BRENDA HOLLOWAY INTERVIEW
conducted on October 13th 1997 at Brenda's Los Angeles home by Andrew Rix
AR: The logical place to start is at the beginning. We know you were born on June 21st 1946 in Atascadera, had a younger brother and sister - Wade and Patrice, and at some point moved to Watts.
BH: I was born on June 26th and moved to Watts when I was two years old.
AR: What can you tell us about your childhood, particularly your dreams and aspirations, and how you became interested in music.
BH: Well, when I was an infant I used to cry a lot and my mother used to put on the stereo. That was the only throguen_storiesing that would make me quiet, listening to music, not anyone talking to me, or patting me, or trying to calm me down, only music would calm me down. I would listen to Dinah Washington and B.B. King so maybe I developed an ear for music when I was an infant.
AR: What opportunities did you receive in the early days that led you to follow a career in music.
BH: Well, support from my teachers. I had a teacher who used to take me out of school to the colleges because I was a violinist at first. I started studying the violin when I was seven years old and the music teachers would always be interested in me because I played the violin, sort of like a gypsy, with a gypsy flare. So they used to take me to USC which is not too far from here, but it was kind of far from Watts, about 10 miles, from here it's about 10 minutes. At USC I would go to the lessons and they respected my talent even though I didn't really know I had a talent. All I knew was that I liked the violin. Going back into my background I have Hispanic and as you know they are known for playing the violin. That's probably where I picked up wanting to play because nobody in my family liked it infact they used to make me practice in the backyard. There would be me, the dogs and the violin and they would howl because the sound of the instrument would make them mad. So I used to practice for about an hour and then people would say "Brenda it's time to go in 'cos we can't take it anymore" so I was always trying to find a place to rehearse and I would complain to my teachers. They would take me away, out of Watts, to go and study. My mother used to have a boyfriend and he would take me out for auditions. They had an audition for a violin player, they had 500 people from all of the schools in southern California and they picked only 107. There was only 7 blacks out of the whole 500 and I was one. If the insurance man used to come in the house I would sing for him or if the neighbours came I would sing for them so I was always known for my music and singing. My mother always made sure I had the money to go for my lessons and she always pushed me, she'd say "nothing can hold you back, you can do anything you just have to be faithful and just believe". My mother didn't have any colour barriers, she didn't feel you should be held back because of your race, if your gift could make room for you and you were prepared so she used to say "get out there and do your best".
AR: Would you say that your mother guided your initial interest.
BH: We had a lady across the street from us and she was into gospel. I wasn't in the Church as a little girl, I was close to God but I didn't really want to be in the Church because I felt you would have to stop everything, I didn't understand God, that he would want you to do your best at everything. I was in Church but I was scared to get totally into it so she would take me out to sing in Church and then Hal Davis came on the scene and Marc Gordon, when I was in high school, and they are the ones who got me involved in Rock&Roll, cutting, doing backgrounds. That's how I got into R&B with Hal Davis and he introduced me to Berry Gordy.
AR: When did you decide to make singing and performing a career.
BH: At 5 years old
AR: Was there anyone who influenced this decision.
BH: I would always see people on TV and I would always tell my family that that was gonna be me. They used to say "please Brenda get out of the way of the TV cos we can't see". I was fascinated with television just to look at the people that were singing like Mahalia Jackson, I can't remember in particular but when I saw people singing I would always say that's gonna be me. I always loved music.
AR: When you decided to make it a career and you actually got into performing how easy was it for you to get work.
BH: Well I started out as a dancer with my sister. I was interested in singing but I didn't know if I really had it. If you're raised in a place like Watts or maybe in a ghetto everybody can sing. You could get a bum off the street or out of the liquor store - they could all sing. I didn't know my own potential but when I'd sing people would say "we like your voice", so I always got a good response. I didn't know how individual I was 'cos I'd sing Mary Wells things and I tried to sound like her, Diana Ross things and so on. I tried to sing like everybody but there was always a sadness in my voice and my sadness came from a lot of childhood stuff because I was always a loner. I didn't play with dolls, I didn't do any of those things because music was an outlet for me, it was the way I handled a lot of my personal sadness. I was basically an introvert, I didn't mingle with my sister and brother, I was just into music and doing my own thing.
AR: Did you intend to be a solo singer or did you have any thoughts at the beginning to be in partnership with Patrice.
BH: I was gonna be a songwriter and help Patrice whenever she needed me because she was the first one that was chosen to sing. She had a hit here with 'Do the Del-Viking', I was trying to be a part of it so I was the dancer.
AR: That song was written by you and Patrice and issued on Taste Records in July '63.
BH: I don't remember when. I can only recall when I started singing.
AR: The first issued recording of yours that we can trace is a song called 'Hey Fool' that came out on Donna Records in February 1962. What were the circumstances of you getting this first recording contract.
BH: Well Hal and Marc were trying to place me. I was the oldest, Patrice was 12 and I was 17 or 18, so they were trying to place me cos I had a figure and they said "you have a shape so you could probably get a deal". I didn't even know about the shape because everybody had everything that I had, so I said "I do ?". I felt like a square 'cos I was into classical and like a classical musician I was focused on the instrument, that was the kind of mentality I had from a little girl I was focused in on one thing. I couldn't care about the shape..I didn't know I had a figure or anything like that so Hal was trying to prepare me and that's how I got the deal. I was always a team player and if Hal had a project and he'd say "can you help me write this song" I'd say "sure" so I got the opportunity because I was easy to work with .
