writing, things Curtis had done as far as political type situations. Which there would get you in trouble.
BBP: It can get you shot.
Gooden: Over there, it can get you killed! But that was a line he wanted to go in, and he wrote songs that way. I know there was one song that Curtis wrote called “Lord we’ve got to keep on moving.” And it was talking about somebody was after him. They were coming after him, this and that, and Bob wrote a song also right after that. He wrote a song called “I Shot the Sheriff.” Very similar song. The guy was running away from the sheriff. And the same thing with the song that we did called “I Gotta Keep on Movin.’ Because if I stop, they’re going to catch me. And the same thing with “I Shot the Sheriff.”
BBP: Wow, that’s amazing.
Gooden: It’s beautiful. I like a lot of things that Bob has done. Bob was a talented guy. It’s just that he went before his time. He had a lot more to give.
BBP: Yeah. Yeah, he did.
Gooden: A couple of songs that Bob had done, he added “People Get Ready” in it. He had some of the lyrics in there, yeah. Curtis was an influence of Bob; Bob liked to write along the same line as Curtis. See, Curtis could say things in his words and his songs that Bob would do, then they may be offensive to the people there, I guess. I don’t know the whole story of what happened there but I know he had to leave. Because, different country, different laws. You know and they just, uh, they hurt you. Here in the United States, then you can do a lot of different things. You know and you can say things, because you have freedom of speech. (In other countries) if you say things the government don’t like, then they will hurt you.
BBP: Yeah, that’s why Bob had to flee, I guess.
Gooden: Yeah, he went to England. Doing a lot of good things over there.
BBP: Did you keep in touch with him over the years? And did you keep in touch with Curtis and the other Impressions?
Gooden: We didn’t. Of course we knew things that he was doing. New music; that’s the only way we related to Bob was through music. And I know that—somebody else told me—that he had a toe that caught gangrene and that they wanted to remove that, that particular toe, but he wouldn’t let them do it because he felt that it would enhance his performance. Because Bob—if you watched him on stage—he’s a guy that’s very active. He moves awkward, but he moves in a Jamaican way, which with their music, it may be a little bit different than ours. And the way he moved, he was just all over the place. And he looked wild. But it was in sync with what he was doing.
BBP: I was thinking that you mentioned that Curtis had influenced him a lot, and I was thinking of that song Exodus (singing), “Exodus, Movement of the People.”
BBP: It sounds like “Movin’ On Up.” Kind of. Same theme.
Gooden: Yeah. Like I said, Curtis had a lot of influence—not only on Bob, but a lot of other people also—when it came to writing songs. That’s why, when we were talking earlier, I was telling you that this guy really didn’t get his just due.
BBP: I do know that some folks did try to record an album. I think Bruce Springsteen was on it, and a bunch of rock people were on it actually. And it came out; it might have been while he was still alive (I was wrong; I later found out it came out in 1994, three years after his death). Do you remember that album?
Gooden: I don’t remember that album but I know he did one called New World Order that he recorded while laying down. And it took a long time to do, all the breathing he had was right to his neck and stuff. So that he had to get all of the air to sing from there. When I sing, I sing from my diaphragm towards my stomach and I would breathe deep and I would come out with my lyrics. But he didn’t have that. So he had to use what he had and he did one heck of a job. It took a long time to finish it, but he did.
BBP: I know you guys were in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What did that feel like, when that happened? That must have really been a blast.
Gooden: When you can be recognized by your peers…it’s not just some writers like you go into the Baseball Hall of Fame, you got these baseball writers who vote you in—you’re voted in by other acts that are already there. You know, guys like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and B.B. King and all of these people. These are the people that vote you into the Hall of Fame and it’s very big in my sight because it’s something I never realized that I ever would do or be a part of.
BBP: Now I understand that you guys also get calls from other musicians to come in and kind of sing on their work. Has that been happening a lot over the years? Did I hear that right?
Gooden: (laughs) Well you have some, some that you might accept. But then there’s some that you won’t.
BBP: Eric Clapton, you did something with him I remember.
Gooden: Yeah, we did a whole CD with him, which was beautiful. Nicest guy you ever want to meet. Matter of fact, we were just supposed to do one song. And that was one of our old songs which was “I’ve been Trying.” And we wind up doing the whole album! And it just went from one to the next, to the next, to the next, to the next, to the next. And it was beautiful because all of those musicians, and the people that were there, and dealing with Eric; you will never find a nicer person in the world than Eric Clapton. He made you welcome, he made you comfortable—he had a way he liked to do things…which…that’s what we went there for. We said: “that’s what you want, that’s the way we do it, the way you want it done.” And that’s what we did.
BBP: Wow. Did you record it over in England? Did he come here, or how did that work?
Gooden: Well most of the album we did in California. He has a home out there. And we did most of it there. It was only when he had to go back to London that we had to go there and do a couple of songs. Most of it was done in the States. We did—I think it’s two—two songs, we done overseas. We only went there when we were going to do the last performance with him. We did part of a tour with him there in London. And then we did I think four or five days here in the States with him. I think we did Atlanta and we did Memphis, we did Nashville and we did Charlotte, North Carolina. But overseas we did Royal Albert Hall there for seven days. And then we went to Birmingham, Manchester and some of the other places there.
