IT'S an old criticism that so few people practice what they preach. But, in the case of Barry White, the title of his new album — "The Message Is Love" — is an apt statement on the man, as we discovered when Barry took a break from his busy studio schedule, while producing the upcoming Jimmy & Vella Cameron album for his Unlimited Gold label.
JA: I'd like to start off talking about Barry White the businessman. Why did you feel the need for Unlimited Gold Records at this time? And why did you choose Columbia/CBS?
BW: To get more control on my own destiny. And as opposed to the 20th Century deal, which was just a production deal. This is a label deal, distributed by CBS both domestically and internationally. And CBS are the best qualified for that kind of a deal and this way I have a lot more control.
JA: Who are the acts on the label?
BW: Myself, Love Unlimited, the Love Unlimited Orchestra. Danny Pearson. Jimmy & Vella Cameron. And then my wife and myself are doing a duet album together that will be released early next year. We are going to keep a small, selective roster. That's the only way to work. If you have nine or ten acts, how do you get them all played? No, I want four or five tight acts. That's all I need, that's it.
JA: It's been a while since we had a new album from Love Unlimited.
BW: I know — but they've got an album coming out in September that's going to blow your mind.
JA: So they'll be taking their place back as the top female group… BW: Thankyou, thank you. That's a helluva compliment.
JA: The Orchestra, Barry. To be honest, the movie themes album that was released on 20th Century didn't knock me out. Was it your idea? BW: No, it was theirs. They wanted an album of movie themes and I gave it to them.
JA: To me, it sounded as though your heart wasn't in it. BW: It wasn't. The contract was over and in the middle of recording, they told me they were going with RCA. Anyway, we are in the middle of doing a brand new album on the Orchestra and I think you'll like this one.
JA: As far as your own new album ("The Message Is Love") is concerned, are you a little disappointed that it hasn't done as well as "The Man"? BW: There have been a lot of problems internally at CBS here, domestically. I don't know how well it is doing foreign. It's probably doing better there than it is here. But we are doing things to change the problems at CBS. It is a huge company. But we have a new single out now and it's doing pretty well. So, I'm hoping that it'll do the trick.
My last two albums — "Ecstasy" and "The Man" — were both Platinum. And now I have come behind them with what is, in my opinion, a better album, with a far wider spread than either of the last two.
JA: It also marks a little bit of a change in your style, too?
BW: Oh, Yeah! A lot more singing; more melodic songs and stronger lyrics.
JA: How would you define The Barry White Sound? Is it something that you can put into words?
BW: The Barry White Sound is rhythm and melody. I use violins differently — people were used to violins as a swaying, flowing sound. But I used them with rhythm and as a rhythm instrument. That's the Barry White Sound.
JA: You were the first to take an orchestra and make it funky. Is that a fair comment?
BW: That's exactly what it is!
JA: Taking, then, that statement into consideration, has there been anyone in your career who has had any effect on you or your music?
BW: The only idol I have ever had and who has inspired me as a creative talent is Ray Charles. And yet our musics are totally different. If anybody Black should receive the ultimate award in music, it should be Ray Charles. That man has lasted. It's his class and delivery of a song that I admire so much creatively. He went into Country-Western; he went into straight pop. And yet he stayed Black and is still going strong today.
JA: Barry, I can't avoid talking about your lyrics. I'm not going to go into all of the adjectives because you've heard them many times before. But was there ever suddenly a time in your life when these kind of thoughts came into your mind? And the fact that you are such a big man and yet you write such gentle lyrics with such gentle thoughts…
BW: It's the size of a man's heart! It has nothing to do with actual physical size. It's heart and mind. There are plenty of little thin men out there who think of nothing but war. Hitler, for example. Little men raising big hell. It has nothing to do with size — it's heart and mind. But the basic thoughts come from the way my mother raised me. she always demonstrated love around the home.
My brother, my mother and myself. That's all there were of us — the three of us. But that woman! In fact, I just bought her a new home today. I signed the papers on the way to the studio. But what she has given me is my understanding of humanity. The message is love. And as I got older, I started to analyse the conditions that people live under. So many people are so unhappy.
