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Sunset Juction Preview: Brenda Holloway, Motown's Best Kept Secret

Sunset Juction Preview: Brenda Holloway, Motown's Best Kept Secret

Will Sunset Junction happen this weekend? It very well may, and if it does we highly recommend checking out Brenda Holloway, who plays the Hoover Stage on Saturday, August 27th at 6:30.

While still a teenager Holloway, a Watts native, began a promising career as a Motown singer. But despite hits like "Every Little Bit Hurts" and "When I'm Gone," she got lost in the Hitsville USA shuffle and retired from recording at age 25. On Saturday, Holloway will join fellow Motowners Kim Weston and the original Vandellas for a set of classic songs and Diana Ross jokes. Ms. Holloway reminisced with us by phone recently while enjoying an early breakfast.

How did you become a Motown artist?

Hal Davis and Mack Gordon got me an interview with Berry [Gordy] at a disc jockey convention. I was only 16, and singing Mary Wells' "My Guy" from nine in the morning until four o'clock in the afternoon. Eventually I told Hal, "I want to get signed to Motown. That's why we're here right? I've been in the heels for over eight hours." Shortly afterwards a little, short man came in. He said "I'm Berry Gordy, and I like what I see and I like what I hear."

Was the Motown system very competitive?

My problem wasn't with the other girls. It was with me. The ones that were making the money were getting pushed by the label. With me, they were trying to find out, "Is she jazz, gospel? What is she?" Even when I wrote "You've Made Me So Very Happy," Berry wanted to do it one way, I heard it another. So Blood, Sweat & Tears picked it up and did as I would've liked and it's still selling.

Did you tour a lot then?

My one big tour was with the Beatles. 40 days and 40 nights of excitement! Jackie Deshannon was responsible for getting me that tour. I wasn't in awe of them because they were so nice. With the Beatles, they just made you feel like you were a part of them. We used to have pillow fights on the plane. John would come to everybody to ask what they would want to eat. They were crazy wonderful people.

You're first Motown hit "Every Little Bit Hurts" was covered by everyone from The Clash to Aretha Franklin. Why do you think every version sounds just like yours?

The only person that didn't do it justice was a young lady named Alicia Keys. She wouldn't listen to the original. She didn't take time to discuss it. She could have done it a lot better if she had listened to the old school. You have to ask "what's the feel of it?" She never really captured it. You have to know the artist to sing them. I've studied Mary Wells. I've been in her presence. You know what I'm saying? That's the difference. When I sing her songs I can feel her.

You famously retired before the age of 25. Would you recommend it?

I never would recommend for anyone to retire before 25. Try to see the whole picture. Sit down and find out where you are going. Everything isn't going to flow. When people get a hold of you they won't let you go. Work with the moment. Don't just look at the hit value. I recommend retiring at 55. Try every door and facet. Find out where you are going to fit. People like Jimi and Janis were dying. I got afraid of entertainment. I was trying to figure a way to get out. So I retired, but I wouldn't recommend it.

For pics from last year's fest, see "Sunset Junction 2010: Day One with Ghostland Observatory, Bad Brains and more" and "Sunset Junction 2010: Day Two with Lee "Scratch" Perry, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and more."


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