The Music Diaries | Mayfield, Butler help each other along musical way
The names Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler are somewhat interrelated insofar as it relates to popular music. Both men played important roles in helping each other to establish their careers.
Both men also played important roles in establishing the Impressions as, perhaps, the most successful singing trio of the 1960s. Butler helped to launch Mayfield's career when he recommended that he be hired as a guitarist with the group he was singing with at the time known as The Roosters. A talented guitarist, Mayfield not only proved his worth with excellent guitar accompaniment, but also provided harmonious tones with his backing vocals for the group, whose name was later changed to The Impressions.
Mayfield returned the complement some three years later when he wrote several of Butler's early hit songs, while doing backing vocals and guitar work for him. Included among those early hits were He Will Break Your Heart, I'm Telling You, and Find Yourself Another Girl, the lyrics of which ran in part:
"One day my mother called me to her side, said
'Son, why are you so blue?'
Mother, I lost the girl that I love
Wont you tell me what to do?
Well, she said, find yourself another girl
Who will love you true, true, true."
Butler was born on December 8, 1939, in Sunflower Mississippi, USA, while Mayfield was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 3, 1942. They both had deep gospel backgrounds, having sung in church and with gospel groups as youngsters. While still a young boy, Butler moved with his family to Chicago, and some years later, developed a lasting friendship with Mayfield when they met as members of The Northern Jubilee gospel group.
Butler later joined another gospel group known as The Roosters in 1956 and encouraged Mayfield to join as a guitarist. A quintet at the time, the group consisted of brothers - Arthur and Richard Brooks, Sam Gooden, Jerry Butler, and Curtis Mayfield. Changing their name to The Impressions, the group had its first hit - For Your Precious Love - a Butler and Brooks Brothers composition in 1958. It featured Butler on lead vocals, with Mayfield featuring prominently on guitar and backing vocals, to produce one of soul music's most majestic gems. The group had moved totally away from gospel and into the realms of romance:
"Your precious love means more to me
Than any love could ever be
For when I wanted you
I was so lonely and so blue
For that's what love will do".
It peaked at number 11 on Billboard's Top 100 chart.
Shortly after the success of this hit, Butler left for a solo career and the Brooks Brothers soon followed. A temporary hiatus ensued for about three years, during which time Mayfield sharpened his songwriting skills. The group re-emerged in 1961, with Fred Cash joining original members Sam Gooden and Curtis Mayfield. It was under Mayfield's leadership that the world felt the full impact of the trio's virtuosity. Garnering his inspiration from a cowboy movie in which a gypsy woman was dancing around a fire, Mayfield wrote and arranged the group's first single under his leadership, the cha-cha-cha flavoured recording, Gypsy Woman, the first stanza of which ran:
"From nowhere through a caravan
Around a campfire light
A lovely woman in motion
With hair as dark as night.
Her eyes were like that of a cat in the dark
That hypnotised me with love.
She was a gypsy woman."
The trio had no less than 18 chart successes during the 1960s.
The Butler-Mayfield collaboration continued in the 1960s with Thanks To You and Aware Of Love. Later came songs like Woman With Soul, When Trouble Calls, and Isle Of Sirens, by Butler.
Moving to Mercury Records in 1966, Butler's hits continued to flow with The Girl In His Mind, True Love Don't Come Easy, Brand New Me, Never Gonna Give You Up, Dream Merchant, I Dig You Baby, and a very soothing duet with Betty Everett for Let It Be Me.
Butler's hits continued unabated into the 1980s until his style became somewhat anachronistic, resulting in fewer appearances in the recording studios.
Mayfield, in the meantime, began his own record label - Curtom - in 1969 and released some exemplary singles for himself and others. He was among the first to speak openly about African pride and community struggle in recordings like Keep On Pushing (1964), We're A Winner (1968), and People Get Ready (1965) from which Bob Marley lifted lines to create the song of the millennium One Love.
Mayfield died in December 1999 at age 57, nine years after suffering a serious accident at an outdoor concert in New York, which left him a quadriplegic. He has the distinction of being a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - once with the group and again as a solo artiste. In 1991, Butler was also inducted, along with all the other members of the Impressions. He continues to perform, while serving as the commissioner of the Cook County Board, a position he has held since 1980.