Billy Preston

Billy PrestonFrom: Houston, Texas

Born William Everett Preston, his family would move to Los Angeles when he was three. It was at this time that Preston began playing piano. Preston was known as a child prodigy by age ten, and played backing organ for the likes of Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and Andrae Crouch. At eleven, he appeared on Nat King Cole’s national television show singing Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill.

In 1962, Preston joined Little Richard’s band as the organist. While performing in Hamburg, Germany, he met the Beatles. Preston played organ on Sam Cooke’s 1963 Night Beat album, as well as releasing his own debut album, 16 Yr Old Soul. He released his second album, The Most Exiting Organ,  and performed on the rock and roll show Shindig!, both in 1965. In 1967, Preston joined Ray Charles’ band, and following this exposure, he was asked by several musicians to come to sessions, most notably the Beatles.

The Beatles asked Preston if he would contribute to two of their albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be. It isn’t uncommon for Preston to be referred to as the “Fifth Beatle”. When John Lennon presented the idea, Paul McCartney felt that things were bad enough between the four of them already, and adding a fifth member would only make things worse. The meeting between Preston and the Beatles was well documented in The Washington Post:

“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 at several of the Get Back sessions, and some of the material would later make the film and album, Let It Be. He also joined the Beatles in the famous rooftop concert. The single “Get Back” was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston”, the only time that a joint-credit was given on official Beatles release.

After his time with the Beatles, Preston signed to Apple Records in 1969. The album That’s The Way God Planned It and a single of the same name were produced by George Harrison. Preston’s friendship with Harrison continued after the Beatles split up. He would appear on several of Harrison’s solo releases during the 1970s, and also made contributions to The Concert for Bangladesh, a charity concert organized by Harrison. He would tour with Harrison on other occasions, as well as playing at The Concert for George after Harrison passed away in 2003. Preston would also work with John Lennon and Ringo Starr on their solo albums. Preston would eventually leave Apple to sign with Herb Alpert’s A&M Records.

1972 is the year in which Billy Preston’s solo career peaked. The instrumental “Outa-Space” reached #2 on the US Hot 100, #1 on the R&B chart, and won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. The next two years saw Preston follow up with #1 hits in “Will It Go Round In Circles” and “Nothing From Nothing”. He also had a #4 hit with “Space Race”, a song American Bandstand host Dick Clark loved so much, he made it the instrumental for the mid-show break, using it for pretty much the remainder of the shows run.

Preston would go on to play keyboards for the Rolling Stones. Preston, along with Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart, played on Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street, Goats Head Soup, It’s Only Rock’n Roll and Black and Blue. Preston himself, would also appear on the Stones Tattoo You and Bridges to Babylon albums.

In 1991, Preston was convicted of insurance fraud after he set his own house on fire. He was also treated for alcohol and cocaine addictions. He was also arrested in ’91 for sexually assulting a 16-year old boy. He was sentenced to none months at a drug rehabilitation center and three months of house arrest.

Over the next decade, Preston would make several appearances with key musicians, such as Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, and Steve Winwood. Battling kidney disease for years, something brought on by his hypertension, Preston received a transplant in 2002. His health continued to get worse and he passed away in June of 2006.

Artist information sources include: Wikipedia

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1969 That’s The Way God Planned It
That's the Way God Planned It

  • That’s The Way God Planned It