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Billy Preston visiting the White House in 1974
|Birth name||William Everett Preston|
September 2, 1946|
Houston, Texas, United States
|Died||June 6, 2006
Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
|Genres||Rhythm and blues, rock, soul, funk, gospel|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, producer, actor|
|Instruments||Vocals, organ, piano, electric piano, harpsichord, keyboards, accordion, drums|
|Labels||Derby, Vee-Jay, Capitol, Apple, Buddah, A&M, Motown|
|Associated acts||Little Richard, Syreeta, Sam Cooke, the Beatles, Sly & the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, King Curtis, the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Eric Clapton|
William Everett "Billy" Preston (September 2, 1946 – June 6, 2006) was an American musician whose work included R&B, rock, soul, funk and gospel. A virtuoso keyboardist, particularly on Hammond organ, Preston was recognized as a top session musician in the 1960s, during which he backed artists such as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and the Beatles. He then went on to achieve fame as a solo artist, with hit pop singles including "That's the Way God Planned It", "Outa-Space", "Space Race", "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing from Nothing". In addition, Preston co-wrote "You Are So Beautiful", which became a number 5 hit for Joe Cocker. Preston continued to record and perform with other artists, notably George Harrison after the Beatles' break-up, and Eric Clapton, and he played keyboards for the Rolling Stones on many of the group's albums and tours during the 1970s.
Alongside Tony Sheridan, Preston was the only other musician to be credited on a Beatles recording: the artists on the number-one hit "Get Back" are given as "The Beatles with Billy Preston". Since Sheridan was labeled alongside "The Beat Brothers", Preston is, strictly speaking, the only artist to be labeled explicitly with "The Beatles". Stephen Stills asked Preston if he could use his phrase "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" and created the hit song.
Early life and career
Preston was born on September 2, 1946, in Houston, Texas. When he was three, the family moved to Los Angeles where Preston began playing piano while sitting on his mother Robbie's lap. Noted as a child prodigy, by the age of ten, Preston was playing organ onstage backing several gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland and Andrae Crouch. At twelve, he appeared in the W.C. Handy biopic starring Nat King Cole entitled, St. Louis Blues, playing W.C. Handy at a younger age. A year prior, Preston appeared on Cole's national TV show singing the Fats Domino hit, "Blueberry Hill".
In 1962, Preston joined Little Richard's band as an organist and it was while performing in Hamburg that Preston met the Beatles. In 1963, he played the organ on Sam Cooke's Night Beat album and released his debut album, 16 Yr Old Soul, that same year for Cooke's SAR Records label. In 1965, he released the album The Most Exciting Organ Ever, and that same year performed on the rock and roll show Shindig! In 1967, he joined Ray Charles' band. Following this exposure, several musicians began asking Preston to contribute to their sessions.
Relationship with the Beatles
Preston first met the Beatles as a 16-year-old in 1962, while part of Little Richard's touring band, when their manager Brian Epstein organized a Liverpool show, at which the Beatles opened. The Washington Post explained their subsequent meeting:
|“||They'd hook up again in 1969, when the Beatles were about to break up while recording the last album they released, Let It Be (they would later record Abbey Road, which was released prior to Let It Be). George Harrison, a friend of Preston, had quit, walked out of the studio and gone to a Ray Charles concert in London, where Preston was playing organ. Harrison brought Preston back to the studio, where his keen musicianship and gregarious personality temporarily calmed the tension.||”|
Preston is one of several people referred to by commentators as the "Fifth Beatle". At one point during the "Get Back" sessions, John Lennon proposed the idea of having him join the band (to which Paul McCartney countered that it was difficult enough reaching agreements with four). Preston played with the Beatles for several of the Get Back sessions, some of the material from which would later be culled to make the film Let it Be and its companion album. Preston also accompanied the band for its rooftop concert; the group's final public appearance. In April 1969, their single "Get Back" was credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston", the only time such a joint credit had been given on an official Beatles-sanctioned release (as distinct from an unsanctioned reissue of some Hamburg-era recordings on which they were the backing group for Tony Sheridan). The credit was bestowed by the Beatles to reflect the extent of Preston's presence on the track; his electric piano is prominent throughout and he plays an extended solo. Preston also worked, in a more limited role, on the Abbey Road album, contributing to the tracks "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and "Something."
