As childhood friends in Chattanooga, Tenn., Fred Cash and Sam Gooden had at least one neighbor between them on their street.
As adults, Cash and Gooden often had one person between them when they performed, and that was Curtis Mayfield. They were known collectively as The Impressions, and the Cash/Gooden/Mayfield lineup remains the most famous in the history of the vocal group, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The seeds to The Impressions were planted circa the early 1950s, when Cash and Gooden lived on Chattanooga’s Calhoun Avenue. If they weren’t passing time playing baseball and shooting marbles, they and other young fellas in the neighborhood were on the grassy knoll on the corner of 28th Street and Calhoun singing together.
“We were disturbing everybody on the block, you might say,” Gooden recalls.
Following Gooden’s two-year plus stint in the Army, things became more formal around 1953 when he teamed with Cash, Emanuel Thomas and brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks to form The Roosters.
“All the names were taken up, so we had to find something that somebody else didn’t have,” Gooden explains. “I know it sounds kind of silly, but that was the only name we could come up with.”
Looking back, neither Cash nor Gooden was impressed by what The Roosters did.
“We were the worst of all of the [hometown] groups,” Cash says.
Gooden and the Brooks brothers split from their hometown in 1957 to try their luck in Chicago. Thomas was left behind — and so was Cash, whose mother wouldn’t allow the teenager to make the trip.
“I was a homebody, anyway,” Cash says. “There wasn’t anything happening, and if something happened for them, that was well and fine. But I wasn’t anxious about leaving home anyway, and once my mother said I couldn’t go, I didn’t put up an argument.”
“It would have been nice to have him there with us,” Gooden adds, “but of course, your parents have the first say.”
After arriving in Chicago, Gooden and company searched for a lead singer. They found their man in Jerry Butler, who Gooden says had the idea to bring Chicago native Mayfield into the fold.
“Jerry said, ‘We need some music. I know a young fellow who’s with another group. He plays good guitar, and plus he can sing top tenor,’ ” says Gooden. “And we said, ‘Fine, bring him by.’ ”
But Mayfield already was a member of The Alphatones and made that clear. Gooden says he and his fellow Roosters asked the young teen to practice with them for a while, and if things didn’t work out, he could go back to his other group.
Mayfield stayed with The Roosters, who began to make some headway after joining forces with manager Eddie Thomas. By way of Thomas, and with help from Bandera Records’ Vi Muszynski, the group landed a deal with the Vee-Jay label. Thomas also suggested that the group go by The Impressions instead.
“For Your Precious Love” would bring them their first taste of success. The ballad, credited to Jerry Butler and The Impressions, peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958.
Looking back, Gooden still remembers how difficult it was getting the song’s introduction just right.
“When we went in to record it, Curtis [had been] playing the guitar on it,” Gooden says. “But we had somebody else [on guitar] in the studio, so we weren’t having the same effect of the intro.”
The man running the recording session noticed something wasn’t right, Gooden says, and after four or five more attempts, it still wasn’t right.