AR: Was the song 'Hey Fool' taken from your first recording session as a solo artist.
BH: I think that was maybe my one and only song, We didn't have a lot of money. I don't think I had an album it was just like a one time thing and then I started writing from that point. That was my initial introduction into writing .
AR: How did you feel when you went into the studio the first time.
BH: Everybody was there with me, I think Hal was on background, I just felt like a studio musician. you learn your lyrics and you sing it to the best of your ability. I didn't really feel special it was just a job, I wasn't too excited about it. I didn't actually know it was going to be put out we were just trying to get a deal.
AR: According to my research you had three records released at Donna.
BH: What were they.
AR: 'Hey Fool' recorded in January '62 with 'Echo' on the flip side.
BH: I liked 'Echo'.
AR: 'Game of Love'.
BH: I don't remember 'Game of Love'
AR: We've never seen it and can't find anybody with a copy.
BH: Now that we're going back I can kind of remember it but I liked 'Echo' because I was starting to go into my own type of writing that I liked to do.
AR: Yes you wrote that Patrice and K. Harris.
BH: Ken Harris.
AR: 'Game of Love' had the flip side 'Echo Echo Echo' and the third single was 'I'll give my life', written by Robert Jackson, and the flip was 'More Echo' so 'Echo' was obviously very popular. There are unconfirmed reports of two other singles on Del-Fi, one by 'The Sisters' and the other by 'The Wattasians'.
BH: 'The Wattasians', yes I was a part of that group. We were like a group of people where all of our product was coming from, we just used different names but we were all part of one stable, the same organisation, we were trying to just get a hit. The Wattasians were girls from Watts, that's how we got the name, we had one lady who became Eleanor Rigby, she worked with Gene Page, and was in Alaska doing a lot of work but I remember her because she was so heavy. We used to buy these clothes out of little cheap shops, like a 99c store, we used to have to buy two dresses, cut them down the middle, and sow them together and that would make her one dress. Her real name was Priscilla Kennedy and she was a very very talented musician.
AR: If I remind you what they were can you tell me how much success you achieved with the pre-Motown singles. There's the three we've just mentioned on Donna then you had a single with Hal Davis as 'Hal & Brenda called 'It's you' flipped with 'Unless I have you' that came out on Minasa and Snap Records.
BH: They were local hits and may have sold some in the East, they were creating interest and making us popular back here in L.A. . We were just coming out with songs that were making noise and making hits. Patrice's was the biggest but we were getting known in L.A. and we would do the record hops and were getting popular but I didn't have that real big one until I got with Motown. People knew us here because we were in the publics eye a lot.
AR: The next one was 'I'm gonna make you mine' and 'I never knew you looked so good til I quit you' which you cut with Jess Harris for Brevit Records released in June 1963.
BH: I remember them, I liked singing with Jessie he had a good voice. Can you imagine a title like 'I never knew you looked so good til I quit you', in those days we could sing what we really believed in because we didn't know the mechanics of writing, what we felt we penned it and put music to it and put it out.
AR: The next track was 'I get a feeling' flipped with 'I want a boyfriend (girlfriend)' that came out on In-Sound Records locally and then Era Records nationally.
BH: I didn't know it went national, I mean I didn't know it was even on a national label.
AR: Well Era was the label that had Jewel Akens and Ketty Lester.
BH: Through that Ketty Lester association is how I met a writer called Ed Cobb.
AR: Robert Jackson, the other singer, I believe was the brother of Gloria Jones.
BH: Yes I think that was Gloria's brother.
AR: That takes us up to August 1963. The next one was Brenda Holloway & the Carrols.
AR: 'I ain't gonna take you back'.
BH: I remember the title.
AR: It was flipped with 'You're my only love'. Now I'm not convinced that it's actually you singing. I think that this record, which was released in June 1964, three months after your first Motown release, was put out as a cash-in. They probably only had one side so just used a filler on the flip.
BH: What was the label.
BH: I've never heard of that. I don't think that's me.
AR: So they are your pre-Motown's and from what you've said they were local hits. Going over those releases there are a number of names that crop up regularly Hal Davis, Robert Jackson. We've said that 'Echo' was used on the first three 45's. Whose idea was it to use the other names as 'I want a boyfriend; was issued as 'Bonnie & Clyde' .
BH: I think that was Hal's idea.
AR: Then the issue on Era was credited to 'The Soul Mates'.
BH: Maybe Robert was tied up to another contract and didn't want to use his name.
AR: Hal seems to be the common thread through all of those releases. Was he always beside you at that time.
AR: Patrice's record 'Do the Del-Viking' was released in July '63 and by this time you'd already made six records.
BH: Well evidently they didn't sell.
AR: You co-wrote 'Del-Viking' with Patrice and used to dance for Patrice when she performed the song, we would assume as sisters you enjoyed a close relationship so what part did each of you play in establishing the other as an artist and at that time when you were working together did you perform or record as a duo.