In 1978, he appeared as Sgt. Pepper in Robert Stigwood's film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was very loosely based on the Beatles' album of the same name, and sang "Get Back" as the penultimate song.
Post-Beatles solo career
Signed to the Beatles' Apple Records label, in 1969, Preston released the album That's the Way God Planned It, produced by Harrison, the title song from which was a hit single in Britain. His relationship with Harrison continued after the Beatles' break-up in 1970; Preston was the first artist to record Harrison's subsequent international hit "My Sweet Lord", on his 1970 album Encouraging Words, which Harrison co-produced with Preston. He appeared on several of Harrison's 1970s solo albums, starting with All Things Must Pass; made a notable contribution to the Concert for Bangladesh, the Harrison-organized 1971 charity benefit; performed with the ex-Beatle on his 1974 tour of North America; and played at the 2002 Concert for George tribute, held at London's Royal Albert Hall. Preston also worked on solo releases by Lennon and Ringo Starr.
In 1971, Preston left Apple and signed with Herb Alpert's A&M Records. The previous year, he contributed to another hit single when Stephen Stills asked to use Preston's phrase "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with", a song on Stills' self-titled debut solo album.
Following the release of I Wrote a Simple Song on A&M, Preston's solo career peaked at this time, beginning with 1972's "Outa-Space", an instrumental track that further popularized the sound of the clavinet in funk music. The song reached number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and topped Billboard 's R&B chart, before going on to win the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. "Outa-Space" sold over 1 million copies in America, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA in June 1972.
Over the next two years, Preston followed up with the US chart-topping singles "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing", and the number 4 hit "Space Race". Each of the three singles sold in excess of 1 million copies. American Bandstand host and executive producer Dick Clark enjoyed "Space Race" so much that he used the instrumental for the mid-show break for virtually the remainder of its run.
From 1970, Preston played keyboards (including piano, organ, clavinet and various synthesizers) for the Rolling Stones, sometimes alongside pianists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart, on their albums Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, It's Only Rock'n Roll and Black and Blue. As the band's primary touring keyboardist from 1973 to 1977, he also performed as a support act with his own band (including Mick Taylor on guitar) on their 1973 European Tour. A Munich performance was documented in the live album Live European Tour 1973. In 1974, along with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, he composed one of Joe Cocker's biggest hits, "You Are So Beautiful". On October 11, 1975, he was the first musical guest on Saturday Night Live 's series premiere episode (along with Janis Ian). Preston's 1973 song "Do You Love Me" was the basis for the Rolling Stones' track "Melody", released on Black and Blue in 1976. Although two of his songs ("Nothing from Nothing" and "Outa-Space") were included in the band's 1976 live sets, the Stones and Preston parted company in 1977, mainly due to a disagreement over money. He continued to play on solo records by Stones members and made appearances on the band's 1981 Tattoo You and 1997 Bridges to Babylon albums.
Preston's solo career began to decline after 1976. After five years with A&M, he signed with Motown Records. In 1980, he duetted with Syreeta Wright on the ballad "With You I'm Born Again", which reached number 4 on the charts in the US. Failing thereafter to match its success, Preston left Motown in 1984 and focused on session work. He served as musical director for Nightlife, a late-night talk show hosted by David Brenner that lasted one season from 1986 – 1987.
In 1991, he was arrested and convicted for insurance fraud after setting fire to his own house in Los Angeles, and he was treated for alcohol and cocaine addictions. He also was arrested in 1991 for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old Mexican boy, after picking him up at a gathering point for day laborers. After submitting to a drug test, he tested positive for cocaine. That year, he entered no-contest pleas to the cocaine and sexual assault charges. He was sentenced to nine months at a drug rehabilitation center and three months of house arrest.
