The group was founded as The Roosters by Chattanooga, Tennessee natives Sam Gooden, Richard Brooks, and Arthur Brooks, who moved to Chicago and added Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield to their line-up to become Jerry Butler & the Impressions. By 1962, Butler and the Brookses had departed, and after switching to ABC-Paramount Records, Mayfield, Gooden, and new Impression Fred Cash collectively became a top-selling soul act. Mayfield left the group for a solo career in 1970; Leroy Hutson, Ralph Johnson, Reggie Torian, and Nate Evans were among the replacements who joined Gooden and Cash. Inductees into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, The Impressions are best known for their 1960s string of hits, many of which were heavily influenced by gospel music and served as inspirational anthems for the Civil Rights Movement.
The group's first hit single was 1958's "For Your Precious Love", which hit #11 on the US pop charts and #3 on the R&B charts. However, soon after the release of the R&B Top 30 hit "Come Back My Love", Butler left the group to go on to a successful solo career. After briefly touring with the now-solo Butler as his guitarist, Curtis Mayfield became the group's new lead singer and songwriter, and Fred Cash, a returning original Roosters member, was appointed as the new fifth member.
The Impressions returned to Chicago as a trio, and soon aligned themselves with producer Johnny Pate, who helped to update their sound and create a more lush soul sound for the group. The result was "It's All Right", a 1963 gold single that topped the R&B charts and made it to #4 on the pop charts, and became one of the group's signature songs. "It's All Right" and "Gypsy Woman" were the anchors of The Impressions' first LP, 1963's The Impressions.
1964 brought the first of Mayfield's Black pride anthem compositions, "Keep on Pushing", which became a #10 smash on both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts.It was the title cut from the album of the same name, Keep On Pushing, which also reached the Top 10 on both charts. Future Mayfield compositions would feature an increasingly social and political awareness, including the following year's major hit and the group's best-known song, the gospel-influenced "People Get Ready", which hit #3 on the R&B charts and #14 on the pop charts.
New members Ralph Johnson and Reggie Torian replaced Hutson, and The Impressions had three R&B Top 5 singles in 1974–1975: the #1 "Finally Got Myself Together (I'm a Changed Man)" (which also reached the Pop top 20 ) , and the #3 singles "Same Thing it Took" and "Sooner or Later". In 1976, The Impressions left Curtom and Mayfield behind for Cotillion Records, and had their final major hit with "Loving Power". The same year, Ralph Johnson was replaced by Nate Evans, who remained in the group for three years, during which time The Impressions switched to 20th Century Records. Singles and albums sales continued to slip, and Evans left in 1979, reducing the group to a trio. Their final album, Fan the Flames, was released in 1981, and Reggie Torian, Fred Cash, and Sam Gooden (who remained in the group throughout its entire existence) disbanded two years later. Ralph Johnson rejoined the group in 1983 and was with them until 2000. At that time the group consisted of Fred Cash, Sam Gooden, Vandy Hampton and Ralph Johnson who all recorded with Eric Clapton on his Reptile album. There is also a new album that released calledA Tribute to the Memory of Curtis Mayfield.
Since the early-1980s, The Impressions periodically rebanded in various formats, usually recreating the classic line-up of Mayfield, Gooden, and Cash, and sometimes including Jerry Butler in the line-up. On August 14, 1990, Mayfield was severely injured when lighting equipment fell on him during an on-stage performance. Paralyzed from the neck down, he could no longer play and could barely sing. He eventually was able to make a brief, well-received, comeback in 1997 with his New World Order album, and he died in Roswell, Georgia, on December 26 1999 at the age of 57.
The Impressions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. The members who got to take part in this honor, as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, were Sam Gooden, Jerry Butler, Richard Brooks, Curtis Mayfield, Arthur Brooks, and Fred Cash.
The group performs today with Fred Cash, Sam Gooden and the returning Reggie Torian, who originally sang with the group in 1973 . The Impressions recorded a tribute album to Curtis Mayfield in 2000, which was released by Edel America. In 2008, Universal Music & Hip O Records released Movin' On Up - the first-ever video compilation of The Impressions, featuring brand new interviews with original Impressions members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash, along with taped interviews with the late Curtis Mayfield and video performances of the group's greatest hits and several of Mayfield's solo hits.Their 1965 hit song,People Get Ready has been chosen as one of the Top 10 Best Songs Of All Time by a panel of 20 top industry songwriters and producers, including Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson,Hal David, and others as reported to Britain's Mojo music magazine.