BRENDA HOLLOWAY: The Early Years (Label: Ace)

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The precociously talented Brenda Holloway was still a few months shy of her 18th birthday when she scored her first Motown smash, ‘Every Little Bit Hurts,’ in 1964. What’s not widely known, however, is that the young California-born singer was already something of a veteran in the recording industry prior to joining Berry Gordy’s company – as Ace’s superb new 22-track compilation shows, young Brenda in the two years preceding her Motown debut had cut a slew of tracks (both as a solo singer and a member of a various groups) that had been released on sundry west coast indie labels. With the lovely Ms. Holloway – now 63 – due imminently in the UK as part of Motown’s ‘Divas Of Motown’ package tour, it’s well worth taking the time to get acquainted with her pre-Motown past as there’s much to appreciate, especially for seekers of impossibly rare soul music. Holloway, who was born in the small town of Atascadero and then moved to the Watts area of Los Angeles, was a talented multi-instrumentalist (she played violin, flute and cello) but also an ardent fan of Mary Wells and because of that, harboured aspirations to join Motown. She joined a high school group called the Watesians – two sides by the group, ‘I Told You Baby’ and ‘I’ll Find Myself A Guy’ can be found on the compilation – and came to the attention of budding local music biz entrepreneurs Jesse James and Kent Harris. Rare demos from her time under James’ and Harris’ wing have been unearthed for this compilation – also, James penned Holloway’s debut 45, ‘Hey Fool,’ released by the Donna label when the singer was just 15, and its follow-up, ‘The Game Of Love’ (regarded as the hardest to find of Holloway’s pre-Motown 45s). Both are included here along with a clutch of titles from the same time-frame – ‘The Nursery’ and ‘Will You Be My Love,’ typical teeny bop fodder by The Four J’s, a group Holloway sang backgrounds for; ‘I Ain’t Gonna Take You Back’ and ‘You’re My Love’ by Brenda Holloway & the Carrolls; ‘I Get A Feeling’ and ‘I Want A Boyfriend (Girlfriend)’ by The Soul Mates and a couple of duets that the singer recorded with Jess Harris (considered by soul experts to be a pseudonym for Jesse James). But it was Holloway’s association with LA producer, songwriter and record label owner, Hal Davis, that really kick-started her career. She recorded a couple of duets with Davis and did session work for him, which included doing backgrounds on her sister Patrice’s dance-craze number, ‘Do The Del Viking,’ which is also included on this set. Holloway’s association with Davis led her to signing with Motown when she sang in a tight pantsuit at a DJ convention the Motown boss was attending (Davis also became Motown’s west coast A&R man as a result). Interestingly, the very last cut on the collection is a demo version of Ed Cobb’s ‘Every Little Bit Hurts,’ which doesn’t sound much different from the Motown master, certainly in terms of its arrangement. Packed with previously unissued sides – it also contains the brilliant track ‘Constant Love,’ which Ace released for the first time earlier this year – and accompanied by copious and informative liner notes by Mick Patrick this CD is a must-own item for all serious soul collectors. Sensational stuff!
(CW) 4/5