Growing up Chattanooga, Tennessee in the 1950’s, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash regularly entertained themselves by singing; modeling themselves after the Midnighters, Ray Charles and other rhythm and blues stars of the day.
By 1957 they were ready. Joining with two other boys and a young lady, they dubbed themselves Four Roosters and a Chick, following a trend among singing groups of the time to adopt bird names.
Seeking more fertile ground for their talents, some members of Roosters—Cash couldn’t go because he was too young—travelled to Chicago. There, they joined two future music legends, Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield, to form the Impressions. The group went on to carve its place in music history with gospel-infused, inspirational songs such as “People Get Ready” and “We’re a Winner.”
Though some would argue that the group's heyday has passed, The Impressions, now made up of Cash, Gooden and Reginald Torian, are still very active, both as a touring and a recording group. The group is in fact on the verge of releasing a new CD, only its second issue of newly recorded material in decades. For the project, the group has reportedly tapped legendary producer Johnny Pate, who worked with Mayfield on his landmark soundtrack from the 1972 film Superfly.
The group is preparing "Rhythm," its first single from the upcoming album; a song Mayfield wrote for his friend and fellow rhythm and blues performer Major Lance. Specific details on “Rhythm’s” release were unavailable.
Gooden and Cash were neighbors “next-door-but-one” to one another when they formed Four Roosters and a Chick with brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks and a female friend. The group regularly sang in a Chattanooga club called Memos.
Because his parents didn’t want him out after dark singing, Cash frequently had to slip in and out of his bedroom through a window. And Cash’s mother did not allow him to accompany Gooden and the Brooks brothers to Chicago, where they thought they would find more recording companies than in Chattanooga.
When they met Gooden and the Brooks brothers, Butler and Mayfield were part of a group called the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers.
One snowy day, the new group took its song to Chess Records, but was not allowed in. The singers then crossed the street do Vee-Jay records. The company took them under its wing and released their debut song, "For Your Precious Love," in May, 1958
Back in Chattanooga, Cash heard the song on the radio. Six months after that, his former group mates arrived at his house, one flashing a big roll of money. Gooden and the Brooks brothers had actually come back to get Cash in anticipation of the departure of Butler, who was planning a solo career.
Cash joined the new group and Mayfield took over from Butler as lead singer. The new group signed on with ABC-Paramount Records in 1961 to release “Gypsy Woman,” its biggest hit up to that point. But subsequent songs released by the group did not do as well, and the Brooks left.
The brothers’ departure left in place the trio most associated with The Impressions: Mayfield, Cash and Gooden. Seeking a sound overhaul, the trio turned to Johnny Pate, afterwards recording a string of hits that began with 1963’s memorable “It’s Alright.”
The group went on to carve a place in the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, thanks to socially-conscious songs by Mayfield such as 1965’s “People Get Ready,” and 1968’s “We’re A Winner.” Likely because of its un-named yet supportive references to black leaders of the day, “We’re A Winner” was banned from radio play in some sections of the country.
In 1968, The Impressions joined Mayfield’s new label, Curtom Records. But Mayfield himself left the group in 1970, taking with him Joseph “Lucky” Scott, the group’s talented bassist and band leader. Nephew to Gooden, Scott had joined The Impressions after a tragic vehicle accident that killed several members of the group’s band along with musicians backing up singer Jackie Wilson. Scott, who, according to relatives and Chattanooga Public Library records, died in August, 1996 at the age of 47 of a blood clot to the lungs, went on to play a key role in much of Mayfield’s work.
Singer Leroy Hutson replaced Mayfield as lead singer, but left in 1973 after the group’s popularity began to slump. Ralph Johnson and Reggie Torian then came on board.
The group had a hit with 1974’s “Finally Got Myself Together,” enjoying continued success with follow-up tracks “Sooner or Later” and “Same Thing It Took.” The string of hits continued into 1975 with “First Impressions,” the group’s first—and, to date, only—Top 20 hit in the United Kingdom.
The Impressions left Curtom in 1976 to work with Cotillion Records, an affiliate of Atlantic Records. For Cotillion, The Impressions recorded “Loving Power,” their final major hit. During this period, Ralph Johnson left to join the group Mystique (which recorded an album on Mayfield’s Curtom Records). Singer Nate Evans, who grew up in Gary, Indiana across the street from the Jackson family and later performed with the Temptations, replaced him.
