09 November 2006

Patrice Holloway

Patrice Holloway

God Bless Patrice Holloway
Woman With A Feeling
by Donny Jacobs
She sang every song as if it might be her last. Much like her older sister, Motown chanteuse Brenda Holloway, this Black Latina didn't let go of a lyric until she'd wrung every bit of emotion out of it. With sensual gasps and cries punctuating a vocal style that dripped with raw passion, Patrice Holloway put her stamp on Rock ‘n’ Roll. She made an impact regardless of whether she was on lead or background vocals. Singing background was her bread-and-butter, and what she did for most of the 1960s and ‘70s. Her church-trained alto voice bolstered harmonies behind such stars as Sam Cooke, Joe Cocker, Barry White, Johnny Rivers, William Bell, Ike and Tina Turner, Delaney and Bonnie, Thelma Houston and Neil Young. Patrice didn’t do nearly enough lead singing, but when she did, she left as powerful an impression as Mexico's legendary reina de la canción Lola Beltrán. She had perfect pitch, and her combined African-American and Spanish heritage was reflected in her incendiary style of phrasing.

The rare solo sides she cut for Taste, VIP and Capitol Records are highly-prized collector’s items. So are the sides she led as a member of the comic strip-inspired Rock trio Josie and The Pussycats. You can still hear her belting out “Voodoo”, “Stop. Look And Listen”, “Clock On The Wall” and other numbers on the cartoon soundtrack of Hanna-Barbera’s “Josie” series, which still airs occasionally on Cartoon Network. Cheryl Ladd was a member of that group, and also sang lead, but make no mistake: Patrice Holloway was, and is, the main reason Josie and The Pussycats are revered by knowledgeable Pop music lovers. The belated acclaim she won for those wonderful performances (especially the one she laid on the unforgettable “Josie” theme song) were the closest she ever came to stardom in the United States.

She came much closer to grabbing the brass ring on the other side of the Atlantic. Soul aficionados from Northern England fell hard for her handful of Capitol sides, and to varying degrees, they all became underground hits in the 1970s. Deejays would spin them by popular demand at dance clubs like The Twisted Wheel, Blackpool Mecca, The 100 Club and Manchester’s legendary Wigan Casino. Today, Soul fans from Great Britain and other parts of Europe snatch up original copies of those sides as if they were hotcakes right off the griddle. They consider the name Patrice Holloway to be on a par with soul superstars like Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Aretha Franklin or Luther Vandross. Howard Earnshaw, editor of the fanzine Soul Up North, elaborates on the celebrity status Patrice Holloway still enjoys on the British “Northern Soul” club scene. He says:


“For those who are aware of the Northern Soul scene, it will come as no surprise that (Patrice) was and is held in high esteem by our fraternity . . . Northern Soul is an esoteric music scene where the chart action or high record sales of an artist plays little part in whether that artist is judged successful. In fact, some of the most popular singers and musicians on the Northern Soul scene are hitless! Nevertheless . . . the fans of this scene do recognize real Soul talent when they hear it . . . when an artist does gain popularity on the scene, and if that artist does visit these shores, they are overwhelmed by the reception they get, and surprised to find out that these Soul fans know all their recording history . . .“

As far as we know, Patrice Holloway never performed in the British Isles. She was told about her popularity in the United Kingdom, but unfortunately, she never got to experience it in person. She would’ve been delighted to discover that she had hundreds of adoring fans, most of whom had never even heard of Josie and The Pussycats! Howard Earnshaw describes how her second Capitol single, 1966’s “Love And Desire” became an underground cult favorite:

“I first became aware of Patrice in my late teens via the release on the (UK) Capitol label (of) “Love And Desire.” At that time here in England, the Soul scene was not mainstream . . . (there were) only a couple of radio shows aimed at Soul music. However, to the Mods (members of the legendary youth-oriented music and fashion movement that was the rage of swinging England in the ‘60s), this was their chosen favorite sound, and they championed the cause! Discotheques up and down the country were catering to this demand. In fact, “Love And Desire” was issued (along with several other singles) under Capitol’s Discotheque ‘66 series . . . this single is highly desirable to record collectors in this country, and is a perfect example of what a few years later would come under the banner of Northern Soul. Of course, the record failed to chart in the UK . . . but once the Northern Soul crowd had taken it to their hearts, her other singles were eagerly sought out.”