Preston overcame his problems in the early 1990s, toured with Eric Clapton, recorded with Gary Walker, one of the vocalists in his Los Angeles-based band, and worked with a wide range of other artists. He also toured with Ringo Starr and appeared on the 1990 live album Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. He was invited to become a member of The Band in 1991, after the death of piano player Stan Szelest. He performed on tour with the group, but the sentencing from his cocaine and sexual assault charges ended the collaboration.
In 1998, Preston played organ during the choir numbers on the UPN comedy show Good News. The same year he sang and played synthesizer in the film Blues Brothers 2000 as part of the super group, The Louisiana Gator Boys.
While touring and fighting his own health problems, Preston received the news that on November 29, 2001, George Harrison had died (having long suffered from throat cancer). Preston, among many of Harrison's longtime friends, performed in the 2002 Concert for George at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Preston's performance of "My Sweet Lord" received critical acclaim. Preston played the Hammond organ for the show and also sang "Isn't It a Pity" and provided backing vocals on most of the other songs. Ringo Starr called him one of the greatest Hammond players of all time (in the theatrical version of the concert).
He toured with the Funk Brothers and Steve Winwood in Europe in early 2004 and then with his friend Eric Clapton in Europe and North America. After he finished touring with Clapton, Preston went to France where he was featured in one episode of the Legends Rock TV Show. His performance included a duet with Sam Moore singing "You Are So Beautiful" and was his last videotaped concert.
In March 2005, Preston appeared on the American Idol fourth season finale. Playing piano, he performed "With You I'm Born Again" with Vonzell Solomon (who finished the contest in third place). The same year, he recorded "Go Where No One's Gone Before," the main title song for the anime series L/R: Licensed by Royalty.
Preston played clavinet on the song "Warlocks" for the Red Hot Chili Peppers album Stadium Arcadium released in 2006. Although very ill by this point, he jumped out of his bed after hearing a tape of the song given to him by the band, recorded his part, and went back to bed.
Preston's final recorded contributions were the gospel-tinged organ on the Neil Diamond album 12 Songs, and his keyboard work on The Road to Escondido by Eric Clapton and J. J. Cale. Preston made his last public performance in late 2005 in Los Angeles to support the re-release of the Concert for Bangla Desh movie. Preston played a three song set of "Give Me Love", "My Sweet Lord", and "Isn't It a Pity" and was supported by Dhani Harrison on guitar and Ringo Starr on drums ("Isn't It a Pity" only).
Jazz musician Miles Davis was heavily influenced by Preston's music during his funk rock period of the early 1970s.[who?] The 1974 album Get Up With It features a track called "Billy Preston" in his honor.
|Wikinews has related news: Billy Preston dies at 59|
Preston had battled kidney disease in his later years, brought on by his hypertension. He received a kidney transplant in 2002, but his health continued to deteriorate. He had voluntarily entered a drug rehabilitation clinic in Malibu, California, at the suggestion of guitarist Is'real Benton, and suffered pericarditis there, leading to respiratory failure that left him in a coma from November 21, 2005. Preston died on June 6, 2006, in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications of malignant hypertension that resulted in kidney failure and other complications. His funeral was held on June 20 at the Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California, where his remains were interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery.
