Barry White was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1944. He joined a group called The Up fronts in 1961- the basis of which remained his touring rhythm section for many years. Through his involvement with the group, he learned about producing and arranging the hard way, watching and helping.
His first real chance came when he helped on the production of the hit song Harlem Shuffle by Bob & Earl. And when, in 1965, Earl (as Jackie Lee) had a huge American top ten hit with The Duck, Barry became his road manager.
His fame spread, like his girth, and he soon landed a job as head of A&R at a newly-formed West Coast outfit Bronco/Mustang.
There he produced Felice Taylor’s I Feel Love Coming On which, although not a big US success, was the record chosen by the BBC’s infant Radio One to flex its muscles on, and with unrelenting plugging it sailed into the UK Top Twenty, resting at #11 during November 1967.
Despite recording a few solo items himself, White still remained in the background.
When he eventually severed his connection with the ailing Bronco set-up he chanced upon a trio of femme singers, called Love Unlimited. White saw himself as a musical Svengali and began to groom the girls for instant stardom.
Signed eventually in 1971 to the new UNI label, they hit gold immediately with the classic disc Walking In The Rain With The One I Love which reached #14 in the UK during July 1972. It was the telephone sequence at the record’s ending that finally got Barry White’s name into the public eye.
When the UNI label disbanded White kept the girls together without a contract and recorded a duet with Jackie Lee (under the name Smoke): Oh Love, We Finally Made It. It was not a hit.
In 1973 White signed himself and the girls to the new 20th Century label and, despite (in later interviews) implying that his sole aim in life was to turn Love Unlimited into superstars – and having no ideas about recording himself – the label’s first release was I’ve Got So Much To Give. The album sleeve featured Barry with his hands cupped and four girls standing on his outstretched palms.
The tracks varied between brilliant (a slanting rearrangement of Standing In The Shadows of Love with a neoclassical intro resplendent with pizzicato strings) and throbbing (I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More Baby) – the first example of White’s takeover of Isaac Hayes country, with its tight bass and percussion track incorporating a lush string section entwining around the unrelenting beat, The perfect discotheque production.
The album also illustrated the maudlin aspects of White’s genre. Plodding, droning, half-spoken, half-intoned ballads like Bring Back My Yesterdays – which would have suited Al Martino to a tee – or I’ve Found Someone.
Next came Love Unlimited’s Under The Influence Of… which was a huge album success. Sadly, the girls didn’t get their hit 45 but the DJ’s went spare for the instrumental link track, Love’s Theme. Finally, it was a huge 45 success, topping the US soul charts.
Not being one to pass up a good thing, The Love Unlimited Orchestra brought out Rhapsody in White – eight hastily-thrown-together backing tracks including a reworking of I Feel Love.
Amazingly, the album stands as White’s best all-round release. All the cuts feature that tight bass line, and even the strings sound funky. Once again through the manipulation of the girls, White scored a major innovation.
White was original and exciting up to and including Stone Gon’ – a new and promising horizon rising from the battlefield of clichés wasted by Isaac Hayes’ overblown ego.
Not satisfied with the successes gained previously, White ultimately seemed to be content merely to rehash his winning formula, notably with the sub-standard album Can’t Get Enough.
Barry finally became a big star in his own right, starting with You’re The First, The Last, My Everything in 1974.