BH: Well we were very close as a family and were raised in a single parent home, my mother was very strong and believed in the family. We even sang at the dinner table and could talk in harmony. We were a musical family. We were always taught to help each other and stick closely together and I love Patrice, she's my baby-sister. Patrice had a very strong business-head, I'm more of an artist, she was very focused on the business side and I was looking at it as being an artist and getting my product out, getting my feelings out there. So we pushed each other and we would do anything for each other and when I broke with my big hit I'd got the title and everything came to me. I'd got the title but I'm not a lyricist I'm a melody person, a feeling person, I can tell you my feelings and you can put words to it so she worked very closely with me to help establish me as an artist and vica-versa, we enjoyed each other. She was more business-like so she got more jobs than me, I'd do jobs for free but she would always want paying, she had two cars and I had one. At 21 she had lots of property and I just gave all my money to my mom. We helped each other a lot in those days and we were very close. I knew that everything that I had would go to my family and she knew everything she had would go to buy property and cars. She was practically a movie star because the 'Josie & the Pussycats' show was led by Patrice, she would go in there and handle her own deals whilst I would always say "where's Hal, I don't want to talk to these people, I'll do whatever you say". We were totally different but sometimes she was too strong, she could be very intimidating to people where people always liked me because I was so easy going.
AR: You were obviously very supportive but you never got to record together.
BH: We wanted to record together but it never worked like that. People always pull you in the direction they want you to go, where they want to see you. At first we would always listen to Hal but when Patrice got a few breaks she went out on her own, she got her deal at Capitol but I stayed with Hal and he got me the deal at Motown.
AR: How important was Hal to your career.
BH: He was the person who started everything, except for the grooming which my mother looked after, but he was the vehicle that I used to get all of my deals.
AR: When did you meet up with Ed Cobb, was it when you entered your Motown period.
BH: Hal met him, I think it was earlier than when you're talking about. You remember the Ketty Lester association, 'Love letters', he did that with her and Hal knew Ketty. Ed had a song for her but Ketty didn't like it. The song was 'Every little bit hurts' and they loved it for me but I didn't like it but Hal was the one who got it to Motown. Hal knew a guy called Jack Eskew who knew Berry personally and when they came here to Los Angeles for the DJ convention in '63, I think, Hal set it up and I sang and sang and sang for hours. There were a group of men that came in and I was singing Mary Wells songs, I was supposed to meet Berry and I'd been singing for about four hours when these men came in. There was this little short man and he was cute, I didn't know who he was, I was just singing but I was getting tired and was getting ready to go home. You know I'd been singing since 10 o'clock and now it was 4 o'clock and I wanted to meet Berry but I said to Hal "I'm gonna go home because I'm tired". Then they all left the room, Hal included, then this little short man comes out and says "I am Berry Gordy" well I almost choked, he said "I like you, I like the way you look, I like the way you sound and I want to sign you up". I told Hal " you go home and get my mother and you tell her she better let me sign this contract". So they got her and she was all dressed up, actually I think I went home to get her. I used to believe in the horoscope and I'd read the paper that day and it said "today is a good day" I said to my mother "you better let me sign this", you know my mother was like a sister we had a good relationship. We went back and she signed for me and Berry said "there's one thing that all artists are told, you've got to graduate and when you do I'll put your record out". So I was in college and I graduated and people were saying to me "you've got a record out" and I said "no I haven't" they said "you have got a record out, isn't your name Brenda Holloway" I said "I think so". I still didn't believe them because I didn't have any communication with Berry while I was in High School. I recorded the songs here because I was a West Coast artist and the offices they have now they established because they found me so they started recording their people there, they brought Detroit here. So I never heard anything else, he never spoke to me again until I'd graduated, he put the record out, it could have been the day I graduated, because I was only at the college a little while. Well one day I was at home and I was mopping, I'm always mopping.......
AR: You're moving a bit too quick for me because I wanted to ask you about the DJ Convention. Motown had a PR knack of creating fairytales about how it discovered its artists, it's been written, that you apparently gatecrashed the DJ Convention dressed fit to kill in a gold pantsuit. Catching Berry Gordy's eye whilst miming to a Mary Wells record and signing a contract before the day was out. Did this really happen as reported.
BH: Well all I can remember about the pantsuit was that it was tight and I had gold shoes to match. I was noticed when I walked in but Berry wasn't in the crowd, they probably told him "there's a girl out there trying to sing, she's got a figure". My mother dressed me that day, I had all kinds of clothes so that particular day I just picked something that was kind of glam and sexy, not that I knew what sexy was, I was only 17 years old, and everybody has a figure at 17. So I just put on some high heel shoes and the gold pantsuit and everybody liked it...all the men. I wasn't miming to that song I was actually singing, it was 'My guy', I kept on singing it over and over again for hours and hours and like I've told you Berry came to me and said "I like you".
AR: So how fast did that contract get signed.
BH: As soon as my mother got there. I wasn't going to leave without that contract being signed, it was probably an hour. I used to tell everybody that I was gonna get on Motown and they would say "do you realise you're in Watts and Motown is in Detroit" so nobody believed me. When I got on Motown I was so excited I thought I was at Disneyland I saw Stevie, Mary and Marvin....I was so happy. You know my mother was into clothes and her friends used to own dress shops so when I went to Motown I was dressed out of the store and the women there said "she didn't come from the projects, what is her problem", I said "I don't have one". Berry would say "that's the girl who always says the right thing" and the girls would be like "who is she, she's not from Detroit, she's got all these clothes like a movie star". I've never been into clothes but my mother was and she would say "if your hair is good and your shoes are good whatever is in-between can be as cheap as I don't know what". When I went there I had good shoes and everything matched and a lot of the girls started to copy me..when I first went I was so excited but they were like "who is she". I always felt special because it's like having a large family of children and you decide to adopt, your gonna pick that child and mould them to how you want them to be. I felt that Berry picked me, I was an adopted child and the other kids didn't understand me. It was like "why did our dad want her when he has us" and that was how they treated me like "you've been adopted so you're not really part of the family". It made me feel funny because they used to talk about my clothes and being from Hollywood. I could hear them when I went to the parties.