|Year||Album Title||Record Label||Notes|
|1963||16 Yr. Old Soul||Derby||Recorded for Sam Cooke's SAR label (Derby was its sister imprint), Preston still at high school in Los Angeles. Re-released in the UK in 1969 by Soul City Records as Greazee Soul|
|1965||The Most Exciting Organ Ever||VJ Records||Fully instrumental|
|1965||Early Hits of '65||Exodus Records||Recorded in the same sessions as The Most Exciting Organ Ever|
|1966||Wildest Organ in Town!||Capitol Records||Arranged by Sly Stone|
|1967||Club Meeting||Capitol Records||A continuation of The Wildest Organ in Town!|
|1969||That's The Way God Planned It||Apple Records||Debut album on Apple, and featuring the European hit "That's the Way God Planned It"; guests include George Harrison, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton|
|1970||Encouraging Words||Apple Records||Guests include George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Delaney Bramlett|
|1971||I Wrote a Simple Song||A&M Records||Debut album for A&M, includes the hit "Outa-Space" and features contributions from Quincy Jones and George Harrison|
|1972||Music Is My Life||A&M Records||Includes the hit "Will It Go Round in Circles"|
|1973||Everybody Likes Some Kind of Music||A&M Records||Includes the hit "Space Race"|
|1974||The Kids & Me||A&M Records||Includes the hit "Nothing from Nothing" and the future hit for Joe Cocker, "You Are So Beautiful"|
|1975||It's My Pleasure||A&M Records||Incorporates synthesizers more heavily than previous Preston album, features harmonica by Stevie Wonder on two tracks and a guest appearance from George Harrison|
|1976||Billy Preston||A&M Records||Guests include Jeff Beck and the Tower of Power horns|
|1977||A Whole New Thing||A&M Records||Final album for A&M|
|1979||Late at Night||Motown Records||Includes the hit duet with Syreeta Wright, "With You I'm Born Again"|
|1981||Billy Preston & Syreeta||Motown Records||Album features duets|
|1981||The Way I Am||Motown Records||Guests include members of Toto|
|1982||Pressin' On||Motown Records||Final album for Motown Records|
|1984||On the Air||Megatone Records||Album features a Beatles tribute|
|1986||You Can't Keep a Good Man Down||D&K Records|
|1995||Billy's Back||NuGroove Records|
|2001||You and I||Just 2001||Featuring the Italian band Novecento|
- (1965) Hymns Speak from the Organ (Exodus Records, EX-53)
- (1973) Gospel In My Soul (reissue of Hymns Speak from the Organ)
- (1978) Behold! (Myrrh Records, MYR-1070)
- (1980) Universal Love
- (1994) Ministry of Music (D&K Records, D&K 86003)
- (1995) Minister of Music
- (1996) Words and Music
- (2001) Music From My Heart
|Year||Album||US Top 200||US R&B|
|1965||"The Most Exciting Organ Ever"||143||5|
|1966||"Wildest Organ In Town!"||118||9|
|1969||"That's the Way God Planned It"1||127||—|
|1971||"I Wrote A Simple Song"||32||9|
|1972||"Music Is My Life"||32||7|
|1973||"Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music"||52||3|
|1974||"The Kids & Me"||17||8|
|1975||"It's My Pleasure"||43||18|
|1977||"A Whole New Thing"||—||49|
|1979||"Late At Night"||49||73|
|1981||"Billy Preston & Syreeta"||127||48|
- 1 Charted in 1972.
