The voice is instantly recognizable--a rich, raspy, rumbling bass. It's a voice that has become almost synonymous with seduction, and when Barry White smiles and says he's happy to meet you, it's easy to understand the reason why.
Sitting in his Manhattan hotel suite, White looks like an authority on happiness. At 54, the singer appears a bit slimmer than he did in his 1970s heyday, when he released a series of lush, erotic pop-soul hits, including "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" and "You're the First, the Last, My Everything."
White, who now lives in San Diego, has been in town for several days on a whirlwind promotional tour that included radio station visits and television show appearances. After more than three decades in the music business, White is still obviously recognized by music fans of all ages as a supreme love man--a fact for which he is grateful.
"I'm honored, honey," the Galveston, Texas, native says. "I don't know if I'm a sex symbol, but I love life and I love people. Any time you create something where people love what you do, that's a powerful gift, and to do it over and over and last for years . . . that is a super great thing."
Lately, in fact, White's popularity seems to be rising. His latest, just-released album, aptly titled "Staying Power," follows the singer's much-ballyhooed performance earlier this year on Fox-TV's smash hit "Ally McBeal."
"They called last year and invited me to come on [the show] and do, 'First, Last, Everything,' " White says. "Now all over the world, wherever I travel, people say, 'I saw you on the "Ally McBeal" show!' "
According to Steve Robin, a producer on "Ally McBeal," the idea to incorporate White into the program came from creator/executive producer David E. Kelley. Having already used White's music as a source inspiration for the romantic fascinations of the show's John Cage, the eccentric lawyer played by actor Peter MacNicol, Kelley decided to include the singer in an episode focusing on Cage's birthday.
"When Barry appeared on the set, every member of the crew was star-struck," Robin says. "He signed autographs and took pictures. And he went into the studio and [recorded] a new version of the song--without the big orchestral arrangement of the original--which gave it a live feeling and worked much better for the show."
Concert Tour Delayed
at Doctor's Orders
White was scheduled to begin an arena tour with Earth, Wind & Fire on Thursday in Northern California and include a stop Sunday at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, but those plans were put on hold Monday after White's doctor diagnosed the singer as suffering from exhaustion and recommended a period of rest. The tour will now start Sept. 10 in Boston and the Pond show has been rescheduled for Sept. 28.
"I'm taking my doctor's advice and taking it easy for a few weeks," White said in a statement Monday. "The last thing I want to do is inconvenience those who have put so much hard work into the tour or to disappoint any of my fans. I hope to be able to give 110% as soon as I can."
White was working so hard to promote "Staying Power" because it is his first studio effort in five years; the collection is also his initial outing for Private Music, a division of the Windham Hill Group that signed White less than two months ago.
White released his last album, 1994's triple-platinum "The Icon Is Love," on A&M; Records, which had been his label since 1987. (The original hits were on 20th Century Records.)
But White's longtime manager, Ned Shankman, had concerns when A&M; was sold to Seagram's Universal Music Group late last year; he subsequently asked that White be released from his contract. When that release was secured, Shankman placed the singer with Private Music, whose roster includes such other smooth R&B; artists as James Ingram and Jeffrey Osborne.
"We have two challenges," says Steve Vining, president of the Windham Hill Group. "One is to make sure that dyed-in-the-wool Barry White fans--let's call them the over-30 crowd--need to become aware of the record . . . [and] we have to skew younger."
The album's title track is already getting a strong response at stations with an urban adult-contemporary format, and Vining is hopeful that the album, which also features a song remixed by Sean "Puffy" Combs and guest vocals by Chaka Khan and Lisa Stansfield, also will be embraced by more hip-hop-oriented urban stations (some of whom have also picked up the single), and eventually by pop radio.
But those who attend White's concerts can expect to hear plenty of golden oldies.
"This is the close of the millennium," White says. "I think I owe it to my fans . . . to play and sing the hits. I'm gonna try and give them the best time they ever had."
White: 'I'm a Very Controlled Person'
On the personal front, White--the twice-divorced father of five daughters and three sons, ranging in age from 24 to 37--has been romantically involved with the same woman for the past five years: Katherine Denton, who also works for him as a personal assistant.
"I love how she thinks," he says, smiling. "I love the things she wants to do with her life. I love the way she takes care of me, and I take good care of her."
The singer describes his home life as comfortably staid. "I'm a very controlled person. I don't go to wild parties, I don't give wild parties. I play video games. I hang out with my youngest son, Kevin. I spend a whole lot of time with my partner, Jack Perry [who co-produced "Staying Power" with White]. Sometimes I do nothing but sit around and play with my dogs and look out at the ocean."
White says he also thinks about music constantly. "I'm already planning my next album," he says. "I've gotta come up with another one for the year 2000, and for 2001."
Where the rest of his life is concerned, however, White maintains a predictably laid-back philosophy.
"I try to stay flexible," he says. "I don't know what the future brings--no one knows. The weather man is the only guy I know that can be wrong and still get paid. I just stay loose, sweetheart."