Journalist Robin Murray once wrote, “When Curtis Mayfield’s group The Impressions touched down on Jamaican soil in 1967, the move garnered a reaction akin to the opening phase of Beatlemania.” The year was more accurately 1966, but Murray’s sentiment is not lost—The Impressions, and Curtis Mayfield, were of huge importance in Jamaica. Clinton Lindsay has written of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, “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.”
The Impressions came to Jamaica through Lee Enterprises, Byron Lee’s entity that brought American artists to the island. The show was called “Smashville ‘66” and it featured a number of performers at the Carib Theatre including Chuck Jackson, Patti Labelle and the Bluebells, as well as the Impressions. All of the performances were supplemented by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, The Itals, Hortense Ellis, and emcee Tony Verity. After the show came to Kingston, it moved on to other locations on the island, including Duncans, Mandeville, and Port Antonio.
Curtis Mayfield and Ska
1966 wasn’t the first time that Curtis Mayfield had touched Jamaican music. It seems that in 1964, Jamaican music had touched Mayfield as he and Chicago producer extraordinaire Carl Davis, produced the LP “The Real Jamaica Ska” in September of 1964. Carl Davis had been to Kingston along with Major Lance and Billy Butler. Major Lance was a recording artist produced by Davis, as was Billy Butler who was also Jerry Butler’s younger brother. Jerry was a member of The Impressions with Mayfield. The Daily Gleaner, May 27, 1964 details the trip that Carl Davis and Billy Butler made from Chicago to Studio One. “’The Jamaican ska is a terrific beat, and sooner or later it’s going to gain a lot of ground in the United States,’” Mr. Carl Davis, a producer of one of America’s major recording companies said on Monday. Mr. Davis and two American pop singers, Major Lance and Billy Butler, on contract with Columbia Record spent the weekend exploring “the possibilities for ska promotion” in the U.S. and to make recordings of “this new crazy beat.” They left from Palisadoes by Pan American flight for Miami. Major Lance and Billy Butler, who came to Jamaica specifically to make recording of the ska were prevented from doing so by the immigration authorities who regarded this as a form of employment, Mr. Davis said. The singers did not obtain work permits. He said however that “they had picked up a few ideas here and the boys might use them in future recording.” Over the weekend 12 ska recordings by Jamaican artists, backed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, were made. Mr. Davis said that he was ‘very excited’ about Lord Creator’s ‘Don’t Stay Out Late,’ ‘No One,’ by the Techniques and Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Ska All Over the World.’ He said that these three records will be released shortly and the others would follow gradually according to how the new beat caught on. The producer, who had been with Columbia for four years, said that more sober” lyrics should be written for the record and they could be geared towards the teenagers. In the United States he said adults take the cue from teenagers and if they like a beat the adults usually do too. He said that in Jamaica he saw more adults than teenagers doing the ska. Mr. Davis spoke highly of the assistance received from the Ministry of Development and Welfare.” That minister was Edward Seaga. The record that came from this weekend recording session was “The Real Jamaica Ska” LP which Curtis Mayfield helped to compile with Davis. Billy Butler and Major Lance did not appear on the album.
Curtis Mayfield and Rocksteady
Curtis Mayfield’s importance in the rocksteady era goes beyond the songs that a number of vocalists and groups covered. It comes in the formation of the trio itself, for which The Impressions were the model. A feature on the Heineken Star Time rocksteady show in the Jamaica Gleaner, November 1, 2000 noted this relation. ”However while Jamaican artistes were continuing their tradition of transforming and covering American soul hits of mainstream artistes like Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke, Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King, the Drifters, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Miracles, none of them was as important to the growth and development of rock steady as Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, whose string of hit recordings provided many Jamaicans with material that suited this new sound. As a matter of fact, the Impressions also caused another quiet revolution in Jamaican music — being the birth of trios (possibly) beginning with the Wailers and including the Gaylads, The Heptones, The Paragons, The Jamaicans, The Melodians, The Silvertones, The Uniques, The Techniques, and The Sensations, among others. It is quite noticeable that the lead singers of most of these groups — Pat Kelly, Junior Menz, Slim Smith, Bunny Wailer—all sounded much like Curtis Mayfield and vocal arrangements were very close to The Impressions. Curtis Mayfield’s influence was to continue for successive generations of Jamaican singers during the Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs, and Channel One periods in the mid to late 1970s,” stated the article.
