Q&A: The Impressions' Fred Cash On Curtis Mayfield, Politics In The '60s, And The Venues His Band Played Back In The Day
The story of Tennessee music is a tale of two cities, really: Nashville and Memphis. But to count out Chattanooga is to ignore the origins of the Impressions, the long-running, socially conscious soul group that launched the careers of Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield. On the street corners of mid-twentieth-century Chattanooga, boyhood friends Fred Cash, Sam Gooden, Arthur Brooks, and Richard Brooks started a vocal group called the Roosters, which, in the late '50s, migrated north to Chicago. There, the bandsans Cash, whose mother wouldn't let him gohooked up with Butler and Mayfield, and the Roosters became the Impressions. After the success of the Impressions' 1958 45 "For Your Precious Love," lead vocalist Butler left to go solo, but that's when things really started to heat up: Mayfield took over for Butler, Cash joined back up in Mayfield's place, and the Brooks brothers split altogether. So by the early '60s, the classic lineup of Mayfield, Gooden, and Cashthe trio that turned out eternal tunes like "People Get Ready," "It's All Right," "I'm So Proud," "We're a Winner," "Keep on Pushing," "This Is My Country," and "Check Out Your Mind"was firmly in place.
But it wouldn't last. In 1970, Mayfield jumped ship to drop funk cornerstones like Curtis and Superfly, leaving the Impressions frontman-less again. With various third members, the Impressions never stopped pushing, always with Cash and Gooden at the core. On July 20, the current incarnation of the ImpressionsCash, Gooden, and lead singer Reggie Torianwill unite at Lincoln Center for "Here But I'm Gone," a tribute to Mayfield featuring artists like Bilal, Mavis Staples, William Bell, Dr. Lonnie Smith, the Roots, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Sharon Jones guitarist Binky Griptite, who will serve as musical director for the show. Mayfield, who would've turned seventy in Junehe died in 1999was also paid tribute to earlier this year when, with Griptite at the helm, the Impressions laid down an unrecorded composition of his at Daptone Records' Bushwick studio. Cash, who has long since moved back to Chattanooga, spoke to Sound of the City about working with Mayfield, encouraging B.B. King at the Apollo, taking Donny Hathaway on tour, and telling the truth.
How did you get involved with Daptone and Binky Griptite?
DJ Pari, who's our road manager at this point, booked us over in London, England, last year. And that's how I met Binky. Binky was telling [Pari] that, "Hey, man, I would love to do something with the Impressions." And we kept talkin' about it 'til Binky called and we started putting it together. As far as putting some music together. We went then to New York. We played there. We cut four songs. And it just kinda snowballed from there.
Are you gonna make a full LP?
Well, at this point, we're gonna start shopping it. We're gonna kinda hole up with these four songs and see what kinda bite we can get on it. And if things go the way we anticipate, then yeah, we probably will go ahead and do an LP.
What songs did you cut?
When Curtis was sick, Sam and I stopped in Atlanta to see how he was doing and chitchat with him a while. And in the process of that conversation, he was tellin' me about this song that he had. And the name of it was "Homeless." And he played it for us and I said, "Man, I really like this song. Why don't you let the Impressions do it?" He said, "Yeah, take it with you." We was between labels at that particular point and didn't get a chance to do it. And I had that song here in my home for about twenty years. And I was cleaning out my office, with a whole big bag of tapes, and can you imagine what tape fell out of that bag? It was that tape: "Homeless." And I called Sam. I put it in the machine first, and I played it, and it sounded so good, just like when he played it for us. And then I called Reggie, the other fella, in Chicago, and played it for him. And he said, "Man, I'm gonna give you some sugar." They just thought it was such a good song. And that was one of the songs that we decided to put in the mix, so we could cut it.
Can you walk me through how the Impressions started? It was originally the Roosters?
That's right. Well, as little young guys, Sam and myself didn't have a whole lot to do but sit around on the corner and sing at night. And during the day, we'd play baseball or softball. Whoever had hit records out at that particular timecoulda been Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, or Ray Charleswe'd sit around and try to emulate and sing those songs. That's how it all came about. And it just kinda got serious at one point. We thought maybe we wanted to try to do a bit more with our careers. But as you know, there was no record labels in this particular area at that time. You had to go to Chicago, New York, California, Detroit. So Sam and the other fellas we was singing with decided to move to Detroit. To see if they could further their music career. And I was so young at that point, my mother wouldn't let me go. So they went on to Detroit, and left there and went to Chicago, and that's where they met Jerry and Curtis Mayfield. Jerry was with the group some six months before they cut "For Your Precious Love" and he decided to go solo. And in the process of doing that, they played their last show at the auditorium here in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Knowing that Jerry was getting ready to leave the group, they came by and got me to see if I wanted to go back to Chicago with them and join the group. So that's what I did. After that six months, Jerry left and I replaced him.