AR: Your arrival at Motown co-incided with the departure of Mary Wells.
BH: I was there for a little while before Mary left, she was still releasing records, she was doing some tours and we were actually on the Dick Clark tour when we found out that Mary had left and then they started calling me in to cover her songs. She'd put them out but wasn't going to be there to do them so they wanted to make sure they would be covered by an artist who was with the company so they picked me 'cos I always tried to sound like her anyway just to get in the doors at Motown....but I always had that Brenda Holloway sound.
AR: Given that you actually recorded some of the songs that Mary had already done was there any suggestion, at that time, that you would be the new "first lady", the Mary Wells replacement, and if so how did you feel about that.
BH: Everybody wanted that but there was one hinderance....Diana Ross......she decided that she was gonna be the "first lady". When we started on the Dick Clark tour Berry negotiated that deal really well because he knew that the Supremes had hit potential so when they wanted me to go on the tour Berry kept on saying "I want the Supremes to go" and Dick Clark said "but I want Brenda Holloway I don't want the Supremes". Berry said "I'll make you a deal, we're not gonna let Brenda go unless the Supremes go", Dick Clark said "oh just send them". When we were on the road all their songs started selling, going up to a million, so they became the replacement for Mary Wells and that's when I started having my problems as an artist.
AR: It's difficult not to mention Patrice, at this point, as press releases from the time announced that you had both been signed to Motown.
BH: I don't think Patrice was ever signed to Motown but the job that Suzanne de Passe has was a job that was created for my sister. You know Patrice got ill and she was never able to take that position....she was business and instead of being an artist would have been better in administration.
AR: One of the first recordings we can actually trace, from March '64, is 'Come into my palace', a duet between you and Patrice. That song had already been recorded by Lee & The Leopards and was recorded by the Supremes. It was obviously a hectic time for the pair of you but you're saying that Patrice never had a contract and we're saying that we have evidence that she recorded tracks like 'For the love of Mike' and 'Stevie the boy of my dreams'.
BH: For Motown.
BH: I remember those songs. She probably did sign but she was never featured as a major artist for Motown. When I listen to the songs we were similar in sound, the only thing that I'm really famous for that she wasn't is that I have a cry in my voice, a moan in my voice, and I don't know where I got that. It's a thing that's similar to what Tony Braxton has in her voice also. If those songs of Patrice were on Motown then she did in fact sign.
AR: Did she actually physically work there.
BH: Yes she worked there but Berry was looking at her as more of an administrator...film making, a gigantic job , because he saw in her the potential and if she hadn't gotten sick she would have functioned there very well.
AR: Is it theoretically possible that because she was there, on the premises, and they knew she could sing that she just might have done some demos.
BH: No I think he was considering her for an artist because I think those songs were released actually. Weren't they released.
AR: No they were never issued. 'For the love of Mike' was a song written by Smokey, and the Supremes did it, but that has never been issued.
BH: Well basically to my thinking she was doing demos then.
AR: There are three songs we know of, all from around that same period.
BH: Maybe she got sick before they could release the package on her, before they could do a total album on her.
AR: Do you recall the song 'Come into my palace' that you recorded with her. We haven't heard it.
BH: I don't remember it.
AR: Do you ever recall recording with her.
AR: Your first Motown release was, of course, 'Every little bit hurts, from March 1964, written by Ed Cobb. I played you some rehearsal versions a few years ago....can you recall the circumstances surrounding those sessions. Were they Motown sessions or were they intended to show your talents to Motown.
BH: They were cut for Motown as part of the project for my first album so 'Quality Control' could pick, Billie Jean and Janie Bradford could screen it and Berry..he basically screened all of my material and then picked out the best ones. I didn't want to do 'Every little bit hurts', and I never wanted to do any of the songs that were hits for me. I'd always get into big big fights over things that were gonna be hits for me. I don't have a feel for my own hits.
AR: The debut album must have been recorded very quickly because it came out only a couple of months after that first single. The single was released March '64, the album June '64.
BH: My debut album..what songs were on that
AR: The album tracks were....(lists tracks).
BH: We did all that work in '63 I think. We started working on that album as soon as I signed but he didn't release it and he didn't talk to me until I graduated, and then he put it all out. Hal Davis, Marc Gordon and Frank Wilson put that album together.
AR: So you didn't record all of that stuff in three months.
BH: I could have recorded it in three months because I had one of the best teams in showbusiness.
AR: How did you feel when you saw the album for the first time.
BH: I hated the cover. I hated the way I looked but when I first heard it it was okay..everybody loved it back then.
AR: So you weren't too thrilled.
BH: Well I loved the songs, I liked the songs that Hal picked because I was coming into my own style and I liked to work with Hal because he let me interpret the songs the way I wanted to. I could have all the feeling, all the moans, a lot of times with the producers at Motown they would say "you do to many slurs..you slur too much..you're the slur queen" and I would say "I don't like these people".