JA: And that message of love extends to your own home, right?
BW: My wife is one of the greatest, most beautiful flowers from the garden of woman. She is very strong — she's Libra, by the way. She is very attentive to me, she's very loving to me and she is a wonderful mother to our children. Even more than being a perfect wife, she is a great friend to me. We really hang together. And what I have found with her, I could probably never find again in life. Because that kind of relationship is very rare.
We work together, we live together and we go everywhere together. It's like we just got started. And that is no bullshit — the message really is love!
JA: Do business pressures cause pressures in your home?
BW: Oh, no — oh, no! I don't socialise with record industry people. I have a few friends in the business and that's it. Jermaine Jackson is one special friend — he and his wife. And the executives in my own company. And Dionne Warwick. And Elton John — but we don't hang out much because he lives in England. No, it's an insane world out there and I don't want any part of it.
JA: Has it made you put your arms around your family to protect them?
BW: Oh, it definitely has. No doubt about it. Because I know the dangers. And they come at you with smiles and open arms, believe me.
JA: Does that all have a bearing on why you decided to form your own record company?
BW: Yes, very much so. That's why I only want four or five artists so that I can put my arms around them, too.
JA: Do you still have any commitment to 20th Century Fox?
BW: No, but they do have an un-released album that they'll be going with. And they've got my catalogue so they'll probably do a 'Greatest Hits' type package. But I have no more commitment there. It's over — it's over!
JA: Am I right to say that you are a happier man in the studio than being on the road?
BW: Can't you feel it! Except in certain places. Let me tell you the kind of person that I am. I wouldn't mind the travelling if it wasn't by jet. But that is the fastest way. So, for me to jeopardise my safety, it has to be something special. If I die, that's the end of it, right? Not the audience but me, right? So, I only go where I enjoy going.
I am never going to go everywhere in the world. England and New York — they are my two special friends and I'll cherish them until I die.
JA: England has been good to you and you have been good to it.
BW: Just look on my wall (at all of the Gold and Silver record awards) and you've got the answer. There's no place that I love more on this planet than England!
JA: Could you live there?
BW: Are you kidding? Easily! It's the tax situation there that stops me. I sent a message to the new Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, to congratulate her. You see, I believe in women, I really do. I think England has got now what history will report as one of the best states-people of all time in Mrs. Thatcher.
JA: Barry, I'd like to know the kind of things that you and your family do for relaxation.
BW: We play volleyball and basketball. And we go to parks a lot. We are just building a tennis court now. And a racquetball court. We are a very sports-minded family.
We have a lot of horses on our ranch and we ride a lot. Or should I say they ride and I watch! I've got too much to lose if I get hurt riding a horse. And we go camping a lot. Every year, too, we go to Hawaii with the kids. But they have to get their grades and whoever doesn't, doesn't go. But we are a very close family, we all hang together all the time, all nine of us.
JA: You seem to exert a sort of friendly discipline on everybody around you.
BW: That's right, John. You have to have discipline. I feel I run the tightest ship in the music industry. I have the greatest executives in the world. Not the most but the greatest. People like Mr. Tony Sepe, Elmer Hill, Hosea Wilson, Sandra White, Barry Jr. Everyone. We have a very strong organisation. But it only works because the top man stays on top of it all.
We have business and personal problems but I stay completely involved in all of it. You see, the industry is a business and I have to stay completely involved always with my people. With a small organisation, it's like a family and every objective has to be focused in the same direction. I feel like I have a small army.
JA: Back to your own childhood, Barry — does it balance with the way you are today?
BW: I could never be prejudiced. Because nobody white ever did anything wrong to me. I'm sorry, they just didn't! Not even the police. I was always a mannerful child when I was a kid and I never got hit or talked to badly. If you know the difference between right and wrong and you try to do right, you're gonna come out on top 99% of the time, believe me.
