Brenda Holloway: The Early Years - Rare Recordings 1962-63 (CD)
(Ace Records) 22 tracks with 16 page booklet. - We’ve always known that Brenda Holloway
was not your run-of-the-mill Motown diva. One of the imprint’s first
signings from outside Detroit and its environs, Brenda grew up far from
the frigid temperatures and blizzards that forged the harder-edged
personalities and steely determination of Hitsville’s homegrown artists.
This California girl exuded a sunny, laid-back persona light years from
the fiery Ross or Reeves.
Something else set Brenda apart. Her first Tamla release, ‘Every
Little Bit Hurts’, and its subsequent LP spotlight a smooth,
self-assured vocalist, oozing confidence and maturity that was clearly
lacking in the early efforts of, say, the Supremes and the Marvelettes.
Not quite 18, Brenda hit the spotlight with her artistry
fully-developed, denying us the fun of hearing her fumble around in
search of her style, an experience that makes the early waxings of
Diana, Martha and Mary Wells so charming.
What we didn’t know
then was that Brenda had already served a prolific, two-year
apprenticeship in the studios of L.A. A few of these early sides have
leaked out over the years but now, thanks to Mick Patrick and the
archaeologists at Ace, “The Early Years: Rare Recordings 1962-1963”
offers an opportunity to witness Brenda cutting her teeth in a variety
of styles. Think of it as 'Meet Brenda Holloway'.
Among the impossibly rare treasures: two doo-woppy demos
believed to be the 15-year-old’s first crack at the mic, one (‘He’s
Gone’) also the first recording evidence of the songwriting talent that
eventually put ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ into the Great American
Songbook. Brenda’s first release, ‘Hey Fool’, finds her rocking out with
a radically tougher attitude than fans have heard before. Her obscure
second single, ‘The Game Of Love’, a frothy girl-group confection, is
here alongside more unheard demos, rare 45s and duets with three
different male partners. On various songs, Brenda wails, belts,
testifies and coos, trying on the styles of Tina Turner, Etta James, the
Marvelettes, the Chantels and, of course, her idol Mary Wells.
also hear Brenda chiming in on background as a member of the Watesians,
the Four J’s and the Carrolls (probably all the same group), and, most
significantly, backing up her sister, the late, legendary Patrice, on
‘Do The Del Viking’, which the sisters wrote.
The CD closes with
the demo of ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’, presumably sung by Barbara Wilson
to the same backing track as the eventual hit. When Brenda added her
vocal to the song, she was more than ready for her shot at the big time.
How great it is that we can now eavesdrop as she perfects that
trademark emotional magic.
Needless to say, the CD is accompanied
by the traditional well-worth-the-price booklet with an essay on the
tracks by Mr Patrick and photos that more than explain why a certain
teenage boy was driven to a hormonal frenzy when I saw Brenda Holloway
perform at the Apollo.
Her Motown Anthology has long been a pleasure. This one feels like a
privilege. (Dennis Garvey)
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