It’s easy to dismiss Barry White. He’s been the subject of endless parodies, mostly focused on his “love man” image. Indeed, White was a big teddy bear of a man, with a deep voice which he used to purr mildly suggestive lyrics. What cannot be denied however is that White was a musician of some stature, and I don’t just mean physically. There was a time in the ’70s when he was a constant presence on the charts, and on television sets across America.
White was born in Texas, but moved to LA early in his life. There he played on his first record, and it was a big one. That’s White playing piano on Jesse Belvin’s hit “Goodnight My Love.” He was 11 years-old when that record was made. He joined a group called the Upfronts, and their first record was released when he was 16.
Although he considered continuing his recording career, White got a job doing A&R work for a guy named Bob Keane, who had been associated with Sam Cooke. Keane owned a family of labels that included Del-Fi, Mustang, and Bronco. While he was with Keane, White worked with the Versatiles (who became the Fifth Dimension), the Bobby Fuller Four, Viola Willis, and Felice Taylor, with whom he recorded three singles that were particularly big in the UK.
When Bronco went out of business, White was adrift. He started doing independent production. During this phase of his career he began to work with a girl group, and he wrote a song for them called “Walkin’ In the Rain (With the One I Love).” That group became known as Love Unlimited. The single was released by Uni, a subsidiary of MCA, in 1972. It was a #14 smash, and the album that contained it, From A Girls Point of View, sold a million copies. It wasn’t long before White’s relationship with Uni went bad however, and he began to look for a male artist to work with. He didn’t have to look far. In fact, all he had to do was to look in the mirror. He was hesitant, but was soon convinced to record his own music. His first album, I’ve Got So Much To Give, came out on 20th Century Records in 1973.
Love Unlimited left Uni and joined White at 20th Century. Then he had another great idea — to record an instrumental album. That idea became, as you’ve probably guessed, the Love Unlimited Orchestra album. The single, “Love’s Theme,” was a stone smash. It was #1 on the pop chart and sold a million copies.
From 1974-1979, the hits were practically non-stop for White. His epic run included “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up,” “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything,” and of course “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,Babe”. “Can’t Get Enough” was written and produced by White, and it was another massive hit for him. The single was released on 20th Century in 1974 (the photo on the left is of a UK release on Pye), and it topped not only the Billboard Soul Singles chart, but also the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.
In 1979 White left 20th Century, and in one of the biggest deals ever to that point he created his own label, Unlimited Gold, with Columbia Records. But the disco era was coming to an end, and so was White’s impressive string of hits. He kept at it though. Throughout the ’80s he put singles on the R&B charts, but didn’t have any crossover success. He continued to have R&B hits through the ’90s too, and made notable tv appearances on The Simpsons, Ally McBeal, and in several high profile commercials.
The excess weight that White carried for his entire life finally got to him. He suffered kidney failure in 2002. A stroke the following year forced him to retire. Barry White died on July 4, 2003.