The Impressions hit the charts again in 1981 with a remake of “For Your Precious Love,” then launched a highly successful reunion tour in 1983 that featured Butler and Mayfield.
Since 1987’s “Can’t Wait ‘Till Tomorrow,” its last release to hit the charts, The Impressions have received a string of honors, including induction into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, The Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998 and The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.
In 2001 Eric Clapton tapped the group to perform on his multi-million selling album Reptile. The collaboration turned into a tour of some British and American cities.
The group made its latest recording—I’m Coming Home for Christmas—in 2009.
The next few posts of Beldon’s Blues Point will cover interviews with two members of this seminal group, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden. Among many other things, Gooden talks about legacy of Mayfield, who died in 1999 as a result of a 1990 stage accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Gooden also talks about “Lucky” Scott, who, though he lacks the overall name recognition that many musicians have, arguably became one of most influential bassists who ever lived largely through his work with the Impressions and Mayfield. It is Lucky's bass that punctuates Mayfield's Superfly soundtrack. At some point in the future we will publish an interview with Scott’s younger brother, Lebron, a highly accomplished bassist in his own right who will talk about his brother as well as his own work with Lenny Kravitz and others.
We are dividing our interviews with both men into several parts. We start with Sam Gooden:
BBP: I guess I should just start with the future. What are you guys doing now? I did hear about the new album that’s coming out. Tell me a little about it.
Gooden: Well it’s in the process of being mixed….we have finished that part of what we have to do. There some more songs that are going to be added to it. Then we have to go and record those. But the one that’s going to be released has already been finished.
BBP: Okay. Can you tell me a little about that song?
Gooden: Well, it’s an old song. It’s an old song that Curtis wrote years ago for a friend of ours in Chicago, Major Lance. And Major did this particular song. And sometimes we have a tendency to go back into the studio when we want to just throw some stuff into an album, to finish it. We go back and do some of the things he’s done—he wrote for somebody else—we would just record it. And this is one of the songs that he wrote.
Gooden: It’s called “Rhythm.”
BBP: Okay. And is it a love song? Is it a dance number?
Gooden: No, it’s a semi-dance. It’s just something that I feel the younger set could really catch hold to. It’s almost like a sing-along type of song. It’s one of the songs that Curtis…such a great mind that he had, that he could come up with all kinds of songs to be recorded. When he would write these songs, he would bring them to Fred and myself and ask us how we like it, and we would tell him. And if it’s something that we feel that we wouldn’t do at that particular time, and then we would say, “Well maybe you should let somebody else do this song.” And so forth and so on. And this was a song that we decided to give to Major Lance. And it was called “Rhythm.” It’s been recorded some years back. I don’t know if it was one of (Lance’s) biggest hits, it was just one of his dance songs.
BBP: I know that the Impressions have been around since—God—the late fifties or early sixties, but when you do stuff now, do you kind of incorporate the styles of music that have come about since, or do you go with traditional Impressions?”
Gooden: Well we try to stay within ourselves. We do things similar to what Curtis wrote, and if there are some songs that have never been recorded by us—that Curtis has done—then we would go in and do those. Like there was another tune that he wrote that he…about 20 years ago he wrote a song called “Hopeless,” and we decided that we wanted to do it and we never got a chance to do it and just a few months ago Fred (Cash, another member of the Impressions) found a copy of it, and we decided to go in and record it again. It’s a very, very touching song.
BBP: Can you tell me when the album is going to be released?
Gooden: They haven’t given us a date on when it’s going to be released. When they get time enough to go in and finish mixing. Because all you do is go in and record the stuff, and turn it over to them. And they take it, and whenever they have studio time, because there are other acts that are recording, that has taken up the recording session time. So it takes time for them to go in and set down and mix this stuff so that it will be ready for release.
BBP: I see. What’s the name of the album?
Gooden: I don’t know. I don’t know what they’re going to call it. I just know that’s one song that’s going to be taken off of it. But I don’t think they’ve even made a title to it yet. So I won’t say something that I don’t know. They would have to let us know what title they’re going to put on it.
