William Everett Preston (September 2, 1946 – June 6, 2006) was an American musician whose work included R&B, rock, soul, funk, and gospel. Preston was a top session keyboardist 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", "Will It Go Round in Circles", "Space Race", and "Nothing from Nothing". Additionally, Preston co-wrote "You Are So Beautiful", which became a number 5 hit for Joe Cocker; 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.
Preston was the only musician to be credited on a Beatles recording other than the group's four members: the group's number-one hit "Get Back" is credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston". Preston continued to record and perform with other artists, notably George Harrison after the Beatles' breakup, and Eric Clapton, and he played keyboards for the Rolling Stones on many of the group's albums and tours during the 1970s.
Preston was born on September 2, 1946 in Houston. 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, Preston was entirely self-taught and never had a music lesson. By the age of ten, he was playing organ onstage backing several gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland and Andraé Crouch. At the age of 11, Preston appeared on an episode of Nat King Cole's NBC network TV show singing the Fats Domino hit "Blueberry Hill" with Cole. Also at 11, he appeared in St. Louis Blues, the 1958 W. C. Handy biopic starring Nat King Cole; Preston played Handy at a younger age.
In 1962, Preston joined Little Richard's band as an organist, and it was while performing in Hamburg that he met the Beatles. In 1963, he played the organ on Sam Cooke's Night Beat album and released his own debut album, 16 Yr Old Soul, for Cooke's SAR label. In 1965, he released the album The Most Exciting Organ Ever and 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.
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 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, to which he contributed organ and electric piano. Preston also accompanied the band on electric piano 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 organ 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 based on the Beatles' album of the same name, and sang "Get Back" as the penultimate song.
Signed to the Beatles' Apple 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 him. 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" (which displaced Harrison's "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" at the top on 7 July 1973) 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 St., 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 1975 and 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 like Mick Jagger's Wandering Spirit album, 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. In 1979, 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, contributing to works by various artists such as Luther Vandross (his organ solos were included on Vandross' 1985 hit "Til My Baby Comes Home"), Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle, among others. He served as musical director for Nightlife, a late-night talk show hosted by David Brenner that lasted one season from 1986 to 1987.
In 1991, Preston 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. In the same year, he was also arrested 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, appearing on his 1990 live album. 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 Louisiana Gator Boys supergroup.
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. Additionally, he sang "Isn't It a Pity", provided backing vocals on most of the other songs, and played the Hammond organ for the show. Ringo Starr called him one of the greatest Hammond players of all time (in the theatrical version of the concert).
In 2004, Preston toured with the Funk Brothers and Steve Winwood in Europe, and then with his friend Eric Clapton in Europe and North America. After he finished touring with Clapton, he went to France, where he was featured in one episode of the Legends Rock TV Show. His performance included a duet with Sam Moore on "You Are So Beautiful"; this was Preston's last filmed concert.
In March 2005, he 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 (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.
In late 2005, Preston made his last public performance, in Los Angeles, to support the re-release of the 1972 movie The Concert for Bangladesh. He played a three-song set of "Give Me Love", "My Sweet Lord", and "Isn't It a Pity", with Dhani Harrison and Ringo Starr joining on guitar and drums respectively for the last song.
Billy Preston was brought up in the African-American gospel tradition; he was a committed Christian throughout his life and he openly expressed his faith in works such as his 1970s hit "That's the Way God Planned It". However, his personal beliefs were sometimes at odds with the attitudes and musical expressions of the secular world of rock & roll in which he often worked; while he was apparently willing to put his religious views aside when working on tracks like John Lennon's openly atheistic song "God", he was reported to have been particularly uncomfortable with having to perform "Sympathy for the Devil" while touring with the Rolling Stones in the early 1970s. Preston was also deeply attached to his mother, for whom he wrote the song that became his best-known composition, "You Are So Beautiful".
Although the details did not become fully known to the general public until after his death, Preston struggled throughout his life to cope with his homosexuality, and the lasting effects of the traumatic sexual abuse he suffered as a boy. Although his sexual orientation became known to friends and associates in the music world (such as Keith Richards), Preston did not publicly come out as gay until just before he died. This was reportedly partly due to the fact that he felt that it conflicted with his deeply held religious beliefs and his lifelong association with the church, so he remained "in the closet" until shortly before his death. Keith Richards' autobiography, Life, mentions Billy Preston's struggles with his sexuality.
In an interview for a 2010 BBC Radio 4 documentary on his life and career, Preston's manager Joyce Moore revealed that after she began handling his affairs, Preston opened up to her about the lifelong trauma he had suffered as the result of being sexually abused as a boy. Preston told Moore that at about the age of nine, after he and his mother moved to Los Angeles from Houston to perform in a touring production of Amos 'n' Andy, he was repeatedly abused by the touring company's pianist. When Preston told his mother about the abuse, she did not believe him, and failed to protect him. The abuse subsequently went on for the entire summer, and Preston stated that he was also later abused by a local pastor.
Another traumatic incident, which reportedly affected Preston deeply, occurred in the early 1970s, while he was engaged to actress/model Kathy Silva. At this time Preston had become close friends with musician Sly Stone, and made many contributions to Stone's recordings of the period (including the landmark album There's a Riot Goin' On). According to Moore, Preston was devastated when he came home one day to find Stone in bed with Silva (who later famously married Stone on stage at Madison Square Garden). According to Moore, Silva's affair with Stone was the trigger that led Preston to stop having relationships with women. It was after this incident that he began abusing cocaine and having sex with men, and Moore has stated that she saw his drug abuse as his way of coping with the internal conflicts he felt about his sexual urges.
|Wikinews has related news: Billy Preston dies at 59|
Preston had suffered 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.
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|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|
|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 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|
|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|
|Year||Album Title||Record Label||Notes|
|2004||Billy's Tribute to The Beatles EP||iFanz Records||Featuring Sgt. Pepper, I'm Looking Through You & Give Me Love|
|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 It1||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|
Footnotes: 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)"||108||—||—|
|1971||"My Sweet Lord"||90||23||—|
|"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||—|
|"Do It While You Can"||—||58||—|
|1977||"I've Got the Spirit"||—||48||—|
|"Do What You Want"||—||flip||—|
|1978||"I'm Really Gonna Miss You"||—||59||—|
|1979||"Go for It" (with Syreeta Wright)||108||—||—|
|"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||—|
|1981||"Searchin'" (with Syreeta Wright)||106||—||—|
|1982||"I'm Never Gonna Say Goodbye"||88||64||—|
|1986||"So Good, So Fine" (with Ann-Louise Hanson)||—||—||—|
|2003||"Go Where No One's Gone Before"||—||—||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
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.
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.
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