They were well worth seeking out, too. The thirteen sides that Patrice Holloway cut between 1963 and 1972 trace the development of her exceptional artistry. Most of them are excellent. Collectively, they amount to a Greatest Hits album that never got released.

Do The Del Viking (Parts One and Two)
(Brenda and Patrice Holloway)
This was the very first Patrice Holloway single, and if Hanna-Barbera Studios’ publicity department can be believed, it was a turntable hit on R & B-oriented radio stations in Los Angeles. Hal Davis, who in later years would produce The Jackson Five and many other Motown stars, supervised the recording session and sang background vocals. Davis’s baleful bass chanting, as well as Brenda Holloway’s robust backing voice, can clearly be heard on this record. Yet, it’s the unbridled fervor of prepubescent Patrice that grabs your attention. She sells her self-penned novelty dance step with such fiery emotion, you’d think she was a junior Pentecostal minister preaching her first sermon!

He Is The Boy Of My Dreams
(Hal Davis, Frank Wilson)
Marc Gordon, the future manager of The Fifth Dimension, teamed with Hal Davis to co-produce Patrice’s first and only single for VIP Records, a Motown subsidiary. This tribute record to Stevie Wonder (which opens with the letters of his name yelled out cheerleader-style) might be seen as the Rock ‘n’ Roll equivalent of Judy Garland’s 1937 ode to Clark Gable, “You Made Me Love You.” Unlike Garland’s recording, it unfortunately didn’t prove to be a precursor to commercial success. There’s plenty of feeling in Patrice’s vocal reading, but few of her distinct mannerisms; here she simply concentrates on playing the role of a star-struck teenybopper, and does so at the top of her lungs! Despite her decibel-shattering lead, big sister Brenda can again be detected on backing vocals.

Stevie
(Frank Wilson)
As should be obvious from the title, this is another Stevie Wonder tribute, and a much better one than “Boy Of My Dreams.” Not unlike some of Mary Wells’s big hits, this second Davis/Gordon production features an understated cha-cha rhythm, which initially prompts Patrice to discard her power ballad style. Pretty soon, she’s busy shaking the rafters again, but she plays it cool long enough to reveal rudiments of the purring “Pussycat” vocal delivery that will characterize much of her later work at Capitol Records. This altogether pleasant song ends cleverly with a direct swipe of the say yeah! refrain from Stevie Wonder’s 1963 breakout single “Fingertips, Part Two.”

Stolen Hours
(Billy Page)
Billy and Gene Page brought Patrice Holloway to Capitol Records and co-produced both sides of her unforgettable debut for the label. Coming across like a naughty little girl caught with her hand inside the cookie jar, she vamps her way through a steamy confession of adulterous love. Somehow the girlishness of her voice makes the adult subject matter seem that much more wanton! Patrice’s total lack of repentance becomes more apparent as she nears the song‘s chorus, and by the time she reaches it, she’s worked herself into an orgasmic frenzy! The barn-burning vocal style that marred her Motown sides has evolved into her trademark Pussycat purr. When she opens up the throttle now, it’s only for a moment or two, and mainly for lyric emphasis. This technique is best employed when Patrice and her background singers emit wicked cat yowls at strategic intervals; this feature in particular surely must have driven British dancers wild! “Stolen Hours” would ultimately become her biggest hit on the Northern Soul circuit; the mid-60s Latin boogaloo rhythm never got a better showcase than this song and this singer.

Lucky, My Boy
(Billy Page)
The flipside of “Stolen Hours” features another sexy song, but instead of the boogaloo, it chugs along to a foot-stomping beat that evokes Diana Ross and The Supremes’ early hits. “Lucky, My Boy” might’ve become almost as popular on the dance floor as “Stolen Hours” had deejays chosen to give it enough play. Purring with decadent pleasure, Patrice anticipates a lovemaking session with her boyfriend. She makes his kisses sound more delectable than a strawberry ice cream cone; don’t be surprised if you’re yearning for a little taste of something yourself by the time the needle hits the runoff grooves.

