Interview by Joe Smith
Joe interviewed Barry White in Los Angeles on April 3, 1987 during the writing of Off the Record–his oral history of rock and roll. Joe interviewed more than 240 music artists and executives from 1986-88.
In 2012, he donated a trove of 238 hours of interviews on cassette tapes to the Library of Congress. Listen to Joe’s full interview catalog.
The Animated Transcript
Joe Smith was a longtime record executive and one-time radio DJ.
I didn’t mind working in the clubs, but I resented it being a club where pimps hang out. Because the music that I create is of a higher intellect than that. It not only encompasses pimps, but whores, ballplayers, executives… everybody.
I laid my clothes out the night before school started. And my birthday’s Sept. 12th, so school happened to hit this year on my birthday. This was my 18th birthday. I was getting ready to graduate. I was at an all-boys school. Bad boys. Called Jacob A Riis.
This was in L.A.?
Yeah. Southeast Los Angeles. But when I got up the next morning, I wasn’t going to school, Joe. Something said, “you’re going to Hollywood today.” I was standing there combing my hair in the mirror and I said: “mama, i’m not going to school today.” She went crazy: “baby, you gotta go to school. This is your last semester. You’re going to graduate.“ “I got to go to Hollywood. Today.”
I walked all the way up to Hollywood and Vine and I stood on the left corner facing Capitol, before you cross over. Capitol Records always represented Hollywood to me. I stood there about 3.5 – 4 hours. Just looking.
Looking at the cars. Looking at the people moving, people with briefcases. It really inspired me. I knew that’s where I wanted to be.
What was it like around Hollywood for a young guy trying to make it?
Very tough. If you were a young kid, 19, 20 years old who has two children and a third one on the way and refuses to leave them. A kid who was on welfare, because he refused to steal anybody’s property or take anybody’s money. You found life a lot tougher.
I came into it knowing what I had to offer. All I had was the will and the love for music. I couldn’t read music or write it. No connections, no car, no money, no bankroll, no clothes, no nothing. But what I loved about it was, you were always able to meet somebody interesting that was doing something.
See, I’m the boy with the flapping shoes. I’m the one who was not embarrassed to walk up in front of you with his flapping shoes and ask you did you have anything for me to do. I knew I didn’t know. I never came into this industry with an ego, ever in my life. I knew I had to learn. I knew I had to earn that car. I knew I had to earn those shoes. I had to earn that coat to wear in Hollywood and I wanted to earn it in Hollywood.
Everyone to me has to pick a subject to talk about in music if you’re going to be a writer. Mine is love, because I know when a man’s making love the last thing he thinks about is war.
I guess so…
Ok, the last thing he thinks about is how he can blow up a nation. Fleas fuck. Flies, snakes, everybody’s into love-making, Joe.
Besides that, it’s the most powerful element that men and women possess. Most of us don’t know what… how to use it, but we all possess it. The women used the music to get their men to relate to them better: “talk to me, tell me what’s on your mind.” Men used the music to get the girls in the mood to make love. So either way you had it, Barry White is the one artist who actually was in your bedroom with you at your most sacred, sensuous moment of your life.
Alot of baby’s have been named Barry. The Barry-Boom that was the baby boom in the ‘74 that they wrote about. One of the greatest highlights of my career then was Ted Kennedy when he printed in print that the only music he listens to in his yacht and in his home is Barry White’s music
My philosophy is you have to be loyal to something. You can’t be a whore all your life, man. I think that there’s a time when people give their words to each other it has to mean something. I’m a street cat. See I’ve belonged in gangs and when you had a partner, you went down with your partner whether you won the fight or lost it. You went down together.
“It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me”
“You’re The First, The Last, My Everything”
“Playing Your Game, Baby”
“Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe”