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(Soundbite of music)

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're going to take a moment now to remember the life and music of Barry White.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: He's a star from the days of disco, who outlasted it. He remained famous until his death in 2003. This year would have marked Barry White's 65th birthday, and it's being remembered with a new box set of his music. Barry White's longtime producer, Jack Perry, put together CD after CD of alternate takes and bonus tracks of love, love, and love.

Mr. JACK PERRY (Producer, music): He has music speaking of love between two people, a man and a woman. It's not a negative thing. He's not talking about break-ups. He is not talking about getting back at somebody. His lyrics are only about two people coming together. And some of his lyrics are - you might want to call them little x-rated, especially for back in those days.

(Soundbite of song �Never, Never Gonna Give You Up�)

Mr. BARRY WHITE (Singer): (Singing) To make me feel the way you do, I'm never, never gonna give you up, I'm never, ever gonna stop, stop the way I feel about�

INSKEEP: Barry White grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Los Angeles. As a teenager, he was caught stealing Cadillac tires. And as his producer Jack Perry remembers the story, some jail time persuaded White to try another way of life. The life he found was in music.

Mr. PERRY: There was a small label called Bronco Records that was owned by Bob Keane, and he had Barry as an A&R person.

INSKEEP: Explain what an A&R person is?

Mr. PERRY: An A&R, and this is just good, you asked that because even Barry didn't know at the time when he was offered a job - what an A&R person was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PERRY: And he asked that question himself. But A&R is artist and repertoire - was what you do, is, you get an artist, you groom them, you find songs to go along with it, to match that artist's voice, and you produce them, and release them. Artist and repertoire - that's it.

INSKEEP: So, that was his way in and then he, at some point, being an A&R man, supposed to discover talent, discovered himself.

Mr. PERRY: Right. The story goes he went into the studio to put down a demo for another artist. So, when he put the instruments down, and wrote the song, he didn't have an artist yet. So, he just sung on top of them as a demo. But when he listened back he realized, whoa, this is the person for these songs - and the rest is history. And that first song was �I Am Going To Love You A Little Bit More.�

INSKEEP: Let's listen to a little bit of that hit.

(Soundbite of music, "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby)

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) I'm gonna love you, love you, love you just a little more, baby. I'm gonna need you, need you, need you every day. I'm gonna want you, want you, want you in every way. Yeah.

INSKEEP: What made his voice so distinct - besides being deep?

Mr. PERRY: Yeah, besides being deep, he's got an edge that's almost like a low voice with a tenor on top, and that's why he can open up when he sings. 'Cause when you listen to his vocals, he's never singing low. He sings in a tenor, but I think it's more his words. Barry had these long, romantic raps and the women just fell in love with him.

(Soundbite of music, "Can't Get Enough of Your Love")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) �we've shared love and made love. It doesn't seem to me like it's enough. It's just not enough. It's just not enough. My Darlin' I can't get enough of your love, Babe�

INSKEEP: That's what you're talking about there, isn't it Jack Perry? He's talking low and then he soars.

Mr. PERRY: That's right.

INSKEEP: How did he write those lyrics?

Mr. PERRY: You know, I like to tell it the way he tells it. He just finished making love to his wife, walked into the kitchen, she went to sleep, he wrote this song called "Can't Get Enough of Your Love Babe." And that's what it was written for, his wife, Glodean White.

INSKEEP: I want to play another song here, because this may give us a sense of how Barry White took a song and made it his own. This would be the song called "You're My First, My Last, My Everything."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) You're, you're all I'm living for. Your love I'll keep for evermore. You're the first, you're the last, my everything.

INSKEEP: What was this song when it first came to Barry White and how did he change it?

Mr. PERRY: This song come to him called "You're My First, My Last, My In Between." It was a little Country Western type song. Bum, bum, bomp, bum, bah -you're my first. So he took the whole track, changed the whole track to the music you're hearing now, and changed the lyrics around. The main line is instead of you're my first, my last, my in between, he changed it to you're my first, my last, my everything.

INSKEEP: Made the lyric more generous in its way.

Mr. PERRY: Exactly.

INSKEEP: And I'm just curious who it was that thought, oh Barry White might like to see this country song.

Mr. PERRY: Well, it was an assistant of his that was always working around Barry, brought it to Barry and said, check this out, 'cause he knew Barry was great at taking anything you brought to him and turning it upside down and making a hit out of it. Barry could take "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and turn it into a hit. Serious. I'm very serious.

INSKEEP: I'm imagining the rap that Barry would put on the front of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." I love your lamb�

Mr. PERRY: Yes, yeah. He'd change it around. Can you imagine that? Put a great groove behind it and you'd have a new smash.

(Soundbite of music, "Just the Way You Are")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Don't go trying some new fashion. Don't change the color of your hair. Baby, you always have my unspoken passion although I might not seem to care.

INSKEEP: Was he the kind of guy who, if he walked into the room, he owned that room?

Mr. PERRY: Exactly. He was that - you know, I used to tell him all the time, Barry, if you weren't this artist, you'd have to be somebody because if we were all living in the jungle you'd end up being the king. He's 6'1", he's tall, and then when he speaks, that voice, you know, you just - he had a way of saying -how are you, sweetheart? - to the ladies that would just knock them out.

INSKEEP: Forgive me for asking, but you've spoken of Barry White a number of times in the present tense, as if perhaps you feel he's almost still with us in a way.

Mr. PERRY: I do. Well, I was personal friends with him for 30-something years and we worked together, so for me he's always here. And with all of this music he's left behind, you know, it's - he's still with us.

INSKEEP: Well, Jack Perry, thanks very much.

Mr. PERRY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jack Perry produced "Unlimited," a box set by the late Barry White. And you can hear songs from that box set at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music, "Just the Way You Are")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) I said I love you and that's forever. And this I promise from my heart. Oh lord. I could not love you�

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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