There's no mistaking the sound of Barry White.
Whether it's coming from a concert stage or a home stereo, the velvety depths of his voice are unlike anything else in popular music. Even over the telephone, there's something truly profundo about that basso rumble.
Consequently, a lot of people assume that he owes his success to the weight and power of that voice. But it's not quite that simple. Because if you listen to his best work -- anything from the classics "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" and "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" to the recent "Practice What You Preach" from his "The Icon Is Love" album -- you'll find that the secret behind his sound isn't the voice, but the way he uses it.
"Yeah, absolutely," he rumbles in agreement. "That's why the strings have always been there, to soften that voice. The melodies, to give variety to that voice. The right lyrics for that voice to speak or to sing."
White perfected that sound in 1973, and the world responded almost immediately. Between his own recordings and those he produced for both Love Unlimited (a female trio) and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, White generated $16 million in sales that year. And that was just the beginning.
Some of that success he credits to having the right sound at the right time. "In almost every business, timing is a key element in business," he says. "No matter what you come with, what idea you have -- is the time right?"
But, as he points out, he first had to learn the art of arranging and producing. "Every producer has his method or his madness -- either one you want to call it," he says. "If you don't have a method or a madness, you will probably only have one or two hits and never have another one. If you figure out your formula before you have a hit record, you've got a better hold on your career.
"It's very hard to write songs for yourself. It's very hard to pick songs for yourself. Barry White learned that many years ago. I've been in this business since I was 16 -- 1960 is when I came into it. So I was a great student, believe me.
"I was on the dean's list."
White did a little bit of everything when he started out. He played, he sang, he ran the mixing board, he did arrangements. "A lot of arrangements," he says. Unfortunately, there aren't many young musicians with that kind of background these days.
"That's why most music today sounds like clone music. Or artists sound like each other," he says. "It seems like you just heard that song go off the radio, and here's another artist with the same [thing]. It comes from a lack of knowledge of music. Of the creation of music."
That's not to suggest White thinks there isn't any new talent out there. "What's exciting is to see another generation coming up that reminds me of the generation of the '70s -- dedicated artists," he says. "I think TLC is one of the most refreshing artists of the day. Salt-N-Pepa, are another great rap [group]."
As for his own music, he believes the most important thing is to remain true to his own tastes.
"I've never been an artist who tried to pick at the industry, at what they're going to like or what they don't like," he says. "I go with what I like. And you hope that you're lucky, that you find a million people out there that agree with your ears. Because that's all there is."
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Baltimore Arena
Tickets: $37.50, $32.50 and $22.50
Call: (410) 481-7328 for tickets, (410) 347-2020 for information
Hear an "Icon"
To hear excerpts from the Barry White album "The Icon Is Love," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6128 after you hear the greeting.