Love And Desire
(Billy Page)
Love and desire/Are two different things, sugar baby! So purrs our favorite Pussycat on the record that first brought her fame in Northern Soul circles. Like “Lucky, My Boy,” this number has a definite Motown flavor to it; Barbara Randolph’s cult hit “I Got A Feeling” (a Hal Davis production to which Patrice almost certainly contributed background vocals) may be its template. The mood on this follow-up Page Brothers production is celebratory, the orchestrations fabulous, and the vocal arrangements rousing. Exuberant is the only word that could possibly describe the lead vocal track; the talented teenager sounds absolutely filled with delight. Completely caught up in the sheer enjoyment of singing, she scales the octaves in order to put the song's climax across with maximum effect.

Ecstasy
(Billy Page)
With her voluptuous curves and caramel skin, Patrice had more than a passing resemblance to erotic film star Vanessa Del Río. On this Billy Page beat ballad which slyly celebrates the loss of virginity, she sings the way Miss Del Río acted, tantalizing her audience by inviting them closer and then abruptly holding them at arm’s length. After telling teenage girls how much of a thrill sexual love can be (My cup‘s filled to overflowing), the high school bad girl suddenly gets religion; she stops them at the bedroom door by waving a finger of warning (Little girls, wait ’til you’ve done growing)! Then she immediately resumes singing the praises of carnal indulgence (It‘s ecstasy). How shamelessly she teases! With the possible exception of “Voodoo” by Josie and The Pussycats, this was Patrice Holloway’s only record to feature a Wall of Sound production. Co-producer Gene Page, who arranged The Righteous Brothers' smash hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" undoubtedly had a lot to do with its Spectorish ambience.

Stay With Your Own Kind
(Kay & Helen Lewis)
With the Page Brothers, Patrice found a style of her own, but their work together didn’t translate into record sales. Capitol's A & R department broke off their collaboration and teamed her with Lou Rawls’ producer, David Axelrod. Fortunately, it was another good match. Perhaps curious about whether she was as strong a balladeer as her older sister (who by this time had scored a national hit with “Every Little Bit Hurts”), Axelrod gave Patrice a Romeo and Juliet-styled love song that all but demanded a wrenching vocal treatment. Girlfriend didn’t disappoint. The abundance of pathos in her feverish performance is potent enough to rend a listener’s heartstrings. It sounds like she’d actually lived the torrid lyrics, and experienced rejection by a lover’s family due to skin color prejudice. Radio probably found “Stay With Your Own Kind” too intense for airplay, especially in the volatile social climate of the ‘60s. Released in early 1967, this may have been the first Rhythm and Blues record to deal with interracial romance; it predates Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers’ controversial hit “Does Your Mother Know About Me?” by a year.

That’s All You Got To Do
(Willie Hutch)
For the flipside of “Stay With Your Own Kind,“ David Axelrod chose a song from the pen of a future Motown hitmaker. What a shame deejays didn’t flip the single over, because "That's All You Got To Do" would likely have been the hit everyone was hoping for. This fabulous, slow-burning Soul tango would more accurately have been titled “Love Your Woman With A Feeling” because of the irresistible way Patrice phrases those words in the song’s chorus. As she offers soulful advice to a male friend who’s clueless about how to please his woman, her simmering passions seem to flame up unexpectedly and then subside like a dormant volcano rumbling back to life. It's the quintessential Patrice Holloway vocal mannerism, seldom employed more effectively than she employs it here. "That's All" is the disc to play for anybody who doesn’t know what real Soul music sounds like! The commercial failure of this superb two-sider ended Patrice's first stint as a Capitol solo artist, but cult star status and immortality in the form of a Saturday morning cartoon series lay just around the corner.

