Barry White – singer

Barry White – singer – Interview

Vivien Goldman

His new album is called Staying Power. That’s just what he’s got. Here we get inside the man whose songs have fueled more fires than Duraflame

For over a quarter century, putting on a Barry White track has meant an invitation to horizontal conversation. The swirling strings of his Love Unlimited Orchestra’s immortal “Love’s Theme” (1973) build to orgasmic crescendos over the requisite 4/4 bass and hi-hat of disco, the genre that made him an icon – although White maintains “my music was always just music.” The love letters continued with such mid-’70s audio aphrodisiacs as “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up,” “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” and “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me.”

Now, on White’s most recent release, the aptly titled Staying Power (Private Music), a galaxy of today’s talents, including producer Sean “Puffy” Combs and singers Lisa Stansfield and Chaka Khan, join him to pay their respects and experience his special White magic. The ultra-sexy Staying Power proves that the man can still deliver.

VIVIEN GOLDMAN: I had the privilege of hearing two of your new songs and your funky version of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” What made you gravitate toward Sly?

BARRY WHITE: I’ve always admired Sly; he’s one of the giants to me. We wanted to give the record that party atmosphere, that gospel thing. When you’re making a record, it’s all imagination, it’s all creativity – you do what works.

VG: You’ve had some time off since you did the last album, The Icon Is Love (1994), and before that you had another little break. Are these breaks a good thing for you creatively?

BW: Oh, yes, they are. In my younger days I used to pump albums out like they were hot pigs. As you get older – and I’ve been doing this for thirty years – you slow down. Creativity don’t come so fast no more. You really have to take your time and choose the right songs.

VG: Who are the ladies singing backup?

BW: My former wife, Glodean James [his longtime backup singer], my daughter Bridgett, and Brenda Holloway [recent recipient of an R&B Pioneers Foundation Award].

VG: How great that you’re still singing with Glodean.

SW: Oh, yeah. I love her sound. We broke up, but that ain’t got nothing to do with music. I’m never going to leave music. The most consistent lady in my life is music.

VG: You wrote a song about your split from Glodean, “Whatever We Had, We Had.” Is there a way to keep a breakup civilized, even if it’s painful?

BW. I think that is the intelligent thing to do. See, I know nothing is guaranteed. You do what you can and you love the best you can. Because when you fall in love, you give up a lot of your clear thinking. That’s why I wrote the song. It was true: Whatever we had, we had. I haven’t changed about love, honey. It’s still the landlord. It still rules.

VG: People often think of divorce as the end of the world, especially where children are involved. Do you see a way it can work?

BW: It’s not the end of the world. You keep your love and your eye on your children when they are small and coming up as teenagers. When they get older they’re going to go their own way anyway, but how you raise them has a lot to do with the way they’re going to go. If you fall down drunk, if you beat your wife, if a wife is always fighting with her husband – you know, they see all that bullshit.

VG: It must be great to make music en famille.

BW: Yeah, it’s very nice. They know how you think, they know what you mean when you say, “Do this and do that.” They can go right to it.

VG: You have quite a few kids, don’t you?

BW: I have eight children.

VG: And do you all live together?

BW: No. My children live in their own homes. They’re doing quite well.

VG: Your mother was a music teacher. Did you hear a lot of classical music as a child? I hear the passion of Rimsky-Korsakov in your work.

BW: Yeah, that’s right. And Beethoven and Bach and Dvorak. My mother played all of the masters. From the age of four until I was eight, I heard nothing but that music. And I love it – strings and melodies and counter rhythms and everything. My brother didn’t like it, so he used to go outside and play, but I really loved that music.

VG: How did your mother feel when you didn’t want to take music lessons?

BW: [laughs] She didn’t feel nothing. She said, “OK, baby. You don’t want to learn it this way, you just teach yourself, work with the piano yourself.” She was very, very supportive.

VG: Do you listen to much new music?

BW: Well, I listen to whatever’s on the radio; I’ve always done that. There are new singers I love: Deborah Cox, Toni Braxton.

VG: Does Lil’ Kim turn you on?

BW: No. I’ve heard her songs, but I’m not in that bracket. That’s for people who are into the hardcore hip-hop thing.

VG: Why do you think there’s such an abundance of gangsterism in rap music nowadays?

BW: You know, you get what you pay for. Record companies have been so busy making money, they haven’t been thinking about how rap influences other young people. It’s a mess, honey. There’s not a lot you can say about it other than the rappers are talking about what they live, they are truthful. When you hear them talking about hoes and bitches, that’s where they come from. So, you have to go back to the neighborhoods, you have to go back to the parents.

VG: You’ve been very up-front about issues like your involvement with gangs as a teenager. How did you turn your life around?

BW: One day I looked around, and I’m sitting up in jail, and I’m saying, “Oh no, this ain’t the ending of my story.” You know, I’ve got to change my life, I’ve got to change the way I think, I’ve got to change my people, the friends I’m keeping. And I did. If I hadn’t had music, I don’t know what I’d have done.

VG: Since you started making music, the world has changed a lot.

BW: Oh, baby, five times.

VG: What do you think AIDS has done to romance and the mating game since it came on the scene? It seems in some way AIDS made people turn toward romance rather than sex.

BW: That’s right, baby, that is the truth. It made them more conscious, it made them look around and check out what they’re doing. It made a lot of people more disciplined. It scared a lot of them.

VG: Do you think there is a place for tactical secrecy in a relationship? For instance, when people don’t tell their partners when they are sleeping around.

BW: There’s a place for secrecy. Sometimes things have to be sacred and secret and shared by just two people, but cheating on your partner – that’s wrong.

VG: That’s what I’ve always told my men! I’m so glad you agree with me.

BW: Well, you know, most problems we have today come from men, they don’t come from women. When a woman tells a man she loves him, most women are very, very serious. When a man says he loves you, you have to wonder about it. You have to watch his actions, you have to watch the way he treats you, the way he talks to you.

VG: You’re known for your love songs. Why do you think love songs are Important?

BW: There’s definitely something healing about a love song, baby. You know, when people are slow-dancing, they hear everything. When they’re by themselves with the person they want to be with, there are certain songs that fit those occasions. I always want my songs to fit any occasion. I don’t care if you’re at the nightclub, if you’re in the living room, if you’re at the park, if you’re on the beach – I want my music to fit everywhere.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Brant Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group