In Soul Unlimited (available on Spotify and Google podcasts), Stuart narrates Barry White's extraordinary career in music which saw him become 20th Century Records' highest grossing artist with his self-styled “symphonic grooves.” Interviews give us a taste of social unrest in mid-60s Los Angeles, the background to a young Barry’s inexhaustible appetite to learn.
The contributors include: Charles Hazlewood (Paraorchestra), Steve Cradock, Zoe Rahman, Steven Ivory (LA Times), Maggie Ayre (BBC producer) and Adrian Goldberg.
“What happened is that there was a restlessness to being confined during the lockdowns for me and I started looking at my family’s vinyl collection and flicking through and I actually bought a turntable. And Barry White’s album came up and I started listening to it. It was always on it at family parties. It was the greatest hits and listening to I just thought how did he get to where he got to and what is his back story. So I started doing a bit of research and it turned out that he came from very humble, very disadvantaged origins. It was pretty tough. He was brought up in the poorest district of LA and what really interested me is that he had this almost sense of a calling. He was due to go to his graduation and it was his birthday but something said to him to go down to Hollywood and start ingratiating himself with the record labels. He was 17 and that's how his journey starts. He had no connections in music at all and he doesn't even play an instrument but he started this almost accidental apprenticeship. He kept chipping away and he spent 11 years going around all the facilities of music production. That would have been in the early 60s, and researching all this, I really got into it, and what really struck me was his self-belief and all his efforts to follow through and to pursue his dream. I started to think of it like a philosophy of him just seeing through his project. He got declined for his first ideas and he was an A&R man before he became an artist in his own name.”
Stuart explores it all in the podcasts, eight of them, ten or 11 minutes long: “I think the fascination is that he was the first person to touch all bases. He's gone from composing to learning how to arrange, to learning how to produce and then he was a reluctant performer. He didn't expect to be singing on his early records. He just did like a guide vocal but once he heard his own voice and other people heard his voice, he realised that is what he had to do and now the complexity of his music is really highly regarded. He was a bass baritone which is very rare and he could really hold pitch and melody and he went on to be one of the greatest singers. He achieved nine gold records in his first year which I don't think had been done by any other solo artist.”