BBP: You guys must have had a great time!
Gooden: It was. It was beautiful, because everything was laid out for you. You didn’t have to really do much of anything but sing. And we had a tendency to pray before we went on stage and he saw what we was doing and he asked if we could do that with the whole group. And I said “sure!” So before the show would start at Albert Hall, then we all would get together and we’d pick out anyone that would feel like it, they would do the prayer. And it would go from one to the next, one to the next, and one to the next. Then finally Eric said he wanted to do it. Then he said the prayer. It was beautiful. Beautiful guy, and if you ever get a chance to meet him, you’ll meet one heck of a guy.
BBP: So when you guys did this prayer, where were you? Were you kind of in a circle? What kind of setting was it?
Gooden: Well we’d go in one dressing room, which was the band room. We were all together in the band room and we’d all make a big circle and we’d all join hands and whichever one that chose to pray, they’d pray for the whole group. We prayed that the Good Lord would be with us while we were performing, that we’d go out, that the people would enjoy what we were trying to do, that each member and their family would have good vibes and good everything and that the Lord would bless us all. And said “Amen.”
BBP: And did it help your performance?
Gooden: It always does. We don’t go on stage unless we pray. You can call us 15 times, but until we gather and pray, we’re not going on. And when we go on, we ask Him to be with us on stage, give us voices and give the band and everyone the good and the talent to perform the way you wish it to be and be there with us on stage as we perform. That we give You all of the praises and give You all of the glory. In Christ Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
BBP: There’s a—Spike Lee did a movie about comedians—uh—God, uh, Bernie Mac was one—Kings of Comedy, that movie. And it showed D.L. Hughley—I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, he had a show on CNN for a while; he’s a pretty famous comic. I mean they showed him before he went on stage...it looked to me like he was praying before he went on stage. So I guess it’s kind of a combination of your gathering your spiritual energy, but at the same time you are gathering your performance energy, right?
Gooden: Well, we saw him. We met him at the airport in New York. We were headed home after we finished the show there in New York and I don’t know where he was going. But we said a few words, and he went to his gate and we went to ours.
BBP: Wow. That’s amazing. I wanted to ask you (something else) about Eric Clapton. He kind of plays in a blues/rock type of style. How was that to play behind, to sing behind? Was that kind of a challenge? Was that different for you?
Gooden: Well, I’m going to tell you, it was fun to do those things because they’re—it’s just a matter of us getting the basic harmony that we wanted together. The blend that we wanted. Then they would let us know where the group was coming in, and this and that. But most of all, it’s already mapped out for us. It’s just a matter of us finding out what notes and what pitches each one of us is going to sing…and that was the basic thing. After that, everything was very easy.
BBP: Were you used to playing that kind of style though?
Gooden: Well it didn’t make any difference. That’s why, like I said, you have to—in this business—you have to be versatile, you have to be able to adapt to different styles. Like the way the style of music is now, it’s a different texture of music now. And where the kids come from now is totally different. But the thing is, you have to learn how to be able to be versatile to be able to entertain younger people of today, as you did years ago.
BBP: Have you worked a lot with hip-hop? And what do you think of hip-hop?
Gooden: I like some of it. And some of it I don’t. I like the ones that are very nice. But I dislike the ones that have so much vulgar in it. I don’t think that belongs in music, where you have to use those type of words. And basically talking under people’s clothes. You know you’re talking under ladies’ clothes and you’re calling ladies out of their name. You’re calling them different names that I will not use right now, you know, and it don’t fit ladies. I don’t care what lady it is, what color, what nationality, it just don’t fit them. But to have people call them this, and saying this, and using it in the way they use it: I guess it’s what sells. And I guess that’s the music that sells and guys, they say some of everything now. And it just uh—it didn’t happen back then. You know, you had good music, you had music that people could relate to. It might mean that you love a person, that you’re making love to this person, this and that. But not in a way where you really just—it’s almost like you’re explaining the same thing that you’re getting ready to do. And there’s some talent out there; a lot of those kids are very talented. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be in this business. But then you have a tendency to have everything that sounds alike. You have one act that gets very famous—of doing it this way—and the next thing you know you have 15 acts that are all doing it exactly the same way. So you don’t know who’s who.
BBP: (laughs) Right. But putting aside the vulgarity and all that, and the things they call women, hip-hop as a style…
Gooden: You’ve got a lot of talent. There’s a lot of talent in that. You know, you’ve got guys like L.L. Cool J. Very clean. And he went on to do different things now; you know and the thing is he started out in one way, and he did not stick to wearing his pants hanging halfway down. Now, he dresses suits, and if he’s dressing in anything casual, nothing’s hanging at all. No pants hanging down, anything. You have sloppy pants, everybody has that. That’s the new style. But that doesn’t mean it has to be hanging down to your knees either. But you don’t see that very much now on stage. It’s influenced a lot of the young kids today. If you go to any store right now…if he hasn’t got on boxer shorts, then it’s all messed up, because the pants are down below his shorts. And it looks—I don’t know…
BBP: You just wish they’d do something different with their style.
