ANYONE who has heard Barry White's first album on 20th Century will undoubtedly concur on the point I am about to make — he is potentially a superstar. This is, of course, a sweeping statement to make after a recording career that spans months not years and includes one single and an album that has not even been out long enough to break into America's charts, let alone this country.
However, as already stated, anybody who has heard the album — or even the single, which is readily available in this country now on Pye International — will back me up.
White may be a new name to you as a recording artist but his background includes original hits with Felice Taylor and Viola Wills and. literally, the creation of Love Unlimited and that fabulous hit. "Walking In The Rain". In fact, 'creation' is the best word for everything that the massive gentleman is involved in. It's not good enough for him to sit down and write a song, then record it. He has to build the whole arrangement around the melody: he has to put his own words to it all.
People are drawing comparisons between Barry and Isaac Hayes and the most obvious link is that Barry, like Ike, half-talks much of his vocal section in a deep, rich voice before letting go into a gutteral, uninhibited but in-control voice. But the similarity doesn't end merely in the throat department — Barry is as proud of his creations as is Ike and he spends hours merely correcting something that the uninitiated wouldn't even be able to tell the difference between.
Factually, Barry White originates from the Texas city of Galveston, where he was born on September 12, 1944, though he has spent most of his life and now resides in Los Angeles. Following usual patterns, Barry grew up in church, singing in various local choirs, eventually becoming choir director and learning as many instruments as possible.
When he was sixteen, he joined a local R&B group, the Upfronts and spent two years or so learning the ropes of the club circuit. He then became road manager for Jackie Lee for a year or so and experienced the business end of it all, travelling with Jackie during his hit streak with "The Duck".
In 1966, Barry joined the emerging Bronco company in Los Angeles and became seriously involved in song-writing and the studio. This period really changed his life and he became addicted to the recording studio, never growing tired of the millions of lights and keys in the control box. It was at this time that he was promoted to head of the A&R department for the company and he began producing artists
He was fortunate enough to hit right away with Felice Taylor and Viola Wills and it was Barry who wrote and produced Felice's international hit. "I Feel Love Comin' On". During the same era, he did experiment with his own voice and made a couple of recordings, one of which was released here in 1967 on President — "All In The Run Of A Day".
The Bronco label went out of business in 1969 at a time when Barry met — in his own words — "the greatest thing that ever happened to me". He groomed the three girls for two years, sparing nothing to chance before he considered them to be good enough to face the world. He called them Love Unlimited and that is how the world first met Diana Taylor. Linda and Glodean James, The girls joined Uni Records and within weeks of the release of their first single, they were high on both pop and Soul charts in the States. Of course, "Walking In The Rain" enjoyed similar success in this country and the group became established with a couple of successful follow-ups and an album.
Late last year, the staff structure at Uni changed and Barry found himself with some of his old friends — only now they were heading the record division of 20th Century Fox, the movie folk. That just about brings us up-to-date, really.
Barry's debut single is "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little" and it is already climbing both American and British Soul charts. The album looks set to follow. How does the man feel about his first experiment with his own Soul?
"I'm really very excited." he said in a relaxed manner as though he was trying to keep the excitement controlled within him. "I had never honestly thought too much about recording myself. I really lived for Love Unlimited. But I am happy now that I have made the album. You see, for me, personally, it is my creation and I am proud of it. They are my inner spiritual feelings.
"The first side of the album is really the negative side of things with the guy losing out. You recall the old Four Tops" hit. "Standing In The Shadows Of Love'" We are in extended version of that one and I promise you, it's different from the way you would know it. The other track on side one is called "Bring Back My Yesterday" and that, too, deals with a guy living in the past and asking to live yesterday all over again. I particularly like the monologue on this one because it really seems to fit the mood.
'You know, a lot of people have asked my why I didn't write more songs simply because I could have earned more royalties on this album. Well now. I write enough material but I only ever record what I feel is right. I'm sure you have heard it all before, but I sincerely don't make records thinking of the money I might earn. I try to attach a concept to what I am doing — like the Love Unlimited album.
"Anyway, back to my album. I guess! There are three songs on the second side. It starts with "I've Found Someone", one of my songs about a guy who appreciates that what he has — the woman he loves — is not an everyday person and he's really just telling everyone how proud he is of her. The next one is "I've Got So Much To Give" and it's my personal favourite on the album — maybe because I think it's true of me. This song sums me up spiritually, mentally and creatively. The album closes with the full length version of "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby", which is the single."
I made the point that the album was a far cry from his days with Felice Taylor, and he laughed. "Yes, it really is, isn't it. But my whole thinking has changed since those days — but they were very important to me and without them. I would be somewhere else right now. Funny thing, though, that you should mention that because you remember "I'm Under The Influence Of Love" and "It May Be Winter Outside"? Well, we have just done them over again with Love Unlimited, who have just joined me at 20th Century Records. "Influence" is going to be their first release for the company and we are storing "Winter" for a pre-Christmas release.
"The girls do a super job on the songs and they are completely different from the way you know them. I'm confident that Love Unlimited will be high on the charts right away. They're my pride and joy, that's why! We also did over that song that Jackie Lee and I did — you remember we called ourselves Smoke and had something of a hit with "Oh Love We Finally Made It". The girls did that one over, too."
Vocally — and I'm sure Barry won't mind me saying this — he won't be rivalling Mario Lanza but he has a certain depth to his voice that wins you over, a warmth that makes his lyrics so convincing. He has never been afraid to stand by what he believes is musically right and I have to agree with him — this album is right. Once his recording commitments are over for both he and the girls, he is hoping to get the whole team together and go out on tour — a tour that he confidently expects will embrace Britain.