BBP: Okay. When you say “taken off,” you mean released as a single.
BBP: I got you…
Gooden: Well you know there’s two or three different ways you voice things. And sometimes they voice different now than they did years ago.
BBP: Yeah that was one question I wanted to ask you. I know you’ve been in the business for…decades! And has the way that music is recorded or put together, has that changed and is it easy to kind of like adapt with those changes?
Gooden: Well, you learn to go with the flow. You learn how to do things that people will like today, like the songs that Curtis wrote. It’s as well-received today as it was back then. Because you find a lot of people nowadays just now realizing and understanding what the song’s all about.
BBP: Yes, he was an issue-oriented songwriter, if I recall. But, in terms of the way the music is delivered, the CD’s and Ipods and this sort of thing…
Gooden: Well they have a different way of doing things now. It’s just that, it takes so much time to do things, and you may have an act go in and do…and maybe take two years to get a whole CD done. Back when we were recording, we have done one whole album overnight. So it just depends on the act that’s going in, and how they structure your session time. Like now, you go by tracks. Back then, you had musicians in the studio with you.
BBP: Well let me go back in time. Now when you guys first started out, you called yourself the Roosters, right? You’re from Chattanooga, right?
Gooden: (laughs) Yeah that was something that we—a bunch of kids—in the city, we had no name so everybody else had a name. So we found something just to call ourselves. We weren’t very good at the time either.
BBP: You mean the name?
Gooden: No, the group!
BBP: (laughs) Oh. Okay.
Gooden: We sounded terrible.
BBP: Hmm. Wow. Well considering what you grew into, that’s sort of hard to believe…
Gooden: Well, you live and you learn. And if you set your mind to learning the trade, then you’ll learn different things and different techniques on how to do things. And then you learn how the voice structure is. Not going to school for music or anything, you just…you learn as you go. And the Good Lord gives you the talent to learn. And you go from there.
BBP: Now I understand that Jerry Butler was an original member. Well, how did the Roosters become the Impressions? I guess that’s my next question.
BBP: Who was the one who put the name in the hat?
Gooden: My manager. The guy who was managing us at the time: Eddie Thomas. He put the name in there. And it just so happens that I picked that name!
BBP: Wow, that’s incredible. Amazing story! Now I understand that Jerry Butler was part of the original group.
Gooden: Well he started with us. Jerry started with us, in, uh, well before we got on records, in 1957. And Jerry stayed for about six months. And then the company branched him out on his own.
BBP: Oh, I see. So it was not his decision to leave. It was the company’s decision?
Gooden: Well, I don’t know. There’s two sides to a story. You know, you hear one side and you don’t hear the other side. All I know is that he left after six months and went on his own. And I think it was the company’s idea to branch him out. They always do things like that; they take a good lead singer, and if there’s another lead singer that’s within the group, then they turn that over to another guy. And you have two acts instead of one.
BBP: Oh, I see. Yeah. There was a lot of that going on. David Ruffin and the Temptations. I guess Motown was doing that as well.
Gooden: A lot of things go down. It depends on the guy that’s leaving, and the guy that was there in the first place. With David, it was a different situation, you know, where one guy feels he’s bigger than the group. At least I’ve heard that from some friends of mine who were members of the group.
BBP: Yeah, I guess that was a different situation. But how did Curtis come aboard? Now I understand he was playing guitar for Jerry Butler at some point?
Gooden: Oh that was long after the group had started. Jerry started with us and in ’57 we were rehearsing and we had no music, so he knew Curtis. And he said Curtis played guitar and that he sang top tenor. So we brought him by and we started rehearsing. And it went from there.
BBP: During that time, who was doing most of the songwriting for the group?
Gooden: Well actually, we had no songs really…because the thing is Jerry and a couple of other guys wrote “For Your Precious Love,” and it took them quite some time just sitting at a piano running these things down, and then always learning with myself and with Curtis. And then Curtis started playing the guitar on the intro. We learned it that way.
BBP: And what was your role in the group? I mean, you sang what part?
Gooden: I sung all parts. I sung bass. I sang tenor. I sang baritone. I sang lead. I… (pauses) did most all of it.
Tomorrow Sam talks about Joseph Lucky Scott and the tragic vehicle accident that brought him to the Impressions.