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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|
|Occupations||Musician, songwriter, bandleader, actor|
|Instruments||Keyboards, organ, piano, electric piano, vocals, harpsichord, accordion, drums|
|Labels||Derby, Vee-Jay, Apple Records, Capitol, Buddah, A&M, Motown|
|Associated acts||Sam Cooke, The Beatles, Sly & the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, King Curtis, The Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton|
|Hammond B3 organ
Fender Rhodes Electric Piano
William Everett "Billy" Preston (September 2, 1946 – June 6, 2006) was a musician whose work included R&B, rock, soul, funk and gospel. Preston became famous, first as a session musician with such artists as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and The Beatles, and was later successful as a solo artist with such hit pop singles as "Space Race", "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing from Nothing", and a string of albums.
Alongside Tony Sheridan, Billy Preston was the only other musician to be credited on a Beatles recording after he was credited on the group's number-one hit, "Get Back", with the record title listed as The Beatles with Billy Preston. Steven 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" in a song and created the legendary eponymous hit.
William Everett Preston was born on September 2, 1946 in Houston, Texas. At the age of 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 first gospel album, 16 Years Soul, that same year. In 1965, he released his secular debut album, The Most Exciting Organ Ever, and that same year played organ and 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.
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 countered that it was bad enough with four). Preston first met The Beatles 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, always Preston's best Beatles buddy, had quit and 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 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, during which he joined the band for its rooftop concert, its final public appearance. "Get Back", one of the album's singles, 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."
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 the Encouraging Words album, Preston left Apple and signed with Herb Alpert's A&M Records.
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.
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. 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.
After working with The Beatles, Preston played keyboards for The Rolling Stones, alongside pianists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart. Preston appears on the Stones' albums Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, It's Only Rock'n Roll and Black and Blue. He toured as a support act on their 1973 European Tour and recorded his live album Live European Tour 1973 in Munich with Mick Taylor on guitar that same year. In 1974 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). Also in that year, and in 1976, he again accompanied the Stones on vocals and keyboards. This time he played two of his own songs, backed by the Stones, in the middle of every concert. Preston's 1973 Do You Love Me was the basis for the Stones' Melody on their 1976 Black and Blue album. The Stones and Preston parted company in 1977, mainly due to an argument over money. He continued to play on solo records by Stones members and made appearances again on the Stones' 1981 Tattoo You and 1997 Bridges to Babylon albums.
Preston's solo career began a decline in 1976. After years with A&M Records, Preston switched labels, moving to Motown Records where, in 1980, Preston had a top ten hit duet with Syreeta Wright with the ballad "With You I'm Born Again" that reached number four on the charts in the US. When Preston failed to match its success, the musician left the label in 1984 and promptly settled on session work from then on.
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 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 also invited to become a member of The Band in 1991, after the death of their piano player, Stan Szelest. He completed a tour, but his above-mentioned legal problems put an end to the collaboration before they had a chance to record together in the studio.
While touring and fighting his own health problems, Preston received the news that on 29 November 2001, his old friend George Harrison had died after a long battle with throat cancer. Preston, among many of Harrison's longtime friends, performed in the 2002 Concert for George in London, England, to play a tribute song. Preston participated in the concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and his performance of "My Sweet Lord" has received critical acclaim. Preston played the Hammond organ for the show and sang "Isn't It a Pity" and "My Sweet Lord" plus 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).
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 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 appearance in late 2005 at the Los Angeles press junket for the re-release of the Concert for Bangla Desh movie. He was in good spirits and talked to many in the press. Afterwards he played a three song set of "Give Me Love", "My Sweet Lord" and "Isn't It a Pity", featuring Dhani Harrison on guitar and Ringo Starr on drums for the final song only.
There still remains an unreleased CD of Beatles covers that he had been working on for several years before his death. Many tracks from this CD were previewed by him at The Fest for Beatles Fans shows in the years before his death.
|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 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, CA, 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. 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, Inglewood, California.
|Year||Album Title||Record Label||Notes|
|1965||The Most Exciting Organ Ever||VJ Records||Debut album, 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||Greazee Soul||Soul City Records||Release in the UK only|
|1969||That's The Way God Planned It||Apple Records||Debut album on Apple, Guests included 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||Live European Tour 1973||A&M Records||Live album|
|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|
|2001||You and I||Just 2001||Featuring the Italian band "Novecento"|
|1965||"Billy's Bag" / "Goldfinger"||—||—||—|
|1969||"That's the Way God Planned It"||62||—||11|
|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||—||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.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Billy Preston|