Every Little Bit Hurts

It may seem hard to believe, but a time existed when Brenda Holloway was more popular than The Supremes. A narrow window it was, lasting several weeks between May 1964 when Brenda's Tamla label debut, "Every Little Bit Hurts," hit the nation's top 20 and got her a spot on Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars tour (on which the Supremes were bottom-billed) and the moment in July when "Where Did Our Love Go" steamrolled into the top ten on its way to number one, moving Mary, Flo and Diana ever closer to the headliner spot on the tour while unintentionally stealing some of Brenda's glory. Motown's unstoppable act had arrived and Brenda was unable to compete - no one could - on the impossibly high level set by the Supremes in the years that followed. But there were still some great moments to come for the remarkable Miss Holloway.

Detroit would certainly seem inaccessible to a potential Motown star born in Atascadero on California's Highway 101. But in 1948, when Brenda was two, her family moved 200 miles south to the Watts district of Los Angeles. Her sister Patrice Holloway came along in 1951 and the two grew up as musical bookends; Brenda began studying violin and they both sang along with every female artist on the radio, be they black, white or of uncertain origin. While attending Jordan High School, Brenda began singing with twin brothers Walter and Wallace Scott, right around the time they were putting together the lineup that would become The Whispers, one of soul music's longest-running acts.

Kent Harris was an L.A.-based music hustler who'd scored a minor hit ("Cops and Robbers") in 1956 under the name Boogaloo and his Gallant Crew. Through the Scott brothers he met Holloway, just 16 years old in 1962, which led to a trio of singles for Bob Keane's Donna label beginning with "Hey Fool," penned by soul singer "Jesse James" McClelland. Flip side "Echo" was on all three 45s (retitled "Echo-Echo-Echo" and "More Echo" in one of the more peculiar examples of B side filler). Another Donna single, "I'll Find Myself a Guy," was a group effort with Brenda, Patrice, Pat Hunt and Priscilla Kennedy under the localized name The Watesians. The best of Brenda's early recordings was "Every Little Bit Hurts," a heartbreaking ballad composed by Ed Cobb of vocal group The Four Preps...but it didn't get released.

Another smooth-operating music biz guy who came into Brenda's life was Hal Davis, a charismatic charmer who usually got what he wanted (it's no secret she dated him for awhile). He'd worked with Jennell Hawkins (the "Moments" girl) in '62, around the same time Berry Gordy, who'd always been intrigued by the glitz and glitter of Hollywood, appointed him Motown's main west coast talent scout (later he ran the company's L.A. office; Angelenos called him "Mr. Motown"). During 1963, Brenda made records with short-lived girl group The Four J's ("Will You Be My Love" on 4-J Records), duetted with Davis ("It's You" by Hal and Brenda on two obscure labels, Snap and Minasa), joined Robert Jackson (brother of Blossoms singer Gloria) as The Soul-Mates ("I Get a Feeling" on Era), did backing vocal work for several artists...and more.

While these strategic moves were amounting to little, younger sis Patrice made her first record, "Do the Del Viking" (a dance tune with no obvious connection to flyboy R&B act The Del Vikings), produced by Davis and issued on the Taste label. Before she knew what hit her, 12-year-old Patrice Holloway was a Motown act! "Stevie," backed with "(He Is) The Boy For Me," both sides concerning Little Stevie Wonder (whose "Fingertips - Part 2" had just topped the charts), came off as a novelty tune, tying into the "12 Year Old Genius" phenomenon by manufacturing an age-appropriate "girlfriend" for Stevie. It was the first single on Motown's V.I.P. imprint. Had Brenda been the younger one, Hal Davis might have arranged for her to go to Detroit instead of Patrice...and the siblings' roles in music history could very well have been reversed.

17-year-old Brenda got her chance when Hal took her to an event Gordy was attending at the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove. She wore an attention-grabbing gold lamé pantsuit and sang part of Mary Wells' then-current hit "My Guy," all it took to become the second member of the Holloway family to secure a deal with Motown. While Patrice had made her record in Detroit, Brenda instead remained in Los Angeles; Davis produced a new (but similar) version of "Every Little Bit Hurts" with pianist Lincoln Mayorga (who'd played on the original) and the Brenda-penned "Land of a Thousand Boys," which ended up on the B side. It was the first recording made in California for the hot Michigan label...the first of its singles that didn't have the familiar "Motown Sound."

