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The Impressions - Curtis Mayfield in front.

The Impressions – Curtis Mayfield in front.

Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield–

Curtis Mayfield leads the group through R&B-soul transition

The professional vocal blend, harmony and lyrical content of the 1960s vocal group, The Impressions, established them as a unique musical force, at a time when pop music’s main concern was love songs and dance tunes.

Their impact spread far and wide, even here in Jamaica, where they had more of their songs covered by Jamaican groups than any of their contemporaries, which included outstanding performers like The Drifters, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and a little before them, The Platters.

At the time, groups were the order of the day, not only abroad, but also in Jamaica, where their sublime ambition was to emulate or surpass their mentors.

The Impressions had, in fact, carved out for themselves a special niche as a group in the music fraternity, having unmatched success in thehistory of pop and soul music.

Riding high on the strength of Curtis Mayfield’s compositions, the group was one of the first to speak openly about African-American pride and community struggle in its music, thus becoming the voice of the disenchanted black man.


In hindsight, the story of The Impressions becomes virtually a story of the entertainment career of Mayfield. He was the cornerstone, builder and architect behind the success of the group.

Mayfield first came into contact with the group when he was hired as a guitarist by Jerry Butler, the original leader. At the time, the group was known as The Roosters.

That was in 1957 when the group was a quintet, consisting of brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks, Sam Gooden, Butler and Mayfield.

The group soon changed its name to The Impressions and had its first hit – a majestic, gospel-tinged love song, written by Butler and the Brooks Brothers, titled For Your Precious Love, which saw Mayfield doubling up on guitar and backing vocals, and Butler delivering the sombre lead vocals:

Your precious love means more to methan any love could ever be

For when I wanted you

I was so lonely and so blue

for that’s what love will do


Immediately following the success of the recording, Butler quit the group for a solo career, putting Mayfield in command.

The transition was not immediate and the group fell off the music scenefor three years. In the interim, Mayfield brought his songwriting skills to the fore, penning successful, successive hits for Butler, He Will Break Your Heart (1960), Find Yourself Another Girl (1961), and I’m Telling You (1961).


Landing a recording contract with ABC-Paramount record company, the group re-emerged in 1961 with Fred Cash replacing Butler on the Mayfield-led, cha-cha flavoured, top-20 hit, Gypsy Woman, the first few lines of which ran:

From nowhere through a caravan around a campfire light

a lovely woman in motion with hair as dark as night.

Her eyes were like that of a cat in the dark that hypnotised me with love.

She was a gypsy woman.

The Impressions L-R Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cash

The Impressions L-R Sam Gooden, Curtis Mayfield & Fred Cash

Mayfield claimed his inspiration came from a cowboy movie in which a gypsy woman was dancing around a fire. The real inspiration, however, was the song itself, which skyrocketed the group and Mayfield into the limelight.

Though the Brooks brothers soon made their exit, with Mayfield at the helm, the trio soared through the 1960s with a string of 18 chart successes. Those successes included Grow Closer TogetherNever Let Me GoI’m So Proud, and Minstrel and Queen, which was successfully covered by The Techniques, a Jamaican group which renamed the track Queen Majesty.

impact on ja culture

It was one of several Impressions songs which showed the impact of the group on Jamaica’s music culture. The Techniques also covered You’ll Want Me Back under the title You Don’t Care, while at Studio One. The Mad Lads had Ten to One and the Wailers did Just Another Dance. Pat Kelly had a version of The Impressions’ Soulful Love, while the Uniques copied My Woman’s LoveI’ve Found That I’ve Lost andGypsy Woman for producer Bunny Lee.


The Heptones covered Choice of Colours, a recording that reinforced Mayfield’s commitment to the black freedom movement of the 1960s. He urged black Americans to Keep on Pushing (1964), in the midst of the civil rights movement, while, with his 1963 composition, It’s All Right – a casual easy-going shuffle, The Impressions provided much-needed consolation to a nation, reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Exhibiting exceptional writing skills, which decorated hits by Major Lance, Walter Jackson, Billy Butler, Gene Chandler and The Staple Singers, Mayfield pushed for further black pride with We’re a Winner (1968),Move on UpAmen and People Get Ready (1965), from which Bob Marley lifted lines to help populate the anthemic song of the century,One Love.

Mayfield led The Impressions away from ABC in 1968 and signed the group to his newly found Curtom Records, and immediately hit withChoice of Colours, while producing hits for other artistes. In 1970, Mayfield left The Impressions for a solo career, and to all intents, the group was virtually on its way out.

As for Mayfield, he hit his commercial and artistic peak as a solo artiste with the release of the soundtrack album for the movie Superfly in 1972, which sold a million copies and had four Grammy nominations. Its success inspired his venture into the movie world with a role in the 1977 film Short Eyes.


Mayfield was to score his last top-10 hit in 1976 and resorted to touring the world in the 1980s.

With The Impressions, Mayfield had provided a critical link between 1950s R&B and 1960s soul, while pioneering the sound of Chicago’s soul music and establishing himself as one of the chief architects of that movement.

By the 1980s, Mayfield’s hits were on the decline. He suffered further misfortune when, on August 14, 1990, at an outdoor concert in New York, a lighting scaffold fell on him, crippling him from the neck down. He passed away Boxing Day 1999 at age 57.

Curtis Mayfield 1998

Curtis Mayfield 1998

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