|1965||"Billy's Bag" / "Goldfinger"||—||—||—|
|1969||"That's the Way God Planned It"||62||—||11|
|1970||"All that I've got (I'm gonna give it to you)"|
|1971||"My Sweet Lord"||90||23||—|
|1972||"I Wrote a Simple Song"||77||—||—|
|"That's the Way God Planned It" (Re-release)||65||—||—|
|1973||"Will It Go Round in Circles"||1||10||—|
|"How Long Has The Train Been Gone"||—||—||—|
|1974||"You're So Unique"||48||11||—|
|"Nothing from Nothing"||1||8||—|
|1979||"With You I'm Born Again" (with Syreeta Wright)||4||86||2|
|1980||"It Will Come in Time" (with Syreeta Wright)||—||—||47|
|"One More Time for Love" (with Syreeta Wright)||52||72||—|
|1982||"I'm Never Gonna Say Goodbye"||88||—||—|
|1986||"So Good, So Fine" (with Ann-Louise Hanson)||—||—||—|
|2003||"Go Where No One's Gone Before"||—||—||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
As a guest/session performer
- (1963) Night Beat (Sam Cooke)
- (1969) "Get Back" and "Don't Let Me Down" (The Beatles)
- (1969) Abbey Road (The Beatles)
- (1970) Let It Be (The Beatles)
- (1970) All Things Must Pass (George Harrison)
- (1970) John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon) - piano on "God"
- (1971) Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones)
- (1971) The Concert for Bangla Desh (George Harrison and Friends)
- (1971) There's a Riot Goin' On (Sly & the Family Stone)
- (1971) Live at Fillmore West (King Curtis & Aretha Franklin)
- (1971) Barbra Joan Streisand - Keyboards and Drums
- (1972) Exile on Main Street (Rolling Stones)
- (1972) Wind of Change (Peter Frampton) - Plays piano, keyboards, harpsichord, accordion
- (1973) Ringo (Ringo Starr) - Organ on "I'm The Greatest" and "Oh My My"
- (1973) Goats Head Soup (Rolling Stones)
- (1974) Dark Horse (George Harrison) - Electric piano
- (1974) Goodnight Vienna (Ringo Starr) - clavinet on the title track, electric piano on "Only You (And You Alone)"
- (1974) It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (Rolling Stones)
- (1975) "You Are So Beautiful" (Joe Cocker)
- (1975) Extra Texture (Read All About It) (George Harrison) - Electric piano on "His Name Is Legs (Ladies And Gentlemen)"
- (1976) Thirty Three & 1/3 (George Harrison)
- (1976) No Reason To Cry (Eric Clapton)
- (1976) Black and Blue (Rolling Stones)
- (1976) Love You Live (Rolling Stones)
- (1978) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Also acted the part "Sgt. Pepper" in the film
- (1981) Tattoo You (Rolling Stones)
- (1982) Gone Troppo (George Harrison)
- (1985) "Till My Baby Comes Home" (Luther Vandross) - Plays organ
- (1986) "Great Gosh A'Mighty (Been A Long Time Comin')" - Co-written with Little Richard - from the hit motion picture Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Little Richard - vocal.
- (1990) Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band - Plays keyboards and vocals
- (1990) Giovani Jovanotti (Jovanotti) - Plays keyboards & Fender Rhodes
- (1991) ...E La Vita Continua (Nino D'Angelo)
- (1993) Wandering Spirit (Mick Jagger) - "Sweet Thing", "Out of Focus", "Use Me", "Wandering Spirit" and "I've Been Lonely for So Long".
- (1996) Voyage of Dreams - Jephté Guillaume and the Tet Kale Orkestra - Plays Organ, Strings on "Al Di Yo", "Go Tell Them", "Kanpe", "Get Up")
- (1996) Donnie McClurkin (Donnie McClurkin) - Organ
- (1996) Love Brought Me Back (Helen Baylor) - Organ
- (1996) El Equilibiro de los Jaguares (Jaguares) - Organ/Hammond B3 on "Detrás de los Cerros"
- (1996) Peace Beyond Passion (Me'shell Ndegeocello) - Keyboards on "Deuteronomy: Niggerman"
- (1997) Bridges to Babylon (Rolling Stones) - Organ on "Saint of Me"
- (1998) Undiscovered Soul (Richie Sambora)
- (2000) The Harsh Light of Day (Fastball) - Plays keyboards on "You're An Ocean"
- (2001) Songs From The West Coast (Elton John) - "Electric organ" on "I Want Love", "The Wasteland", "Love Her Like Me"
- (2001) Everybody Got Their Something (Nikka Costa) - Clavinet
- (2001) Reptile (Eric Clapton)
- (2001) One More Car, One More Rider (Eric Clapton, live) - DVD includes live performance of Will It Go Round in Circles
- (2002) Travelogue (Joni Mitchell) - Plays Hammond B3 on the track "You Dream Flat Tires"