I'm not mad at anybody. Even the prejudice in the record industry because I knew what I was doing and that I had to go through it to achieve what I wanted. I knew I couldn't avoid it. As long as I can remember, I've been that way. We never had money; I never went to summer camp when I was a kid. And I didn't get new clothes every year. But the love we had, the love we had…
We would watch TV together and my mother used to read to us a lot. We used to go to church together. Maybe we weren't like other folks — but we loved each other. Other families may have had fathers — but often they were alcoholics, gamblers, or they would beat up on their wives. So, maybe it was good that my father wasn't there; I don't know…
JA: Do you feel that your size, your stature have given you an identity?
BW: I think that my size and stature, mixed with my voice, have given me an identity, yes. It's the combination. But when I came into the industry as a teenager, you may not believe it but I was thinner than you are!
JA: What was your introduction to the record business?
BW: I guess that the first things were the records I did with Felice Taylor.
JA: Did you then envisage the things you have since achieved, Barry?
BW: No, no way! You couldn't imagine such things. I wanted one Gold Record and I got that in 1971 with "Walking In The Rain With The One I Love". I've had 72 since then! As a producer, a writer or an artist. And worldwide.
JA: It's a funny thing but I was playing the old Felice Taylor records the other day and you can hear today's Barry White in them.
BW: Oh, a lot of people think I only arrived in 1973 — but I had that sound many years before.
JA: And those Felice Taylor records were bigger in England, too, right?
BW: Right. I had three No. 1s in a row in England with Felice — "It May Be Winter Outside", "I Feel Love Coming On" and "I'm Under The Influence Of Love".
JA: That was the first time we spoke on an interview and I remember you telling me then about your concept and all about Love Unlimited.
BW: That's right, that's right. "Blues & Soul" was there at the very beginning, John.
JA: Barry, do you consider yourself to be a singer?
BW: No, Barry White is a carrier. He has a sound. But, no, he isn't a singer. Maybe he is a phraser! But he can take a melody and a message and deliver it. Instead of a voice, he has a way of delivering.
JA: Is that because you don't feel you are a singer?
BW: Not because I don't feel I'm a singer but because I know I'm not one! Remember, I'm a record producer, too! There was a time when Diana Ross only had a sound but today, Diana Ross sings and she still has a sound. You see, I don't read music but I can tell you when someone plays a wrong note on my song. I feel music. For example, I took "I Love You Just The Way You Are" and I felt it and gave it my interpretation.
JA: Your mother must be proud of you…
BW: Yes, she really is. She is such an intelligent woman. You know, she taught me to speak as clearly as I do. When I was only four or five years old, she taught me to speak clearly and people are always complimenting me on my diction.
JA: It comes across on your records as sincerity, too.
BW: Thank you.
JA: I know that you are planning a European tour this fall. Do you mind doing two shows a night there?
BW: No, I don't, because the fans there have been so loyal to me. And that is all there is to it. The only place in America that I would ever do two shows a night is at the Felt Forum in New York. The last time in Europe, we did 28 shows in fourteen days and I did it! I did it! And everyone enjoyed it. Especially in London.
I know that when I go to England, I'm going to have a good time. And I tell other singers who don't want to go that they had better go and make friends with the real people!
JA: Are you into astrology?
BW: Yes, very much so. As far as working out personalities are concerned, though. If we were going to be in business together, I'd ask you what sign you were before we even got started. I'm a Virgo and there are some signs that I know I can't deal with.
JA: Are you a typical Virgo?
BW: Hmmmm…no. I learned about the positives and negatives when I was a boy so I have worked on my positives! Being too critical, for example — I worked on it. And it has helped me through my life. It has helped me stay humble. To me, a great man is a humble man. But without putting yourself down.
JA: Are you a religious man?
BW: To me, God is my best friend. I talk to my God and I love Him.
JA: Is there anything else you want to mention before we close?
BW: I'd like to give you an insight into Jimmy and Vella Cameron because I believe they are going to be really big. I have never seen as much genius in a woman in her early stages as I can see in Vella. She reminds me of Valerie Simpson and there are only going to be two of them in this business in the next few years — Valerie Simpson and Vella Cameron. Jimmy and Vella's album will be out in August.