AR: You wrote a couple of tracks on the first album but what do you recall about those sessions. Did you have time to rehearse or was it a case of get in, get them done and get out.
BH: If somebody wanted me to record a song I would live with it for about a week because I wanted to feel the song and know the song. I wanted to be able to put my feeling in it. So it would take a week to learn the words and then I would record it in a few takes because I knew how I wanted to do it and if they'd used a bulldozer they wouldn't be able to change my mind. Once I got a feel for it I interpreted it in the way that I wanted to do the song and through listening to all my favourite female singers I would fit myself in the middle of them and the ladies who inspired me the most were Morgana King and Sarah Vaughan. I always liked ballads because of my sad feeling caused by the broken family. I don't really talk about it but it was a sad situation and I would always pull from that. Whenever I was singing I never used to think about happy things, only sad things that I wanted to be happy, that I wanted to improve...a lot of them didn't so I would sing out of my sadness.
AR: We think that most of the tracks on that album were cut in Los Angeles.
BH: You're right.
AR: Did you have a band in L.A. or did they send band-tracks over from Detroit.
BH: We had a band in L.A. and when we were trying to sound like Motown we were creating our own West Coast Motown too and it was good. We tried to mimic Motown and came up with a happening L.A. sound. They would then come out here and try and get our sound. We did the fingerpops and the handclaps and even though it was different it was still Motown.
AR: We knew that a lot of band-tracks were laid down so they could bring 'whoever' in to lay a vocal on top, or fly the tape out to Chicago, or New York, to get a touring artist to cut a track.
BH: Most of the musicians they had at Motown were musicians they had all the time like the Andantes, the background group, they were just there all of the time. Everything that came out, if it wasn't Martha like at the beginning, it was the Andantes.
AR: The track 'A favor for a girl with a lovesick heart', according to Clarence Paul, was probably the only song cut in Detroit. If so was this your first Detroit session.
BH: That's correct, I think it was my first Detroit session.
AR: Did you go to Detroit to record on a regular basis.
BH: No, that was one of my problems..if I went there to record and Gladys came in when they were cutting my track, she did my track and when I got there and said "where's my track" it would be "Oh Gladys came in and she had to go back out and she cut your track", I said "she did.....thankyou....can I go back home now ". I was always upset, I always wanted to be like everybody else at Motown but Berry had other plans for me and I just didn't want to wait for them.
AR: Did you record anywhere else.
BH: No, when I recorded with Joe Cocker he came here from London, I think, we did 'Feeling alright' and the one that's on the 'Wonder Years' now. Most of the other artists flew in and if the Blossoms didn't do it the Union Singers, which I was a part of, would do the backgrounds....me and Edna Wright, Gloria Jones, Shirley Matthews, Merry Clayton and Patrice.
AR: Shirley was in the Blackberries I think.
BH: Yes that was my sisters group.
AR: If we look through the discography when I mention songs if there are things about them you'd like to share with us please do. One of the things Edna Wright mentioned when interviewed was that she used to cut some demo's for you particularly 'Just look what you've done'...you've said you used to live with a song for a week so were the songs presented to you as demo's by other artists.
BH: The songs were presented as demo's by other artists but I didn't know Edna had done 'Just look what you've done' because I didn't listen to her version I listened to Frank's version because his were the best. I loved Frank Wilson's voice, I loved his delivery, his phrasing and everything.
AR: So you used to take the acetates home.
BH: Yes, take them home, live with them, record them.
AR: Where are they now.
BH: They took them back. They would never let you keep them because they were not published...that's top priority material, you can't have a writers demo until it's published so they would take it back immediately. They'd take them at the session.."Give me my demo"
AR: So you never got to keep any.
BH: Oh no.
AR: Okay I'll go through these songs...'Every little bit hurts' we've already discussed.
BH: Barbara Wilson, who was Frank's first wife did that, she did such a good rendition of it I didn't want to do it. That was why when I was doing the song I was crying. After she did the demo and they decided to do it with me I cried in the studio. I didn't want to do it, I wanted her to do it...but she died.
AR: 'Land of a thousand boys'.
BH: Oh that was my song..it was about for every boy there's a girl. You don't have to pinch someone else's guy there's one for everybody.
AR: 'I'll always love you'
BH: I love that song... I liked it better than 'Every little bit hurts'...that song was pulled in because there was a conflict of sales between my record and the Supremes. They pulled it so the Supremes could go to a million and then people were not interested in my song anymore and that's the problem being with a young company....it's like a family, everybody has to push one person, they weren't able to push a lot of artists when I was coming through so that was one thing that I didn't understand. I was upset because I did the best that I could do on that song, it was selling but they wanted my sisters at Motown, the Supremes, to sell a million so they pulled mine in so I wouldn't sell any records and theirs would sell...that was not a wise business move.
AR: 'Sad song'.
BH: I love that song, Frank Wilson wrote it.
AR: 'When I'm gone'.
BH: I love that song, Smokey wrote it. Mary Wells did that so I used her version as my demo. It sold a lot of copies.
AR: This next one is my favourite, 'I've been good to you', and I'll tell you why...It's because of that little break in the middle where you sing "you know that it's hurting me so" and you hold the note, the band stops...when I hear that I just tingle.
