Barry White knows how to treat a lady. In his suite at the New York Palace Hotel sits an enormous banquet table abounding with bottles of champagne as well as silver bowls of caviar with all the trimmings. Not only that, a uniformed waiter – honest to God – stands at the ready to serve the bubbly. White is resplendent in a black silk suit and a black custom-made leather vest that heroically encircles his chest. He takes his time when he talks: When asked if he would like sour cream on his caviar, he purrs, “Mmmmm-hmmmm. I’ll take everythaang.”
The godfather of bedroom soul is gracious and serene, and his intense spirituality bobs and floats around him like Jacuzzi bubbles. This year he embarks on a world tour powered by his platinum disc The Icon Is Love. The man himself will tell you that “every song on this album is great, baby.”
What’s your sign?
I’m a Taurus.
I knew it, sweetheart. I’m into astrology. I can always tell what sign a woman is.
Astrology. I don’t know.
Please, Taurus, just open your mind and investigate.
Do you have a personal astrologist?
Yes, I do. He’s the astrologist for the president of India. I saw him one time. 1982. That’s all it took.
So, why did you choose “Practice What You Preach” as the single?
Climate. The season. We’re going into winter, and the song’s a slow-moving thing. People like to cuddle up in the winter, stay home in the winter.
And the song “I Only Want to Be With You” is about taking your time in the love department, is it not?
No. It’s a guy saying, “I know what you had. I know what you been through. I’m not about none of that. I only want to be with you.” He’s making a commitment.
What was your most extravagant tour?
Here in New York. Radio City Music Hall. I had an 80-piece orchestra.
Eighty. All of the strings, French horns, horns were all women. The only men on the stage were my rhythm section. It was very beautiful, very exciting. I think it was for 10 nights in 1978,’79. I broke the Radio City record for sellouts for that many nights. Look it up, baby. It’s there.
Do you ever find your sex-symbol image gets in your way?
It never gets in my way. I’m none of that. I’m Barry White. Calling me different nicknames doesn’t bother me one bit. I’m Barry White. Have a sip of champagne. Women are not into fish eggs, they have a different nature. Men love it.
True or false: You once wrote songs for the TV show The Banana Splits.
Mm-hmm. 1968. I’m starving to death, living in L.A. Friend of mine asked me to submit some songs. I told him yeah, I like cartoon shows, and I need the money. A guy that was there with me told everybody on the streets. But to make a long story short, I submitted two songs, and they took them both. [He lights up a smoke.]
You have kids. Were you a strict parent?
Oh, I was strict, honey. Yeah. We play together, shoot water guns, play basketball, swim for nine hours in the pool. But when Daddy say stop, they stop.
Is there a special lady in your life?
No, I’m relaxing, I’m enjoying my life, and I let things do what they do. I’ve already got one lady – music.
You’ve been writing a book since the ’80s. When the heck is it coming out?
It’s finished. When the time is right, it’s gonna drop. It’s close now.
You have a title?
Nope. That’s how I know it’s not ready to go yet. When I get that title, it will fly.
What are your three best qualities?
Barry White’s three best qualities are his love for music, his love for people and his love for himself.
What’s a little-known hobby of yours?
Playing video games. NFL football, golfing, bowling. I love that; I love watching my saltwater-fish aquarium. Five hundred gallons. I can sit and do that for eight hours straight.
Who takes care of these saltwater fish?
People . . . that take care of saltwater fish. [Laughs] I love just sitting outside quietly with nobody around. Nobody but me and nature. [To waiter] Why don’t you serve her something? [Waiter rushes toward caviar.] What would you like, sweetheart? It’s beluga, baby.
Uh, I’ll take the works.
Give her everything.
Didn’t you work with gangs at one point?
Still do. I’m an ex-gang-banger. I come from southeast L.A. I didn’t only hear about the 1965 riot, I was in it. I understand the disappointment, the anger that people have. I had the same. My brother had the same until he died in 1983. A man shot him in his heart. He was my best friend and my life till he died. He was night, and I was day. He loved the criminal world the way I love the music world. We both had the same knowledge. One took it and went this way, one took it and went that way. So I tell young people the truth, and a lot of them listen. They know I’ve been to jail. I’ve never hid my past, and I never will. I don’t want no young person to think he’s stuck in that misery.
I hear you’ve only been in love once.
It’s true. When I was a teenager I deeply fell in love with this young girl, not understanding the philosophy of love. To make a long story short, what I learned is that when you fall in love, you’ve lost contact with reality. You are slowly giving the power of your will and mind to something else. That’s where possessiveness, jealousy comes from. Out of all the emotions we get, jealousy is the worst of the negatives. So all I do is love, I don’t fall in love. Love as honest as you can, as strong as you can, but never, ever fall in love. You’ll remember I told you this as long as your memory lasts.
That was so mesmerizing, I didn’t eat my caviar.
[Laughs] I know, and it was so heavy to tell it to you, I didn’t eat mine neither.