Say the name Barry White and you'd be hard pressed to follow it with the name of any other recording artist with such a huge, cross-sectional following. He was at home appearing on Soul Train, guesting with a full band on The Today Show, and appearing in cartoon form in various episodes of The Simpsons. During the '70s, Dinah Shore devoted a full hour of her daily syndicated Dinah! show to White. While there was a period where Barry White wasn't releasing records or making the pop charts, he did stay active touring and appearing on other artists' records including Quincy Jones' "The Secret Garden (The Seduction Suite)," Regina Belle, and rap star Big Daddy Kane's "All of Me." It's surprising to find out that such an illustrious career almost didn't happen because White wasn't interested in being a recording artist.
Born in Galveston, TX, Barry White grew up singing gospel songs with his mother and taught himself to play piano. Shortly after moving from Texas to South Central Los Angeles, White made his recording debut at the tender age of 11, playing piano on Jesse Belvin's "Goodnight My Love." He made his first record when he was 16 with a group called the Upfronts. The song was called "Little Girl" on a local L.A. label called Lummtone Records. Later he worked for various independent labels around Los Angeles, landing an A&R position with Bob Keane, the man responsible for the first pop recordings by Sam Cooke. One of his labels, Mustang, was hot at the time with a group called the Bobby Fuller Four in 1966. White was hired for 40 dollars a week to do A&R for Keane's family of labels: Del-Fi, Mustang and Bronco. During this time, White flirted with the idea of being a recording artist, making a record for Bronco called "All in the Run of a Day." But he chose to stick with his A&R duties. One of the first groups he worked with was the Versatiles who later changed their name to the 5th Dimension. White's first big hit came from an artist familiar to dancefloor denizens -- Viola Wills, whose "Lost Without the Love of My Guy" went Top 20 R&B. His salary went up to 60 dollars a week. White started working with the Bobby Fuller Four. Bob Keene and Larry Nunes -- who later became White's spiritual advisor and true friend -- wanted to cut a female act. White had heard about a singer named Felice Taylor. They had three hit records, "It May Be Winter Outside," "I'm Under the Influence of Love," and "I Feel Love Coming On." They were huge hits in England. White started making 400 dollars a week.
When Bronco went out of business, White began doing independent production. Those were some lean times for White. Veteran arranger Gene Page, who would later arrange or co-arrange White's hits, helped him out, giving him work and non-repayable loans. Then three years later, Paul Politti, who also worked at Bronco, contacted him to tell him that Larry Nunes was interested in starting a business with him. Nunes had started cutting tracks for a concept album he was working on. Meanwhile, White had started working with this girl group who hadn't done any singing professionally. They rehearsed for almost a year. White wrote "Walkin' in the Rain (With the One I Love)" with lyrics that were inspired by conversations with one of the singers, Glodean James (who would later become White's second wife). White christened the group Love Unlimited.
I've Got So Much to GiveLarry Nunes took the record to Russ Regan, who was the head of the Uni label owned by MCA. Love Unlimited's From a Girl's Point of View became a million-seller. Soon after, Regan left Uni for 20th Century Records. Without Regan, White's relationship with Uni soured. With his relationship with Uni in chaos and Love Unlimited contract-bound with the label, White decided he needed to work with another act. He wanted to work with a male artist. He made three song demos of himself singing and playing the piano.
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