Barry White, the Walrus of Love, dies aged 58

Steve Jelbert
Saturday 28 September 2013 02:46

So farewell then, Walrus of Love. Barry White, the original housewives lover man (circa 1975) has passed away aged 58, of kidney failure.

White, whose kidneys failed after years of high blood pressure, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre, Los Angeles, his manager, Ned Shankman, said.

The heavyweight singer had been in hospital since last September, receiving dialysis treatment. Yet, even 27 years after his last British Top Ten hit, 1976's "You See The Trouble With Me", the oversized White was fondly remembered, long after kaftan-clad Greek Demis Roussos (while we're talking of seventies kitsch icons) had escaped the collective memory.

There was always much more to White than the persona of a huge man with a low, low voice. Born in Galveston, Texas in 1944, he came to prominence (according to one old associate) for stealing "three TV sets during the Watts riots". He was jailed at the age of 16 for stealing tyres, a punishment he credited with helping him straighten out his life and dedicate his efforts to music.

But White actually managed to put Los Angeles soul on the map, at a time when the heart of American black music beat a long way from the West Coast. Inspired by the Elvis Presley song "It's Now or Never", White joined The Upfronts soul group as bass singer and cut six singles.

White's early career included production work for the Bobby Fuller Four, best known for their "I Fought The Law" and their leader's still unexplained murder (explained away by the LAPD as a suicide - plus ca change), and working in sessions including piano work on Bob and Earl's 1963 classic "Harlem Shuffle".

But he really came into his own as a producer when Love Unlimited, a local female vocal trio which included his second wife Glodean, took his "Walking In The Rain With The One I Love" into the charts in 1972.

Taking the mike himself, a run of hits followed, including American number ones "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love Babe", "Never Never Gonna Give You Up", and his only British chart-topper "You're The First, My Last, My Everything", many sold to children puzzled by their mum's declared fanhood (I was one of them). Cynics moaned that all his records sounded the same, lush string arrangements over slick soul grooves.

Fans wondered why that was a problem.

As the hits dried up towards the end of the decade (I have a vague memory of Mr White bringing out a promotional edition of an album actually made of chocolate at that time), his profile never really faded. Collaborations with Tina Turner, rapper Big Daddy Kane and master arranger Quincy Jones kept him in the public eye. And years before Isaac Hayes, another maestro of the seductive speech genre, was cast as "Chef" in the iconoclastic South Park, White made an appearance in The Simpsons, where his unique bass tones helped Springfield's snake population escape in an episode which hardly coded its message of tolerance and respect.

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But ultimately White's influence will live on through the entire generations conceived to his wonderfully explicit tributes to the great love between a man and a woman.

Performers as varied as Lenny Henry, Alexander O'Neal (he of the onstage bed for two) and even pale skinny Welshmen Super Furry Animals have paid tribute to the original, but there could only be one Barry White.

Despite his worldwide fame, White never forgot his humble roots, saying: "I came from nothing, I'll never forget that." Despite his medical condition, he joined crowds of local residents last year protesting at plans to demolish more than 70 homes in the South Park area of Los Angeles.

The star recently said, in his characteristic drawl: "I specialise in love. People all over the world tell me they conceived their children listening to my songs.

"When you say Barry White, you see the whole image. You see him on stage, hear the records, you have the children from the love music. It's a whole love thang."

Although deranged, deceased American critic Lester Bangs once suggested "it's conceivable that this man is dangerous; at any rate there's absolutely no question that he's gonna get what he's after", White was a better actor than given credit for. And we all knew, and that's why we care today.

White is survived by eight children, as well as his longtime companion Catherine Denton, 37 , who was recently reported to be pregnant.

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