- (2002) "American IV:The Man Comes Around"(Johnny Cash) - Piano on "Tear Stained Letter" and "Personal Jesus"
- (2003) The Colored Section (Donnie) - Plays Hammond B3 on the last track: "The Colored Section"
- (2003) Concert for George - Including "Isn't It a Pity" and "My Sweet Lord"
- (2003) Get Born (Jet)
- (2004) Me and Mr. Johnson (Eric Clapton) - Also appears in the DVD companion Sessions for Robert J
- (2004) Crossroads Guitar Festival (Eric Clapton)
- (2004) Genius Loves Company (Ray Charles)
- (2005) 12 Songs (Neil Diamond)
- (2005) Back Home (Eric Clapton)
- (2005) Choose Love (Ringo Starr)
- (2005) The Concert for Bangladesh (George Harrison and Friends) (Re-mastered version & video)
- (2005) Tough on Crime (Rebecca Pidgeon) - Plays Keyboards
- (2006) Stadium Arcadium (Red Hot Chili Peppers) - Plays on "Warlocks"
- (2006) The Road to Escondido (Eric Clapton, J. J. Cale)
- (2006) Overnight Sensational (Sam Moore) Plays Hammond B3 on "I Can't Stand The Rain" and sings & plays on "You Are So Beautiful"
- (2007) Reach (Is'real Benton) - Plays organ on "Have A Good Time"
- (2007) Imagine (Howard Hewett) - features on organ as guest alongside Gerald Albright on sax.)
- Pareles, Jon (June 7, 2006). "Billy Preston, 59, Soul Musician, Is Dead; Renowned Keyboardist and Collaborator". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-28. "Billy Preston, the splashy gospel-rooted keyboardist whose career included No. 1 solo hits and work with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, died yesterday in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 59."
- "Song Stories: Love The One You're With". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- Digitally re-re-released on February 22, 2011. The review at theurbanmusicscene.com reads: "16 Year Old Soul is an album of percolating organ-infused instrumentals that offers insight into the roots of one of the music world's most innovative and genre-busting stars who died at the age of 59, in 2006. With songs covering a broad spectrum of styles from country ('Born to Loose') to R&B ('Good News') to jazz ('God Bless The Child') with pop and blues undertones aplenty, 16 Year Old Soul is a preserved-in-amber glimpse of an artist whose musical maturity belied his years."
- Harrington, Richard (June 8, 2006). "'Fifth Beatle' Billy Preston Made the Greats Even Greater". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
- The Beatles - A/B Road: The Complete Get back Sessions, January 24th
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins. pp. 319, 334 & 349. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- Chase, Donald (September 7, 1986). "He's On His Own In Late-night TV". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
- Jon Pareles, "Obituary: Billy Preston, 59, renowned keyboardist - International Herald Tribune".
- Edward J. Boyer, "Singer Billy Preston Arrested in Sex Case", Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1991.
- "Collaborations - Novecento and Billy Preston". Web.tiscali.it. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Guest Artist of the Legends Rock TV Show". Legends-rock.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Red Hot Chili Peppers - Peppers Get Sick Preston Out Of Bed". Contactmusic.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Richards, Keith (2010). Life. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-85439-5. "And he was gay at a time when nobody could be openly gay, which added difficulties to his life. Billy could be, most of time, a bundle of fun. but sometimes he would get on the rag. I had to stop him from beating up his boyfriend in an elevator once."
- "Gay Singers". Unsung. TV One. Retrieved 2012-03-15.[dead link]
- Fisher, Bruce, Unsung, TV One, 2011-07-25
- "Billy Everett Preston", Find A Grave.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 436. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Billy Preston.|
- Billy Preston's official site
- Billy Preston at the Internet Movie Database
- Fox News "'Fifth Beatle' Billy Preston Dies at 59" June 6, 2006
- The Complete Apple Records
- Allmusic.com "Billy Preston"
- In-depth biographical obituary about Preston and his work from NewYorkNightTrain.com