Miss Brenda Hollway
Hope everyone had a nice weekend.
Once again, allow me to apologize for the absence of the regularly scheduled Friday post. My lovely wife – who happens to be 8 months pregnant – had to go to the hospital on Thursday – which kept me occupied all of Thursday night and most of Friday. Fortunately she and the baby are both doing fine and remain on track for an early-August delivery (phew…). If you notice a sudden interruption in new blog posts around that time, you can safely assume that we are otherwise (happily) occupied with a new little soul fan.
Today’s post begins with a little bit of time travel. It’s the summer of 1969, and I am 7 years old. My family has taken a vacation drive to Dayton, Ohio to visit my Aunt, Uncle and cousins. A decision has been made that I will remain in the mysterious Midwest for a few weeks and will be catching a ride back to New Jersey when the Ohio branch of the Grogan clan treks east for a visit.
If memory serves, I was pleased by this development. I enjoyed spending time with my cousins, many of whom were older than me. My late cousin Pat was a teenager who worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which then struck me as the coolest job imaginable (I’m not positive, but at the time I may very well have thought that Colonel Sanders was actually running the restaurant in question). I had a lot of fun out in Ohio that summer, but the lasting impact of the visit is that by virtue of being around teenagers, 1969 was the year that I first made my first, solid connection to the radio, vis a vis contemporary pop music. I remember a clear grouping of songs that seemed to be getting a lot of play on the radio that summer, including ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ by Tommy James & The Shondells, ‘My Cherie Amour’ by Stevie Wonder, and ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ by Blood Sweat and Tears.
I always loved the Blood Sweat and Tears tune, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized that it was in fact a cover.
By the time I finally heard the original version (maybe 15 years ago), I was surprised to find out that it had been recorded by an artist that I already knew, Brenda Holloway. In the late 80’s, Motown already had a miserable reputation for the reissue packaging of their classic material (a situation that I’m happy to say has been resolved). The exception to the rule was a series of ‘Hard To Find Motown Classics’ (I think that was the title) cds. The volume I had – purchased for Eddie Holland’s original version of ‘Leaving Here’, which became a mod fave when covered during the British beat era by the Birds and the Who – gave me my first taste of the Velvelettes (“Bird In The Hand”), as well as Brenda Holloway’s ‘I’ll be Available’.
I always dug Holloway’s voice, and when I found out that she had recorded (and co-written) the original version of ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ I decided to keep my eyes peeled for a copy. Strangely enough I didn’t get that particular record until recently (sometimes it’s just like that, i.e. the rare ones walk right up and bite you on the ass and the common stuff takes a while to acquire).
Holloway was unusual in that while she recorded for Motown in their mid-60’s prime, she was based not in Detroit, but California. She had been spotted by Berry Gordy singing at a radio industry convention in LA, and signed in 1964. She recorded a number of 45s (including the oft covered ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’, which was a substantial hit) and an LP that year.
‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ was a Top 40 R&B and Pop hit in 1967. Written by Holloway, her sister Patrice (who would go on to be the singing/speaking voice of ‘Valerie’ on the Josie & The Pussycats cartoon), Frank Wilson and Berry Gordy, the arrangement is a little mellower than the BS&T take, and of course features Holloway’s wonderful vocals. Despite the fact that she managed to rack up a number of hits (and record two LPs) for Motown, Holloway was criminally underpromoted by the label. In Nelson George’s excellent ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ he reprints a letter from Holloway to Gordy in which she suggests that due to her location on the West Coast, she was not getting the kind of attention her career deserved (and she was right). So disillusioned was she by her experience with Motown that she retired from music in the late 60’s. She recorded again (gospel and soul) starting in the early 80’s.