Brenda Holloway

As the song rose on the charts that spring, Dick Clark became a big fan (she remained one of his all-time favorite singers) and arranged to have her included on his next Caravan of Stars concert tour (Gordy agreed to terms...but only if Dick would also take the still-struggling Supremes). For Brenda, the upside to being upstaged by the suddenly-hot girl group was the recent departure of the company's premier diva Mary Wells, who signed with 20th Century-Fox Records after a dispute with Gordy over creative freedom and fair compensation. Suddenly Brenda was in a good position to be Mary's successor. After Ed Cobb's "I'll Always Love You," she began alternating between recording at "Hitsville U.S.A." in Detroit and studios in Los Angeles. "When I'm Gone," an inspired Smokey Robinson song (Mary's earlier version had been slated for release after "My Guy"), became Holloway's next single and second top 30 hit in the spring of 1965. Smokey's "Operator" (previously the flip of Mary's 1963 hit "Two Lovers") followed to less fanfare. She never had another single reach the level of her two early hits. But there were more great songs to come...and one surreal 17-day concert experience.

The Beatles' chaotic August '65 U.S. tour covered eleven cities, starting at New York's Shea Stadium on the 15th and winding up at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on the final day of the month. Holloway, backed by King Curtis and his band, opened the show along with East L.A.'s Cannibal and the Headhunters and British instrumental group Sounds Incorporated. The tour, a cyclonic couple of weeks for everyone involved, should have aided in the promotion of Brenda's "You Can Cry on My Shoulder" or paved the way for "Together 'Til the End of Time," but these fine efforts had to settle for sub-chart "Bubbling" runs. Though still under contract to Motown, she spent part of 1966 doing session vocal side gigs; she and Patrice were involved with at least one single by Ike Turner's girl group The Ikettes and backed Mirwood label recording act The Belles. Patrice signed with Capitol and did three singles, starting with "Stolen Hours." Brenda finally took up residence in Detroit and had a mid-size hit in '67, "Just Look What You've Done" (written by Frank Wilson and R. Dean Taylor), a Hitsville production on par with anything at the time by the Supremes, Marvelettes or Martha and the Vandellas. She landed back in the top 40 in November with "You've Made Me So Very Happy," a song she'd cowritten with Gordy, Wilson and sister Patrice, that provided a steady stream of extra-zero royalty checks after the remake by Blood, Sweat and Tears became a million seller in the spring of '69.

Conflict with Gordy about career direction and artistic parameters (not unlike Mary Wells' grievances of few years earlier), not to mention Gordy's increasing obsession with Supremes lead singer Diana Ross (at the expense of Motown's other female stars), led to Brenda's exit from Motown in the late '60s. Both Holloway sisters did session work for several years afterward. With the huge success of The Archies' animated TV series and hit singles, Patrice Holloway, Cathy Douglas and future Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd (using the name Cherie Moor) signed on to provide the singing voices for Josie and the Pussycats (also part of the Archie/Riverdale universe), recording for Capitol Records in 1970 and '71. They made real-life appearances under the name, though the group disbanded fairly quickly. Capitol gave Patrice another shot as a solo artist; "Black Mother Goose" was her final single in 1972.

Big sis, meanwhile, got married and raised a family while occasionally making records for small labels during the '70s and '80s. In later decades she became more visible on oldies revival shows. In an April 2003 episode of ABC-TV's Dick Clark-produced American Dreams, singer Vivian Green performed "Every Little Bit Hurts" in a recreation of Brenda's original June '64 American Bandstand appearance. Clark sensed she had something special, as had Berry Gordy; whatever you do, don't underestimate Brenda Holloway's formidable talent as a singer and songwriter. She was one of Motown's finest.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Every Little Bit Hurts When I'm Gone