Sixty years on from The Impressions’ pioneering debut album, Uncut salutes the gentle genius of CURTIS MAYFIELD. Friends, family and famous fans join us to celebrate the soul superstar’s finest moments as band leader, solo artist, songwriter, producer, guitarist and label manager. Stand by for music filled with righteous anger, spirituality and a profound desire to tell hard truths with depth, empathy and humanity. “It’s one classic after another,” hears Graeme Thomson, in the latest issue of Uncut magazine – in UK shops from Thursday, January 12 and available to buy from our online store.
The Impressions took a while to pick up speed. Having formed in 1958 as Jerry Butler & The Impressions, the vocal group only truly hit their stride in 1962, following Butler’s departure, when their teenage singer, songwriter, guitarist and all-round creative dynamo took the reins. A clutch of classic 45s – “Gypsy Woman”, “I’m So Proud”, “People Get Ready” – announced a talent for the ages. From there, Curtis Mayfield just kept on pushing.
In a career spanning almost four decades, Mayfield made his mark as a uniquely productive, prescient and powerful artist. Creatively, he covered the waterfront. With a sweet, supple voice he imparted unswerving social comment. His songs had both groove and melody; lush arrangements vied with funky jams. He was as comfortable singing love songs as gritty ghetto anthems. He could scold, but rarely failed to uplift. He was brave, too. Following an onstage accident in August 1990 which left him paralysed, he worked tirelessly to produce a courageous swan song.
Ron Tyson of The Temptations wrote with Mayfield in the ’70s. “He was a history maker, one of the pioneers,” he says. “When you think about what’s going on in the world today, Curtis was writing about these things years ago! He wrote songs with meaning that still mean something today. When you write great songs they live on and on.”
It’s 60 years since The Impressions released their self-titled debut album. To commemorate the landmark, Uncut has convened a stellar cast of friends, family, contemporaries, collaborators, co-writers and admirers. Collectively, they lift the curtain on Mayfield’s myriad incarnations: band leader, solo artist, songwriter, producer, guitarist and label manager, not to mention a Rolls-Royce-owning father and mentor who loved a Big Mac – no onions.
“He was a genius,” says Paul Weller, who covered “Move On Up” with The Jam and worked with Mayfield in the ’80s. “A lot of the things he was talking about back then are still relevant now. Racism, inequality, ecology, corporate takeover. I think of him as a prophet, but he’s a beautiful romantic writer as well. He covers the whole spectrum. Those solo records in the early 1970s, it’s just one classic after the other. Curtis, Super Fly, There’s No Place Like America Today. It was a golden run, and a golden time. Even the later albums, there are two or three really great tunes on each one.”
My Morning Jacket have also been known to rip through “Move On Up”. “There’s just so many ways that Curtis makes you feel happy and proud for who you are,” says Jim James. “A lot of his stuff was born in the civil rights movement, he’s talking to black America and letting them know: ‘You’re beautiful, you’re perfect, you need to love yourself.’ That message translates to everybody on Earth. I think his music is going to be useful until
the end of time for helping people get over not only racism and hatred towards others, but hatred toward themselves. He was an angel messenger with so much to share.”
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