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Billy Preston

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Billy Preston in the early Seventies

Billy Preston in the early Seventies

photo from beatlesagain.com

Born:

William Everett Preston, September 9, 1946, Houston, TX; d. June 6, 2006, Scottsdale, AZ

Genres:

Soul, R&B, Rock, Funk, Rock and Roll, Pop, Pop-soul

Instruments:

Keyboards, Organ, Piano, Vocals

Contributions to music:

  • The only outside musician ever under serious consideration to be asked to join the Beatles
  • One of rock's all-time greatest keyboard players
  • An excellent singer-songwriter who scored hits for himself and other artists
  • Helped bring gospel into the pop mainstream
  • Played with the Beatles at the end of their career
  • A much in demand sessionman from the late Sixties on, playing on some of rock's most famous songs

Early years:

A true child prodigy on the organ and piano, Billy Preston came up through the gospel ranks, playing with Mahalia Jackson by the time he was ten, touring with Ray Charles by fourteen (!) and scoring Top Ten instrumental albums by nineteen. It was his association with the Beatles, however, which set the stage for his greatest success; Preston had met them in their Hamburg days while touring with Little Richard, and the band, particularly George Harrison, became fast friends with the organist.

Success:

When, in 1969, the Beatles were attempting to hold themselves together by recording a back-to-basics project, then titled Get Back, George invited Preston in, thinking an outsider would keep the group on its best behavior. Although that idea ultimately failed, the renamed Let It Be made Preston a superstar, which he capitalized on by recording several hit singles in the early Seventies, some instrumental, some vocal, all tinged with gospel and funk. He also became rock's most in-demand sideman.

Later years:

Preston kept a steady presence in rock through the Seventies, but throughout the Eighties he found himself fighting drug and alcohol addictions and the legal troubles they often entail. In the Nineties he cleaned up and enjoyed some success as an oldies act, but by this time kidney failure (brought on by hypertension) had caught up with him. Preston slipped into a coma caused by a heart infection on November 21, 2005, one from which he never recovered.

Other facts:

  • First musical guest on the initial episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975
  • Convicted for insurance fraud in the Eighties for allegedly burning down his own home
  • First black musical director of a late-night show with David Brenner's Nightlife
  • Miles Davis has a song called "Billy Preston" in his honor
  • Asked to join The Band in 1991, but legal problems kept it from happening
  • Last song played on: "Warlocks," Red Hot Chili Peppers, 2006

Awards/Honors:

  • Two GRAMMY Awards (1972)

Recorded work:


#1 hits:
Pop:
  • "Will It Go Round In Circles" (1972)
  • "Nothing From Nothing" (1974)
R&B:
  • "Outa-Space" (1972)
  • "Space Race" (1973)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "Outa-Space" (1972)
  • "Space Race" (1973)
  • "With You I'm Born Again" (1973) with Syreeta Wright
R&B:
  • "Will It Go Round In Circles" (1972)
  • "Nothing From Nothing" (1974)

Top 10 albums:
R&B:
  • The Most Exciting Organ Ever (1965)
  • Wildest Organ In Town! (1966)
  • I Wrote A Simple Song (1972)
  • Music Is My Life (1973)
  • Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music (1973)
  • The Kids & Me (1974)
Other important recordings: "That's The Way God Planned It," "I Wrote A Simple Song," "You're So Unique," "Fancy Lady," "Struttin'," "You Are So Beautiful," "Slaughter," "Wide Stride," "The Bus," "I'm Really Gonna Miss You," "Since I Held You Close," "Go for It," "One More Time for Love," "I'm Never Gonna Say Goodbye"
Wrote or co-wrote: "You Are So Beautiful," Joe Cocker
Appears on: Night Beat, Sam Cooke; The Beatles, Abbey Road, Let It Be, The Beatles; The Concert for Bangla Desh, Various Artists;All Things Must Pass, Extra Texture, Dark Horse and 33 1/3, George Harrison; Plastic Ono Band, Sometime in New York City, John Lennon; Ringo, Goodnight Vienna, Ringo Starr; Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, It's Only Rock'n Roll, Black and Blue, Bridges to Babylon, The Rolling Stones; No Reason to Cry, Eric Clapton; Aretha Live at Fillmore West, Young, Gifted and Black, Aretha Franklin; Wind of Change, Peter Frampton; Blood On The Tracks, Bob Dylan
Appears in the movies: "St. Louis Blues" (1958), "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978), "Blues Brothers 2000"(1998), "Ticker" (2001), "The Derby Stallion" (2005)

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