Popped Clog: Barry White
Barry White - father, singer, sex symbol, chronic overeater - has died. He was 58.
Alan Connor remembers the Walrus of Love.
5 June 2003
When I was under contract to Planet 24, I was once told that I had proved my TV onions and was to be allowed to do a proper couch interview, live on The Word. The guest was to be Barry White. This was in the days before kitsch was quite so strong, and certainly pre-Ally McBeal, and so I met the prospect with no little enthusiasm. Barry's people had only one perquisite: "please don't call Barry 'The Walrus of Love' - he hates it."
Alas, the anarchic iconoclasts at Planet 24 were too groovy to listen, and so one Friday evening, Barry was in his hotel room, channel-hopping and lighted on a trailer: 'on The Word tonight: The Walrus of Love himself'. He pulled out. Good
for Barry. But bad for me, because the only person who was prepared to bang on at such short notice was Keith Allen. I wasn't a Loaded reader, and so primarily knew him as a minor figure from The Comic Strip Presents... . I had no idea why the fashionistas in the production team were so over-excited. But one look at Allen and I could tell why he was over-excited.
| Sleepy, Grumpy, Doc... |
|Barry leaves behind eight children. They are...
- La nece
- Barry Jr.
- McKevin (Would you like fries with that?)
It is to Barry's eternal credit that he managed to select three of the 10 worst names of all time.
It was a shame. The editorial dudes had said they would allow me to arm-wrestle Barry on TV. There was no way I was touching Keith Allen. And now I'll never touch either of them.
Rest in peace. Here is your life.
Barry White is, for many, the sound of Philadelphia. And yet he was born, with a very squeaky voice in Galveston, Texas - the subject matter of the greatest ballad by Glen Campbell, greater even than his Barry White covering. Barry should have sung 'Galveston'. It would have been amazing country-soul.
It was in church that Barry found his love of music, through choir and organ. But it was in an LA prison, aged 15, for stealing tyres, that Barry heard 'It's now or never' and realised it could be his living - and his salvation. Known more now for his lugubrious baritone, Barry was also among the shit-hottest producers of the 1960s and 1970s. He also did a sideline in management, putting together three hot girls and calling them Love Unlimited. He even married one of them, the old dog.
And he was no mean instrumentalist. That's Barry that you hear on Bob & Earl's filthy 'Harlem Shuffle' (as sampled by the House of Pain), playing piano and, disputedly, producing this piece of aural filth. He went onto play drums for Earl in live shows too. He could play anything.
He also produced the Bobby Fuller Four, best known for 'I fought the law (and the law won)'. With Barry's demise, we miss another opportunity to find out why it is that the official cause of Bobby Fuller's premature death was drinking petrol - even though it's impossible to die this way. Re-open the Bobby Fuller
One can only hope Barry re-acquires recognition for his lush inventive production, often in conjunction with Gene Page, an arranger who ought to be about a gazillion times better-known, for 'You've lost that lovin' feelin'', if nothing else).
At the moment, though, we remember him as a Voice. A voice which was very, very deep and which grunted and heavy-breathed its way across strings and disco beats. (Side-question: did Barry invent disco in 1973? Actually, the guy's dead, so let's not blame him for that.) A voice which women enjoyed very, very much, but with a body which their husbands considered no threat. But they should have. A friend of mine, when calculating how much she would have to be paid to sleep with various celebrities, said she would do Barry 'for a bun'.
Of course, Barry became taboo for a while, parodied by New Order over some sheep noises on 'Fine time' and, save for a Simpsons guest appearance where he proved himself a decent-enough actor, not really mentioned much. In the media, that is. People still listened to his records. I've not tried it myself, but I'm told his really is a *genuinely* good make-out soundtrack. Don't try it tonight, though. It'll just seem creepy. Go for Alexander O'Neal or Isaac Hayes. Or Toploader.
It really took Ally McBeal to propel the re-releases that are necessary for a critical reappraisal. It was only after McBeal that Barry had a whiff of a Grammy, say - and the industry's reawakened interest didn't go a lot further than re-releases to people who don't much like music. When Universal bought out all of Polygram's labels, Barry all but got lost in the squeeze.
Still, he was a happy man. He'd got his autiobiography-cum-love-guide written (having been a relationship counsellor at 14, this was presumably less arduous than it sounds). During the failure of his health, he lived in San Diego, on the water, with his special lady. And whatever he made on his hundred-million dollar sales. By his early 50s, he was already a great-grandfather three times over. How so? Eight kids, down the ages, with different ladies. Barry, you old dog.
You'll be sorely missed.