Billy Preston

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Billy Preston
Billy Preston.jpg
Billy Preston visiting the White House in 1974
Background information
Birth name William Everett Preston
Born (1946-09-02)September 2, 1946[1]
Houston, Texas, United States
Died June 6, 2006(2006-06-06) (aged 59)
Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
Genres Rhythm and blues, rock, soul, funk, gospel
Occupations Musician, songwriter, producer, actor
Instruments Vocals, organ, piano, electric piano, harpsichord, keyboards, accordion, drums
Years active 1956–2005
Labels Derby, Vee-Jay, Apple Records, Capitol, 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
Website Billy Preston.net
Notable instruments

William Everett "Billy" Preston (September 2, 1946 – June 6, 2006)[1] was an American musician whose work included R&B, rock, soul, funk and gospel. Preston became famous first as a session musician with artists including Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and The Beatles, and was later successful as a solo artist with hit pop singles including "Outa-Space", its sequel, "Space Race", "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing from Nothing", and a string of albums and guest appearances with Eric Clapton, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others. In addition, Preston was co-author, with The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson, of "You Are So Beautiful," recorded by Preston and later a #5 hit for Joe Cocker.

Alongside Tony Sheridan, Billy 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". Stephen Stills asked Preston if he could use Preston's phrase "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" and created the hit song.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[3] 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 his exposure with Charles, several musicians began asking Preston to come to sessions, most notably the Beatles, who asked him to contribute to two of their albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Relationship with the Beatles[edit]

Preston is one of several people sometimes referred to by outsiders as a "Fifth Beatle". At one point during the "Get Back" sessions, John Lennon even proposed the idea of having him as the "Fifth Beatle" (to which Paul McCartney countered that it was bad enough with four).[4] 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.[5]

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 joined the band for its rooftop concert; the group's final public appearance.[5] One of the album's singles, "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 re-issue 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[edit]

Preston singing at the piano in 1971

Signed to the Beatles' Apple Records label, in 1969, Preston released the album That's the Way God Planned It and a single of the same name (produced by George Harrison). His relationship with Harrison continued after the breakup of the Beatles; he was the first artist to record "My Sweet Lord", in his album Encouraging Words (Harrison's own version of the single hit number one in the US and the UK and was the first number one by a former Beatle after they disbanded) and he was on several of Harrison's 1970s solo albums. Preston also made notable contributions to The Concert for Bangladesh, the Harrison-organized charity concert, toured with Harrison on his 1974 tour of North America and, after Harrison's death, The Concert for George. Preston also worked on solo records by two other ex-Beatles, John Lennon and Ringo Starr. After 1970's Encouraging Words, Preston left Apple and signed with Herb Alpert's A&M Records. That same year, he contributed to another hit single when Stephen Stills asked Preston if he could use Preston's phrase "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" and created the hit song for his self-titled debut solo album.[citation needed]

His solo career also 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 #2 on the US Hot 100, #1 on the R&B chart, and won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in June 1972.[6]

Over the next two years, he followed up with the #1 hits "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing", and the #4 hit "Space Race". All three releases each sold in excess of one million copies.[6] 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.[citation needed]

Preston supporting The Rolling Stones on their Tour of the Americas, July 23, 1975

After working with the Beatles, Preston played keyboards (including piano, organ, clavinet, and various synthesizers) for The Rolling Stones alongside pianists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart on 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 1976, 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 "Do You Love Me" was the basis for the Stones' "Melody" on their 1976 Black and Blue album.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] He continued to play on solo records by Stones members and made appearances on the Stones' 1981 Tattoo You and 1997 Bridges to Babylon albums.

Preston's solo career began to decline after 1976. After years with A&M Records, he switched labels, moving to Motown Records where, in 1980, he had a top-ten hit duet with Syreeta Wright with the ballad "With You I'm Born Again", which reached number four on the charts in the US. Failing thereafter to match its success, Preston left the label in 1984 and focused on session work.

Legal troubles[edit]

In 1991, he was arrested and convicted for insurance fraud after setting fire to his own house in Los Angeles,[7] 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.[8] After submitting to a drug test, he tested positive for cocaine. That year, he entered no-contest pleas to the cocaine and 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 assault charges ended the collaboration.

Later work[edit]

In 1997, Billy Preston recorded the album You and I with Italian band Novecento in Italy. The album was produced by Vaughn De Spenza and Novecento members Lino and Pino Nicolosi.[9]

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.[citation needed] 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).[citation needed]

In 2002, Preston appeared on the Johnny Cash album American IV: The Man Comes Around, playing piano on "Personal Jesus" and "Tear Stained Letter."

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.[10] His performance included a duet with Sam Moore singing "You Are So Beautiful" and was his last videotaped concert.

In 2004, Preston performed as a jazz organist on Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company, an album of duets, on the song "Here We Go Again" with Charles and Norah Jones.

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.[11]

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).

Personal life[edit]

Preston was an openly gay man but did not speak publicly about his sexuality.[12][13][14]

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.

Death[edit]

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 died on June 6, 2006, in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications of malignant hypertension that resulted in kidney failure and other complications. 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.[1] 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.[15]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

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. Guests include George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and others
1970 Encouraging Words Apple Records Guests include Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and others
1971 I Wrote a Simple Song A&M Records Debut album for A&M, includes the hit Outa Space
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 Billy starts using more synthesizers, features harmonica by Stevie Wonder on two tracks
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

Live album[edit]

Gospel albums[edit]

  • (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

Charted albums[edit]

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
1970 "Encouraging Words" 50
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

Footnotes:

  • 1 Charted in 1972.

Singles[edit]

Year Title Chart positions
US US R&B UK
1965 "Billy's Bag" / "Goldfinger"
1968 "Hey Brother"
1969 "That's the Way God Planned It" 62 11
1971 "My Sweet Lord" 90 23
1972 "I Wrote a Simple Song" 77
"Outa-Space" 2 1 44
"That's the Way God Planned It" (Re-release) 65
"Slaughter" 50 17
1973 "Will It Go Round in Circles" 1 10
"How Long Has The Train Been Gone"
"Space Race" 4 1
1974 "You're So Unique" 48 11
"Nothing from Nothing" 1 8
"Struttin'" 22 11
1975 "Fancy Lady" 71 23
1977 "Wide Stride" 33
1978 "Get Back" 86
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" [16]
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

As a guest/session performer[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c 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." 
  2. ^ "Song Stories: Love The One You're With". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  3. ^ 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."
  4. ^ The Beatles - A/B Road: The Complete Get back Sessions, January 24th
  5. ^ a b Harrington, Richard (June 8, 2006). "'Fifth Beatle' Billy Preston Made the Greats Even Greater". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  6. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins. pp. 319, 334 & 349. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  7. ^ Jon Pareles, "Obituary: Billy Preston, 59, renowned keyboardist - International Herald Tribune".
  8. ^ Edward J. Boyer, "Singer Billy Preston Arrested in Sex Case", Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1991.
  9. ^ "Collaborations - Novecento and Billy Preston". Web.tiscali.it. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  10. ^ "Guest Artist of the Legends Rock TV Show". Legends-rock.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  11. ^ "Red Hot Chili Peppers - Peppers Get Sick Preston Out Of Bed". Contactmusic.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  12. ^ 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." 
  13. ^ "Gay Singers". Unsung. TV One. Retrieved 2012-03-15. [dead link]
  14. ^ Fisher, Bruce, Unsung, TV One, 2011-07-25
  15. ^ "Billy Everett Preston", Find A Grave.
  16. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 436. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

External links[edit]