In addition to their tour of Jamaica in 1966, The Impressions also performed in 1968. “THE IMPRESSIONS who arrived yesterday to take part in the cabaret at the Charity Ball at the National Arena tonight, having an informal chat with Byron Lee (left), of Lee Enterprises. The Impressions ara (from left), Fred Cash, Curtis Mayfield and Sam Gooden. The Impressions who will be among the many foreign and local artistes at the ball, were coming from a live performance on CBSTV, New York,” read a Daily Gleaner article on December 14, 1968.
Jerry Butler, one-time member of The Impressions, performed in Kingston at the Wyndham Hotel in early August, 1986. The local band Kotch opened the sold-out show and Butler paid tribute to Curtis Mayfield and said the group was sticking by his pursuit of a political career in Chicago. Butler is a Cook County Commissioner, a post to which he has been elected since 1985. In 1990 they performed four shows for a performance called Nostalgia in Gold—two in Kingston, one in Negril and one in Ocho Rios—but sans Mayfield. The Impressions consisted of Fred Cash, Sam Gooden, Ralph Johnson, and Smokie Hampton for these shows. Other times in the mid-1970s, movie theaters like the Tudor in Mandeville broadcast performances of Curtis Mayfield in concert with other American soul artists like Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, and the Chi-Lites.
Popularity of Recordings
Curtis Mayfield’s recordings sold well in Jamaica. Numerous advertisements for local record shops include The Impressions on their lists of new 45s and LPs for sale. Columnist “Dee Jay” write in the “Off the Record” column in the Daily Gleaner on November 20, 1966, “There’s hardly any need to introduce a new disc by The Impressions except to say ‘it’s here’. This one is PEOPLE GET READY on the ABC-Paramount label. The Impressions have proved long ago — and in person — that they sing the kind of song that Jamaicans love. Since they formed their group eight years ago they have produced hit after hit, many of them written by leader Curtis Mayfield. This one includes ‘You Must Believe Me’, ‘Sometimes I Worker’, ‘Can’t Work No Longer’, ‘Hard To Believe’, ‘Emotions’, ‘Get Up And Move’.” A few months later, the same “Dee Jay” sings the praises of another record when he/she writes in the Daily Gleaner, July 23, 1967, “One of the most consistently popular American singing groups with Jamaicans is The Impressions, three young men who have made such hits as ‘Gypsy Woman’, ‘Keep On Pushing’ and ‘Amen.’ Now they can be heard on the ABC Records disc THE FABULOUS IMPRESSIONS. Tremendous credit for their decade of success must go to lead singer, Curtis Mayfield, whose compositions have put them way ahead of dozens of other vocal groups. This time he contributes all but one of the eleven numbers — that one is the pop classic “100 lb. of Clay”. They include “You Always Hurt Me”, “It’s All Over”, “You Ought to Be in Heaven”, “I Can’t Stay Away From You” and “She Don’t Love Me”, to pick out some of the best.
Curtis Mayfield also owned a record label with partner Eddie Thomas called Curtom Records and he distributed “Hacka Tacka (I Like It, I Like It)” by Jamaica vocalists Joy Roberts and Richard McDonald on the Buddah imprint, according to an October 11, 1975 Daily Gleaner article, but I am wondering if this might be the same as Baba and Roody’s “Hacka Tacka Music” that was on the Epic label and the CBS label., or the same as Sweet and Rich’s “Hacka Tacka (I Like It, I Like It) on the Federal label. Joy Roberts had been a member of the Heptones at one time. Additionally, a Daily Gleaner article on November 21, 1974 reports that John Holt was invited to audition for Curtom Records by an executive, but I can’t find anything that says what might have come from this meeting.
Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions and Bob Marley & The Wailers
Numerous journalists and historians have noted the link between The Impressions and The Wailers and it has now become common knowledge that Marley’s “One Love” was inspired by Mayfield’s People Get Ready.” Journalist Orville W. Taylor writes in the Sunday Gleaner on February 20, 2005, “One Love can be traced back to Curtis Mayfield,” and journalist Claude Mills concurs in Jamaica Gleaner, January 2, 1998 when he writes, “Bob Marley and the Wailers tried to sound like Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.” Melville Cooke (Cookie) in the February 10, 2005 issue of the Jamaica Gleaner writes of One Love, “It has been made into Marley’s signature song while Curtis Mayfield, who has writing credits, has been disregarded.” Cooke writes again on January 8, 2006 about the link, but this time reveals Byron Lee’s take on the Wailers/Mayfield connection, as well as connections between other Jamaican and American artists. “With the Jamaican music industry just beginning to rotate on the turntable of African retentions and North American influences, the performers did not take to the stage with just their own material. Lee said Jimmy Cliff did Otis Redding, Sam and Dave were the Blues Busters, Tony Gregory did Ray Charles, Marcia Griffiths performed Curia Thomas’ songs and The Wailers delivered like Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. “They would do the foreign songs and then come back on with their own songs,” Lee said.’” During a lecture in 2002, Dr. Omar Davies, minister of planning, stated that One Love, which was named as BBC’s song of the 20th century, is an “adaptation of the Curtis Mayfield hit ‘People Get Ready.’”
In a Jamaica Gleaner article written by Winston F. Barnes on May 16, 1982, The Techniques are credited with bringing quality music to the studios and Barnes specifically cites their cover of a Mayfield classic. “Slim Smith and The Techniques also crafted Curtis Mayfield hits in songs like ‘Little Did You Know,’ music which has caused many to be convinced that the music from the sixties is the best we’ve created so far.” Quite an accolade. The Techniques also recorded Mayfield’s “You’ll Want Me Back” under the title “You Don’t Care,” while at Studio One.
In a Daily Gleaner article on December 21, 1982, legendary vocalist Johnny Osbourne says that while he was growing up in the “government yard” he listened to Curtis Mayfield and cites him as an influence. In May of 1969, Jimmy James toured England with the Vagabonds and he performed material by Curtis Mayfield along with Otis Redding. Derrick Harriott recorded “Mama Didn’t Lie” in April, 1967. This song, recorded by Jan Bradley for Chess Records in 1963 was written by Curtis Mayfield. Paulette Walker recorded it as well in 1978. Eric Donaldson of “Cherry Oh Baby” fame performed Curtis Mayfield’s “You Must Believe Me” in the mid-1970s, as did Dennis Alcapone, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, and Pat Kelly. “Keep On Pushing” was always one of Mayfield’s biggest hits, and so it is no wonder that it was covered in Jamaica by Tony Mahoney, Niney & the Heptones, Lloyd Robinson & Glen Brown, Earl George, and Cornel Campbell. “People Get Ready” was covered by Dandy Livingstone, Devon Russell, Johnny Osbourne, Junior Murvin, The Minstrels, The Pyramids, Sil Williams, The Talents, and The Tidals, as well as Bob Marley & the Wailers. 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 Love,” “I’ve Found That I’ve Lost” and “Gypsy Woman” for producer Bunny Lee. The Heptones covered “Choice of Colors,” and “Right On Time” was recorded by the Sensations for Graeme Goodall’s Doctor Bird label. The list goes on and on.
I’m So Proud: A Jamaican Tribute to Curtis Mayfield
The Trojan compilation I’m So Proud: A Jamaican Tribute to Curtis Mayfield assembles 20 of the best covers (or inspired originals) from Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. I’ve been enjoying this one myself and the tracks include “It’s All Right,” from Derrick Morgan; “Keep on Pushing,” from Lloyd & Glen; “Queen Majesty,” from The Techniques; “My Voice Is Insured for Half a Million Dollars,” from Dennis Alcapone; “Dedicate My Song to You,” from The Jamaicans; “Gypsy Woman,” from The Uniques; “Rocksteady Time (The Monkey Time),” from The Progressions; “I’m So Proud,” from Joe White; “Little Boy Blue,” from Pat Kelly; “Man’s Temptation,” from Noel “Bunny” Brown; “He Will Break Your Heart,” from The Silvertones; “My Woman’s Love,” from The Uniques; “That’s What Love Will Do,” from The Gaylads; “Long Long Winter, from Bob Marley & the Wailers; “Soulful Love,” from Pat Kelly; “Closer Together,” from Slim Smith; “I’ve Been Trying,” from The Heptones; “I Gotta Keep on Moving,” from Bob Marley & the Wailers; “Queen Majesty,” from Chosen Few; and “Gypsy Man,” from Marcia Griffiths.
In 1991, The Impressions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1999, the year of his death, Curtis Mayfield was inducted as a solo artist. You can read more about Curtis Mayfield here: rockhall.com/inductees/curtis-mayfield/bio/