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R&B's Brenda Holloway Still Has a Song to Sing : Pop music: As a promising Motown star in the 1960s, she opened for the Beatles. Then she quit in '69. Now she's on the comeback trail.

July 15, 1994|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Imagine touring with the Beatles , which was like . . . like . . ."

Words finally failed R&B singer Brenda Holloway, who for five minutes had been gushing nonstop about the golden moment of her career--serving as an opening act on the Fab Four's first stadium U.S. tour in 1965.

Holloway started reminiscing as she tried to explain why she's eager to get back into a business she abandoned in 1969 when she was a promising Motown star who'd had some hit singles, including "Every Little Bit Hurts" and "When I'm Gone."

The afternoon sun was blazing as she sat by the pool at a friend's apartment in Culver City, but she didn't seem to notice.

"We had a private plane," she said dreamily, resuming her Beatles tales. "I remember the pillow fights with Ringo and the great food--we had our own chef. Once you've done all that, it never gets out of your system. It's been in the back of my mind all these years. I've just got to try the business again."

But playing an oldies show at Steven's Steak House in Commerce, which Holloway is doing Sunday, isn't quite like opening for the Beatles.

"I know I'm on a totally different level now," said Holloway, smiling somewhat grimly, as the giddiness generated by those fond memories fades. "I may be crazy, but I've got to try it."

It's not going to be easy.

Now she's 48, with four daughters between ages 16 and 22, and also two grandchildren.

"I've sung a lot of lullabies in the past 20 years, but that's about the extent of my singing," chuckled Holloway, who seems mostly upbeat about her situation.

In her heyday, she was a budding star at Motown, signing in 1963 after leaving Jordan High in Los Angeles.

Despite the Beatles tour and some medium-sized hits, Holloway was never really a huge star. Although fairly well-known, she was never in a class with Motown stars Diana Ross and Gladys Knight.

That's partly why she bailed out on Motown.

"I felt I never got access to the quality songs or got the attention from the label I needed to really make it big," she said.

Actually her biggest success was as a songwriter. She co-wrote "You've Made Me So Very Happy," which was a multimillion seller for Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1969.

Besides frustration over her recording career, Holloway says the use of prescription drugs also convinced her to leave the pop world. "It was a big part of the business then," she said. "I was starting to abuse prescription drugs and that scared me."

So Holloway sought refuge in religion for the next 18 years.

"I was hiding out in the church," she said. "I married a minister, had four daughters, did some preaching myself and stopped singing."

She divorced in 1990 and married again--to a wealthy man who was in his 90s. "It was embarrassing at times because people thought I was his granddaughter instead of his wife," she said. "But I was devoted to him. He took every second I had."

But after he died in 1992, she had plenty of time to do whatever she wanted.

"I've done a few oldies dates and I'll do some more," she explained in a very firm, positive manner. "I'm going to do some work on a gospel album Bobby Womack is recording. And I'm going to try to get my own record deal. . . . I can still sing--as well as a lot of singers out there. I'm a little older, but there's still plenty of life in me."

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