Still here baby, still ready : ARTS : SHOWPEOPLE BARRY WHITE

THEY call him the Love God. The Sultan of Bedroom Soul. The Doctor of Love. The Sex Guru. The Walrus of Love. The Mountain of Mounting. The Pachyderm of Passion. The great big wobbly jelly of . . . well, you can make up your own nickname; everyone else does. Barry White - like that other middle-aged, middle-of-the-road Barry, Mr Manilow - is an international superstar who is not taken entirely seriously. The talents of the child gangster who grew up to record "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe"

have been overshadowed by his bulk, his diluvial sweat, the Freddie Krueger fingernails of his ex-wife, Love Unlimited singer Glodean James, and his eternal obsession with getting physical.

His new album, Love is the Icon (A&M), may not change that. Young bucks such as Jam and Lewis, Chuckii Booker and Gerald Levert have eased his sound, for better or worse, into the Nineties, but it's plain from the first purred words of the opening track that the old dog's tricks are the same as they were on "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More Baby", his first solo hit in 1973: "So what do you want to do? I'm here baby. I'm ready."

Doesn't he ever get tired of his subject matter? "Mm-mm. Never. It's the most important subject on the planet Earth. I don't care which damn country you come from, that will never change . . . " As he talks, you find yourself listening out for the throbbing bass and the tickling hi-hat, so similar is his conversation to the murmured monologues that begin his songs. Record the speech of the average Californian male, play it back at half-speed, and you will have some idea of White's pitch and timbre. His voice didn't break at 14, it shattered. And on the same day as the octaves divebombed, hair sprouted on his previously silky jaw. "It was amazing," he muses. "Both of Barry White's trademarks appeared at once." He had already spent months, he claims, acting as a relationship counsellor for his friends' parents. His third trademark . . .

"We come from making love," he continues, without bass or hi-hat accompaniment. "If our mothers and fathers hadn't made love we wouldn't be sitting here doing this interview, so that's how important making love is. It's the only subject there is."

But it means that we see Barry White as the Doctor of Love, the Love God: a cartoon image. "Mm. I don't see it that way. I've been coming here since 1973. I do my shows, and people either like it or they don't like it. It ain't got nothing to do with no cartoon image. Most people you talk to 'bout Barry White can tell you his history."

That's another thing. Why do you talk about yourself as another person? "Because he is another person. The singer is one entity of Barry White, the musician is another, the father is another. It's not that he's not me, he's just a part of me, he's not the me.

All of the Barries are now 50. Will they still be singing about "the only subject" when they're 60? "No, I'll be over then. I don't have but a few more years to go as a singer. No, I don't know when the last tour will be, but believe me, the whole world will know about it. After that I'll just be producing or writing or something." The general public tends to forget Barry White the writer/ producer/arranger/instrumentalist. "Barry White the singer is the star of the show. But once I die," he grins, "they'll remember it all."

Others may doubt White's skills; White does not. He moves his colossal frame around his hotel suite with dignified ease and elegance. His speech is relaxed, mature, even paternal. He is armoured from jibes by 107 gold and platinum discs, not to mention the testimonials of artists from Lisa Stansfield to Jazzy B. The one thing deeper than his voice and broader than his body is his own self-confidence. His one regret, he says, is that concentrating on his music has left him little time to "help to solve world problems". But, he adds, he "may still be one of those people who is gonna help open the eyes of the human race".

White's Secret of World Peace is to appreciate the greatness of individuals. Alarmingly enough, he measures this greatness in terms of destructive power. "People say, `You're just a man.' You're not just a man, friend. You can shoot the bird in the sky, you can kill every elephant, you can kill every fish that swims in the ocean. And when you compound that by millions of people . . . it's amazing. We should all be respectful of each other. When we go and visit France, we shouldn't be pissed off because France don't serve hamburgers the way we do in England or America. Go there with an open mind, a respectful mind."

What about women? "Women should be treated with more respect. They wouldn't be as crazy as they are if it wasn't for us. When you see women out there working, they're only emulating us. Most women don't want to work. They have to because there's not a shepherd there, there's not a leader in that home. But if you ask the majority of women who work, `Would you work if you had a man who really loved you, who was really there for you,' she'd tell you, `No, I wouldn't work.' And that's the way it's meant to be. Taking care of a man's kingdom, having it peaceful when he comes home, and letting him go out there and win everything they're gonna get in life, these are very, very important things that we tend to treat like nothing."

Maybe it's lucky that White didn't devote his life to changing society. But if he had, how would he have gone about it? "By telling the truth. Yeah, maybe by writing in news- papers. I have no idea. I think music is one of the greatest ways to bring knowledge to people, because when they like it they play it over and over and over and it starts to sink in. As an individual I think I should use music in a positive way, and that's what I do. I'm no god of this or no doctor of that. I'm just Barry White, man. Barry White who loves to make his music."

Barry White tours Britain in March. The album `Love is the Icon' and the single `Practise What You Preach' are out now on A&M Records.

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