Gooden: Uh yeah, but everybody has their own style. I’ll have to say that they have their own way of doing things. But there is always a better way of doing things and still come out the same.
BBP: I’d also like to ask you about the blues. I mean how much of what you guys do is…
Gooden: (laughing) Oh, man. I love the blues. Good friends of mine there. Albert King, B.B. King and all of these guys. Man, I love that. And Bobby Blue Bland. Those are all good friends. And I’m going to tell you, music in general, I love music in general.. I like country music, they have good lyrics and good songs—if people would listen to the words—because they tell a story. Most of those songs are similar to things that Curtis does: they tell stories. And they paint a picture. Johnny Cash, his songs paint pictures. He talks about different things. He talks about things that he did when he was younger. He talks about things when he was in jail, and when he got out. He talks about these things. These are—if you don’t talk about things, if you don’t live with it—then you wouldn’t know the blues. Because blues singers, it’s something—somebody will ask, “how do you learn to sing the blues?” He said, “if you live that life, then you talk about it, and you write lyrics that tells the story. And if you listen to all of the blues singers, from B.B. to Bobby Blue Bland, Albert King, to all of the other great blues singers, then you listen to the lyrics of their singing. It tells a story.
BBP: Some people may argue that what you guys do is the blues…
Gooden: (laughs) Well some of it, yeah. Mostly our stuff and the stuff that Curtis wrote was gospel-oriented. You know it has a lot of—if you would listen—the songs, you probably could sing all of them in church. And not be offended; you wouldn’t offend anybody by singing them. Because they have that orientation, that gospel orientation.
BBP: I’ve noticed over the years, like when I was growing up and I was going to see shows, the acts seemed to be more segregated. If you were a black act, you had mostly a black audience. Do you see more white kids in your audiences than you used to?
Gooden: (laughs) Oh yeah. Nowadays when we go to California, it’s mostly Hispanics.
Gooden: Oh man, and there’ll be younger kids. Kids that maybe—well, over 20. Yeah. That’s the audience that we play for in California. We play there; we play to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles there at Gilbert Arena. We usually play that for two days; last time last year we were there. But this year, we’ll go the other way. We’ll be in Las Vegas and probably in Fresno.
BBP: Are you getting a large Hispanic following?
Gooden: Yes. Finally! It’s something that we had to get…they had to get comfortable with us. They like our records but they’d never seen us before. We’ve been going and singing out there for a few years now and it’s getting better and better and better and better. More of a following.
BBP: What about the Impressions do you think touches the Latino culture?
Gooden: I feel that with our music and the way Curtis wrote songs, that we could touch anybody. You know, any nationality of people, even people that don’t speak English, like in Spain. We did a show last year there and half of the people couldn’t speak English. But they knew the songs. And they sung the songs, along with us, and that’s kind of weird. We’re singing English and they’re singing in their language. And they’re singing the same song. So it just goes to show you how sometimes your music, it goes for all nations, all different languages. And that makes me feel good, that we can relate to so many different people. A lot of countries, we probably would never go to. We still sell records there. And the people know about us there, and that’s quite an accomplishment for some guy that grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a small city in the South.
BBP: Is the following overseas bigger than the following in the United States? Or do you think it’s more or less even?
Gooden: Well I’m going to tell you, now it’s getting bigger over there, because we’re starting to sing to the public there. When we used to go over there, we went to Europe I think from 1970 all the way up to ’83, and we never did play for the public. We only played for military. And so now, which might be good for us, is that now when we go over we’re playing for the public all of the time now, which is good. There some people that, some guy said—even his wife said—they had been waiting 40 years to see us on stage. Now that’s really saying a whole lot.
BBP: Well, let me ask you this—don’t take this the wrong way—but we’re all getting older, I mean, I can’t do everything that I used to be able to do. As you get older, is it harder to do touring? I mean, that’s hard on a young person, so I imagine somebody…
Gooden: (chuckling) No, it’s fun now! I enjoy it now better than I did then.
Gooden: Well, back then when I was younger, then you’d be up half of the night, you’d hang out here and you’d hang out there. During those times, as you grow and you mature, then you have a tendency—you make sure you get your rest. You don’t go clubbing, you know you go to the place and you do your show, and you meet and greet the people, and you sign autographs. Then you go back to the hotel, and you lay down and get some rest. And you don’t drink, and you don’t smoke, so…
BBP: Meaning you’re more disciplined when you’re older.
BBP: I got you.
Gooden: When I stop doing this, that’s when it becomes work. Now it’s still fun! I’m really enjoying it now because I’m meeting a lot more younger people—this generation. And I’m able to entertain kids, whose parents have told them about us, and their grandparents have told them about us. And it’s weird. If you look at it—there’s kids that come to our show and they said “My Grandma” loves y’alls songs. They’re great! He said, I don’t mean it in a bad way. I said “I know you don’t. That’s great! You know, it’s just that I, I’m just happy that I can entertain you all.” It’s a feather in my cap to be able to jump the whole generation gap and be able to still be able to entertain the audience of today as we did audiences back then.