Curtis Mayfield Biography
Illuminated by his mother's love of poetry and the gospel songs so central to his life it was around this time that Mayfield began his first tentative steps towards song writing. Crucial to this development was his decision to take up the guitar, which he taught himself by tuning the instrument to mirror the black keys of the piano. Mayfield still only 16, was confident enough to accept Jerry's offer of a position as the guitarist in his new group The Roosters.
Within a year the 5-piece, re-christened The Impressions had scored a number 11 hit on the US pop charts with the ballad 'For Your Precious Love'. A fine start but the label credited the song to Jerry Butler & The Impressions and after one more release Butler split amidst disquiet within the group over his priority billing. The Impressions struggled but Mayfield kept them together, funding demos from cash he saved from writing and touring with the now solo Butler. Indeed it would be the success of Butler's Mayfield penned 'He Will Break Your Heart' in 1960 and subsequent solo singles which rekindled interest in The Impressions and would lead to the formation of Curtom Music publishing.
The Impressions fortunes had changed dramatically after the release of 'Gypsy Woman' in 1961. They were now a 3 piece, the Brooks brothers having departed, Fred Cash taking their place alongside Sam Gooden and Mayfield. Blessed with Johnny Pate's supreme arrangements they unleashed a series of singles which defined the times; 'I'm So Proud' (1964), 'Keep On Pushing'(1964), 'It's Alright' (1963) and 'People Get Ready' (1965) were four anthems from an increasingly impressive canon of Mayfield originals. With him at the helm they notched up no less than 14 top 40 US hits that decade, 5 of which went top 20 in 1964 alone. Musically Mayfield proved to be a rigourous innovator and coupled with Pate came to define the Chicago Soul sound. Gospel and Doo Wop mixed with striking brass parts and Latin influenced rhythms often mirrored by Mayfield's excellent trademark rolling guitar lines were just part of the recipe.
Along with the uplifting melodies, which would characterise his life's work, another striking thing about those records was that they'd been written by their performer. In this respect Mayfield proved a radical. When you consider the lyrics to those four songs previously mentioned Mayfield's unusual position is even more remarkable. Content wise they were head and shoulders above almost everything else from the period.
Sometimes veiled, other times blatant, Mayfield's lyrics were often about Black pride and reflected the self-determination of the Afro-American community. Mayfield would become a significant voice within the Black power movement but his words were always more universal than that. He knew he was in a position to influence, enlighten and educate and his best work displayed that wisdom. His weren't appeals for radical Black power but equality and unity, values and goals similar to those of Martin Luther King and the Southern Leadership Conference. No one using song so effectively and consistently had communicated such ideas at the time.
July 12, 2006
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Whilst our label story actually begins in 1968 the name Curtom had been in use as early as 1963, pertaining to the publishing company mainly representing a then already extensive catalogue of songs written by the man at the centre of our story, Curtis Mayfield. Operating from offices on North Lincoln Avenue on Chicago's South Side, Curtom songs regularly gave artists contracted to now legendary labels such as Chess, O-Keh (where Mayfield became a staff producer) and Vee Jay sizeable hits. The Fascinations, Jan Bradley, Major Lance and Billy Butler were amongst many who enjoyed success with Mayfield penned tracks during that period. However it was his involvement with Jerry Butler that set Mayfield on a course to become the key architect of the Chicago Soul sound.
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Voice Of Life | Reviewer: Geri Boston | 1/5/13
Curtis Mayfield,s very distinctive voice was the first musical love in my life.I was about eleven years old in the summer of 1961 when I first heard Gypsy Woman.Have loved him through many decades.Always will.My Curtis Mayfield Musical Collection is my Musical Life-Line.
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