BH: You better keep that record...I don't know if I could ever do that again in my life.
AR: When people come to my house and they don't know all of you're material I say "If you want to listen to the best thing you're ever gonna hear just sit there, close your eyes and listen to this".
BH: It does have a thing where I went to my maximum but I didn't understand all that when I was singing it...my voice was at it's peak, I was much younger but had an old voice and old feelings. I'm just now coming up to where I should be feeling like that or being able to sing like that...I was before my time vocally. That's the way I feel about my voice because when I listen to that stuff it kinda blows my mind too. I think "is that me at 18"..that's all I did in those days..music..that was it, that was my life.
AR: So you can understand what I'm saying.
BH: When I hear it I say "is that me"..I love it because it's so soulful.
BH: I was honoured to sing that song because Mary had a hit on that before I recorded it.
AR: I think yours is the best..I think all of your versions of songs that Mary did are better. To be honest I don't think Mary compares vocally.
BH: Well that's a toss-up because when I listen to Mary's stuff now that she's passed away...we only value stuff from people when they are not here and we always associate the person with the work but when they're gone you can really listen to them because you don't have to deal with them as a person. When I listen to her, now that she's not here, I can listen and be really open..I don't think about anything but her artistry. That girl was fabulous.
AR: She was good but I don't think she was as good as you.
BH: On certain things she was better on other things I was better..to me..but what you're saying is one of the greatest compliments because she is one of my all time favourites. To me Mary Wells was the voice behind Motown. I was different and I was special because I brought a different feeling to the company but as far as Motown, the authentic, the original I don't think there's anyone else. They could have taken me to a place where I could have been one of the most famous and fabulous. They could have taken me anywhere but they didn't really develop me and I didn't have the patience to wait. I would be interested to see if I'd stayed with Motown where I would have gone and where I would be today but a lot of times we don't go on the path where we started out, we go in many other ways...I would be interested to see what Brenda Holloway would be if she'd stayed and let Berry work his plan out. But who could say I would be alive today if I had gone with him. He did establish a name for me and I can work with that.
AR: 'I'll be available'
BH: I think Mary did that before too.
AR: 'You can cry on my shoulder', apparently Berry wrote that.
BH: I think Berry actually did write that. he thought he was gonna have a smash on me but it hardly did anything.
AR: There are two different versions of that. The promo copies and the ones you could buy in the store are different mixes.
BH: And they expected the public to buy it.
AR: 'How many times did you mean it ' written by R. Nievelt, which means nothing to me, and Staunton & Walker.
BH: I thought it was Ivy Hunter. That was probably one I was given a demo on.
AR: 'Together til the end of time'
BH: Another Frank Wilson, I loved recording all of his songs.
AR: 'Til Johnny comes', that was withdrawn , do you know why.
BH: I don't know. I guess when I left they didn't want to put it out. That would have been a hit.
AR: The Supremes did it on one of their albums.
BH: They did. I was probably gone by then. When should it have come out
AR: It was scheduled for July '66. You were still there
BH: I was having a lot of problems then.
AR: 'Just look what you've done'
BH: Frank rehearsed with me so much I fashioned the song after his, the way he sang it.
AR: 'Starting the hurt all over again'
BH: They just gave me a demo I don't know who it was.
AR: Your last Motown release 'You've made me so very happy'
BH: I don't know what Berry actually did on that song but he said that he'd helped, he probably decided to put it in a modulated key.
AR: There was a song that was pressed as a single sided promotional disc called 'Play it cool, stay in school', written by Jimmy Clark, that was done for the Women's Club of Detroit. How did that come about.
BH: I don't remember who wrote it but I thought it was just gonna be a promotion type thing. they thought it was better if I did it. I'm very interested in children and school and have adopted Jerome's school because I want to see young people, especially black people, graduate.
AR: Why do you think you were picked to do the song.
BH: I think a lot of it had to do with my diction. I think a songwriter wants to make sure that what he has written can be understood.
AR: There a loads of unreleased tracks in the vaults. I have details of at least 50.
BH: I was always doing a lot of work and that was one thing I didn't understand..why they didn't release any of those songs.
AR: Can you recall any of those unissued songs like 'Think it over' which is very popular in England.
BH: I can remember them now and I don't know why they didn't release them because they were good songs...maybe it was because with my leaving they just decided not to go forward with them because I wouldn't be able to do anything live. I severed all of my relationship with Motown in '68 and I went with Holland-Dozier to Invictus we recorded there too and they also didn't put any of that out.
AR: A couple of tracks I taped for you 'I'm on the outside' and 'Here are the pieces of my broken heart', which are you and a piano, do you remember those.
BH: I remember those, I think it was me and Lincoln Mayorga but I seem to recall more instruments backing me.
AR: How much encouragement were you given to write songs.
BH: I had to battle....I'd always be fighting with Eddie because we were both artists..I started writing because they said "women can't write around here", I said "oh they can't..I can" because I had been writing before. You know we weren't totally liberated, we hadn't been doing too much in the 60's so I talked to Berry and said "Berry give me some pointers" he told me to "never write a song like it's past, always write a song like it's happening right now so people can associate with it". So when I decided to write 'You've made me so very happy' I said "he's making me happy now" even though I was very sad because I had a bad love affair, a boyfriend that walked out on me, so I said "I'm gonna write a song like this is the happiest day of my life". Berry really helped me out with a few little pointers because we always listened to what Berry said because we knew we weren't going to get much time with him as he was a busy man. Whatever he told us we had to really take in, internalise it and keep it so we could pull from it. I used to do stuff on a dare, if somebody told me I couldn't do it I used to do it, I'd make a point of proving them wrong. So I started writing because people told me I couldn't.
