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Still making The Impressions today

Reginald Torian (L) looking fine. Sam Gooden (center) and Fred Cash.

The Impressions delivered a solid set in the “Here But I’m Gone” 70th Birthday Tribute to Curtis Mayfield last summer at Lincoln Center in New York City. Fred Cash, Sam Gooden and Reginald Torian tore through “We’re a Winner,” “Choice of Colors” and “People Get Ready,” clarions of vision which Mayfield wrote for the Impressions.

The house band included Dr. Lonnie Smith on Hammond B-3 organ, Fred Cash, Jr. on bass and guitarist Binky Griptite for the Brooklyn-based Dap-Kings, who back Sharon Jones.

Griptite had networked with DJ Pariy, a hard core Impressions fan who booked the singing group in Europe. “They both idolize the Impressions and Curtis Mayfield,” Torain said during a recent break from rehearsals for the Black Ensemble Theater production of “It’s All-RIght To Have a Good Time: The Story of Curtis Mayfield,” where he portrays Mayfield. ” And Binky plays Curtis-type (jazz) guitar. So they thought it was a good idea to introduce Binky to us.”

Not long after the Lincoln Center tribute, Griptite brought the Impressions into his Brooklyn studio where they recorded four tracks. Griptite released a limited edition single of the Impressions singing Mayfield’s “Rhythm,” which was a Latin-tinged 1964 hit for the late Major Lance. Iconic Chicago arranger Johnny Pate (B.B. King, Walter Jackson, Wes Montgomery) did the horn charts, just as he did on the original. The Dap-Kings laid down the rhythm tracks.

You can dance to this:

The ‘45 was recorded in vintage analog and not digital.

“When we got ready to do this with Binky, Fred remembered, ‘I have a song Curtis gave us years ago’,” Torian said. “He dug it out and sent it to me.” That song was “Homeless,” which was recorded but has not been released. The Impressions did cover “Homeless” with Griptite at last summer’s final gig at the Southpaw music venue in Brooklyn.

Torian, 62, finds Griptite’s empathetic ears an exception in today’s bombastic music industry.

“These kids in the cast don’t know anything about Curtis,” he said. “They only know what they have to study for the parts. What I think I bring is an understanding of not just Curtis’s creative talents, but there was a time when there was a sensitivity in this industry. And Curtis epitomized that.

“Curtis had to hire someone else to run his business, because his nature was not to be an ogre. He wanted to create. And when you talk about loving people? He had to have somebody block his door from folks coming in for a handout after ‘Superfly.’ Because he was just giving it away. I bring an era that is passing. They look at me and call me ‘Old School.’”

Expect 10 full Mayfield songs and four medleys in the production which opens Sept. 22.

“When we are doing Curtis’s music, especially at the beginning, the main thing we concentrated on was staying true to pitch,” Torian said. “Kids today think they have to do all these vocal acrobatics to be effective, when I try to get them to understand to be true to the music.”

Reginald Torian during rehearsal (D. Hoekstra photo)

The Impressions were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Gooden and Cash are original members which dates backs to the doo-wop group The Roosters, which formed in 1957 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

By 1958 the group became the Impressions and featured lead singer Jerry Butler. Cash had left the group but quickly returned to replace Butler who left to pursue a solo career. Torian joined in 1972. He had met Mayfield in December of 1972.

“Fred and Sam were looking to replace LeRoy (Hutson) who had replaced Curtis,” he said. “They had been auditioning guys all over the country. I auditioned August 18 and actually started going to Curtom (in Chicago) in December to work on ‘Preacher Man.’ In January we did the first ‘Midnight Special’, with Wolfman Jack. Curtis was the co host with Helen Reddy. Rare Earth. Ike and Tina Turner. The Impressions, we were the guests. That was the first airplane flight I ever took. I had my own dressing room. I had just turned 22.

Torian’s mother Rheda was a registered nurse who sang in a gospel choir called the Golden Keys. His father Virgil “V.J.” Torian, Jr. played with the Harlem Globetrotters. “He was a member of the farm team but they brought him up to replace Marques Haynes,” Torian said. “He was about 5-8. All of us were jumpers, but my father had a good vertical leap and he could dribble. He stayed with them from ‘52 to ‘56.”

Torian initially joined the Impressions for a six month tour. “That first stint lasted ten years (1972-82),” he said. “Curtis didn’t want an attempt to duplicate his sound. There wasn’t a whole lot of support when I came into the group. Fred had done a solo album. ‘Preacher Man’ was supposed to be solo (Cash sang lead on the 1973 hit album). When I came in they put Sam and I in the background. My voice was similar to Curtis. To get away from that, they brought in Ralph Johnson in from Greenville, South Carolina, who had that hard driving gospel voice and he was our successful entity into the record world. Performance wise, I always did the Curtis thing. “We never changed the show.”

That’s what makes “It’s All-Right To Have a Good Time: The Curtis Mayfield Story” click.