Evidence
(George Jackson, Ray Moore)
Josie and The Pussycats have come and gone, but producers Danny Janssen and Bobby Young are so dazzled by Patrice’s vocal ability, they've secured a new Capitol Records singles deal for her. Keyboard wizard Clarence McDonald, who played a prominent role in the Pussycats sessions, signs on as co-producer at Janssen’s urging. If you didn’t look closely at the label, you’d think “Evidence” was a single by Detroit’s Honey Cone, the fondly-remembered femme Soul trio of the early ‘70s. Talented as she is, Honey Cone lead singer Edna Wright couldn’t possibly have interpreted this sizzling Blues ballad any better than Patrice does. Josie's hippest Pussycat calls to mind sassy TV detective Christie Love when she confronts her man with evidence of cheating. It's all over when she pins that joker to the wall with her claws and wails I’ve got enough clues to put you away! Nothing less than an essential Patrice Holloway recording, and a fine showcase for her talent when she sang it on “Soul Train” in January of 1972.

That’s The Chance You Gotta Take
(John Baer, Ken Morris, Jr, Eddie Singleton)
This selection from the songbook of the prolific Eddie Singleton appeared on the flipside of both “Evidence” and Patrice’s final Capitol single. It’s a sprightly track that has a lot in common with “One Bad Apple,” the George Jackson-penned chart topper that gave the Osmond Brothers their first major hit. With Patrice coming across like a female Michael Jackson circa 1970, “That’s The Chance” would’ve made a great Josie and The Pussycats soundtrack number. However, the cold market reception given to the Josie album and singles was proof that what works on Saturday morning television won’t necessarily work on radio. From a Soul music standpoint, this song was simply too derivative, and the production had too much Pop sensibility for its own good. “Evidence” may have failed to chart, but it was definitely the right side for Capitol Records to promote.

Black Mother Goose
(Sid Jacobson, Lou Stallman)
The precocious girl singer Motown didn’t know what to do with had fully blossomed into womanhood by late 1971, when her last solo record was waxed. Yet, even though her singing style and subject matter had matured, Patrice Holloway maintained a decidedly girlish quality about her. Brenda Holloway has indicated that it was an inherent part of her sister’s personality. Producers Janssen, Young and McDonald certainly capitalized on it with tunes like the aforementioned one and this unusual number. There'll probably never be a more unique children’s song than this whimsical Black history lesson written by two veteran songwriters of Jewish background! With a hint of streetwise cockiness in her voice, the former Pussycat delivers a stylish musical retelling of popular nursery rhymes. Soul fans shouldn’t be put off by the juvenile-sounding song title; the explosive phrasing she lays on the line Jack be nimble/Jack be quick alone is evidence enough that “Black Mother Goose” is suited to the dance floor and not the nursery.

In vain, Patrice’s fans anxiously awaited new solo sides. As time passed, she developed serious health problems which forced her into early retirement. By the turn of the century, it was apparent that these recordings (along with those she made with Josie and The Pussycats and a short-lived studio group called The Belles) would comprise her complete works as a lead singer. There can be no doubt about that now. On October 1, 2006, a fatal heart attack snatched Patrice Holloway permanently from the embrace of her devoted sister Brenda, her beloved son Nikko, her four precious grandchildren, and her many friends and fans. “When news of Pat’s death was broadcast, several high-ranking Northern Soul clubs paid tribute to her,” reports Howard Earnshaw. “(Deejays) played tribute to her and played Patrice Holloway records (for) appreciative dancers. I remember listening to her recording of ’Stolen Hours’ with a lump in my throat.”

Here at the Pop Culture Cantina, we feel the same deep sense of loss. We doff our sombreros in memory of and tribute to the underappreciated but supremely talented Patrice; the song stylist who combined Gospel training with the passionate style of Mexican ranchera singers to create her own distinctive sound; the child prodigy who had mastered five musical instruments by the age of nineteen; the lead singer of the first prominent interracial Girl Group; the visual model for the first lead cartoon character of color (Josie and The Pussycats’ Valerie Smith); the co-writer of one of Rock music’s most enduring standards, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”; the session stalwart whose musical abilities earned her the respect and adoration of countless peers; the best Motown vocalist Motown ever let slip away; the woman with a feeling who left a little bit of her essence in every musical number she wrote, arranged, played or sang. “Her music will live on,” Howard Earnshaw assures us, “and will always feature highly on the Northern Soul scene.” God bless Patrice Holloway.

Dedicated to Brenda Holloway, 
the sweetest older sister a girl could ever have.
Special thanks to Mick Patrick and Howard Earnshaw.