AR: You mentioned at the beginning that you play the violin ..do you play anything else.
BH: I play violin, viola, cello, bass and the piano.
AR: Did you ever get involved in the technical side of recording.
BH: No but I eventually wanted to be an executive producer. I had my producers Hal, Marc, Frank..so I never got the chance to have a go.
AR: One of the things that's said about Motown is that everybody helped everybody else out at sessions. Did you ever do backing vocals on other artists sessions.
BH: Not to my knowledge..not anyone at Motown. I do backing for other artists like John Denver, Joe Cocker, Barry White....my sister did background on the Supremes 'Someday we'll be together'. I did a lot of background before I got involved with Motown.
AR: The second album, that should have come out, called 'Hurting and Crying' if it had come out in our opinion would have been regarded as one of Motown's finest moments. Having listened to the tracks what do you recall about that album. I'll remind you of the unreleased tracks. 'I don't want nobody's gonna make me cry'
BH: I remember that..it was okay.
AR: 'Til Johnny comes'.
BH: I love that.
AR: 'A world without you'.
BH: Who wrote that.
AR: Helen & Kay Lewis.
BH: I loved all their songs. I worked very closely with them in the beginning.
AR: A Frank Wilson track called 'I'll be alright'.
BH: O yes.. I love Frank's stuff.
AR: 'Everybody knows' and 'Make him come to you'
BH: I remember those.
AR 'You've changed me'.
BH: Oh yes Smokey..I loved that song.."You've changed me and made me someone new and the person you've made me doesn't want you"..I remember that because of the twist in it. That's the way life usually is when you get someone who tries to make you over, when you become that person you're not usually interested in the person that made you that way.
AR: Obviously all the tracks were cut and Robert has seen the project file with all of the artwork and everything.
BH: Was it good. RT: Don't ask me...I didn't buy it and it's one of the biggest mistakes I've made in my life.
AR: How aware were you of that planned second album.
BH: I didn't know it was coming.
AR: So you didn't have feelings of unhappiness when they pulled it.
BH: There were several years of unhappiness after leaving Motown. I always wondered where I would have been had I gone along with Berry's plan..but there was a lot of depth being involved with the Motown people..it was fab, hectic, behind the scenes was mind-blowing to me as a young girl...and there was so much sadness behind the scenes what with Tammi's death and Janis Joplin, who died out here, a lot of that drug-induced death became a little bit too much for me and I had never really messed with street drugs...I was on prescription drugs and was addicted to Benadril. It took me a year to really clean myself up from that. When you're travelling, on the road, you're up at all kinds of hours and go past your sleep cycle so you need something to help you sleep, then you need something to wake you up. It was all prescribed by a Doctor but became something I depended on...I like to be just the natural me. I'm a simple, uncomplicated person and when I have something in me that I can't function properly it's a handicap to me. I like to be alert..that was one of the reasons I left also because I didn't want to get any deeper into the drugs. I can feel for artists that get on them but you should be natural....my sister Patrice, she did lose herself in the entertainment world . She lost the 'person' Patrice and had a nervous breakdown, she has never recovered from that and I didn't want to go there. One thing that really affected me, when Tammi was real real sick, she'd had her first brain surgery, I saw her in Detroit and she was shaking all over..she had a big shopping bag full of pills, she said "you see all these pills, nothing helps me, nothing is gonna help my condition". Shortly after that she died and that impacted me in a bad way. I said "if this is all that there is..drugs, death and sickness..I really don't need it. I'm not really happy, I'm not getting what I want"...I was promised so much and that was part of the letter that I wrote. I was promised so much and got so little, I have to sacrifice so much for the little bit that I'm getting that it's not really worth it. I was in a state of depression when I left Motown. I was in a recording session with Smokey and I called my mother at home and said "I'm depressed, I'm not happy" and she said "well come home, you can always come home". I said "well I'm gonna have to sneak away" and she said "do whatever you need to do, just get back to L.A.". When I was on the plane I decided "I'm gonna get away from Motown". It's not what I really expected and I will never be handled in the way that I feel would be correct and I will never get the chance at the original art that the people from Motown got..I won't get those chances and opportunities to record so I said "I'm just gonna have to leave because I'm unhappy". If I'd had someone other than my mother, someone who knew about the business, who could really help me I probably would have stayed and waited but I didn't and I couldn't figure it out. I was a young woman and I decided that it just wasn't worth it, the risk, and what I might go to. Smokey called me from Detroit and tried to get me to come back. Berry never tried to force me but Smokey did. I told him "no Smokey I'm just gonna get involved in the church..it was not what I thought it would be and thankyou for everything".
AR: I've listened to some of the things that made you unhappy. 'Til Johnny comes' was pulled, they pulled the album..there were other songs you recorded such as 'Bah bah bah (you don't hold me in your arms the way you did)'
BH: We wrote that for Diana.
AR: There were another, 'I can't make it alone', which you cut but ended up on a Supremes album.
BH: Since they weren't gonna push me, and we came to that conclusion because I found out on the Dick Clark tour, as the Supremes were making it..we decided, my sister and I, that we were gonna write for them. We wanted to generate some money so the two songs we wrote, they put them on the album, then Patrice branched off into her own thing with 'Josie & The Pussycats'. She signed to Capitol and was going real good then she had her downfall and she never recovered from that.
AR: Did you ever record the 'Bah bah song' yourself.
BH: We recorded the demo.
AR: So it was always intended for the Supremes.
BH: It was.
AR: I think there was a concern, on our part, that you were being used to do Supremes demo's.
BH: No. We wrote it for them, we wanted to get it on the album because they were selling records and we were interested in making money.
AR: Talking about you doing stuff that ended up with somebody else, whether you wanted it to or not, you cut a track, in December '65, called 'All I do is think about you'. It eventually found itself on Stevie's 'Hotter than July' album, he co-wrote it and you recorded it..have you listened to his version.
BH: Yes and I loved it..the only problem I had with Motown was that they would let Marvin, Diana and everybody get in there and listen to my diction. Diana had a problem pronouncing her words and she would study my tapes..I should have been paid for that.
AR: One other thing my research threw up was that you were recorded live at the Twenty Grand in Detroit...did they ever plan a live album.
BH: Yes, they were gonna do a live album. They were gonna cut it in L.A. but it never happened. I seemed to be just as good live as I was in the studio, perhaps even better live. Hal Davis was the one who thought of it and we were trying to get it together but it never came into being.
AR: You worked with an awesome set of producers and songwriters...It's a big question but how did they compare and who did you like the best.
BH: I liked Frank..I was crazy about Harvey because he was different, really approachable..Smokey was professional with me, he would give me a lot of pointers about my stage presence.. Harvey was more like a friend..Frank was someone I admired, I loved everything he did...Hal Davis was my fiancee, as a matter of fact I'm working with his daughter right now, we've recorded some stuff with Hal Davis and my daughter Christie. Hal's daughter Colette Davis and my daughter Christie Davis.. I married a Davis and have four children..so we're doing a project right now and when I come back from my trip to England we're gonna finish it up..so we'll see where that goes but it sounds real good.
AR: What was Berry like in the studio.
BH: Berry was one of the most intense producers that I've worked for. He knew what he was looking for and expected you to come up to his standard. It was an honour to work with him but you were constantly afraid of making a mistake. Smokey was easy to work with because I fitted Smokey's mould. I always wanted to stay close to Frank's melodic pattern because he sang a lot. Smokey always presented a demo and Berry didn't sing. I liked the feel of Berry's songs, we were very similar in our interpretation..we were more or less on the same wavelength.
AR: Clarence Paul.
BH: I loved Clarence. His songs were easy and instantly recognisable. They didn't push Clarence's songs but you knew if they did you would have a hit..he was awesome and was the one who pushed Stevie.
AR: We know you recorded a lot of songs by Ivy Hunter and Holland-Dozier-Holland.
BH: I think that the Ivy songs I felt more for because he really took time to write songs for me..he didn't just pull something from a bag...he tried to tailor the songs to my voice. He took a lot of time with me, more time than the other producers even Hal.
AR And H-D-H.
BH: I had a crush on Eddie so I liked everything 'cos he was so good looking and he was a genius.
AR: Did you have studio time with them.
BH: I had studio time especially when I signed with Invictus. At Motown it was basically that we would fuss over material so I could get some extra time with Eddie. I admired him because everything he put out was a hit but they never released any of those songs.
AR: Did you ever work with Norman Whitfield.
BH: I think maybe once, just the one time.
AR: The session musicians at Motown have always been unsung hero's. How did you get on with them, did you have any favourites.
BH: I didn't have a favourite. I liked everything that they did. I admired them because I was a musician too. I got on well with them because of that.
AR: You've described your relationship with the Detroit family as "being like an adopted child". Did you ever become close to any of the other artists and what impact do you feel your relationship with the Detroiters had on your career.
BH: It had a big impact because I was with a company that was growing. My best friend was Tammi Terrell..we were buddies.
AR: How about Miss Ross.
BH: I didn't get along with Miss Ross because she was constantly stirring up trouble because I was in her way. I didn't really know it 'cos I really liked her but when I found out she was undermining me and lying on me a lot I began to stay away from her. At first I wanted to be her friend as I really admired her but when I found out she had deceitful ways and was only really interested in Diane I began to pull away from her, leave her alone, stay out of her way.
AR: We can't find any published references to your live shows apart from the Beatles video at the Shea Stadium.
BH: I haven't even seen that.
AR: We hear your stage presence was dynamite.. were you ever asked to tone it down.
BH: Smokey didn't want me to do any moving, he just wanted me to stand still and sing. He didn't want me to move like Tina.
AR: I've seen a T.V. show with you on and you were filmed from the waist upwards.
BH: That's new. I had a guy who would choreograph the songs and there was a lot of movement but I don't know why they wouldn't film below the waist.
AR: When performing did you sing non-Motown material.
BH: I did a lot of Beatles stuff, some Gershwin and then the Motown stuff.
AR: Did you have a favourite venue.
BH: My favourite was Hollywood A Go-Go. I think I was with the Temptations. I really enjoyed that.
AR: Any amusing stories from those Dick Clark tours like Miss Ross accusing you of stealing her hairspray....
part 2 was to follow