PRESTON (1946 - 2006)
Billy Preston, the gifted genre-bending keyboardist who collaborated
with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Red Hot Chili Peppers
and scored two No.1 hits of his own, has died of kidney failure
in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 59.
Sometimes referred to as "the fifth Beatle", he received
a recording credit with the group, when the single "Get Back"
was attributed to the Beatles with Billy Preston. He scored his
own chart-toppers with "Will It Go Round In Circles" (1973)
and "Nothing From Nothing" (1974), and he co-wrote "You
Are So Beautiful", which became a Top 5 hit for Joe Cocker
in 1975. By then, Preston's reputation was strong enough to earn
him the distinction of becoming the first-ever musical guest on
Saturday Night Live. He also played the role of Sgt. Pepper in the
1978 film version of the Beatles' concept album, and his career
included sessions with such greats as Little Richard, Ray Charles,
Bob Dylan and Sly and the Family Stone.
Born in Houston on September 9th, 1946, Preston moved with his
family to Los Angeles early on. A child prodigy, he played with
Mahalia Jackson by age ten and appeared as the young W.C. Handy
in the 1958 film St. Louis Blues. Touring Europe with Little Richard's
band in 1962, he first met the Beatles. After signing with Sam Cooke's
SAR label, he moved onto Vee-Jay, where he released two well-received
instrumental gospel albums, The Most Exciting Organ Ever and The
Wildest Organ In Town!.
Working in the studio band on the TV series Shindig!, Preston was
recruited by Ray Charles. George Harrison spotted him performing
with Charles on a BBC special and invited him to record with the
Beatles. In addition to "Get Back", the keyboardist took
part in the sessions that would become the Let It Be album. Harrison
encouraged the signing of Preston to the Beatles' Apple label, where
he released two albums, That's The Way God Planned It and Encouraging
Words. He also appeared on Harrison's first solo album, All Things
Must Pass, and on the historic recording of the Concert For Bangladesh.
Preston's connection to the Beatles would continue for years; he
worked on John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album and, in 1989, joined
Ringo Starr's first All Starr Band tour. Preston was a collaborator
in demand beyond the Fab Four. He appeared on a string of Rolling
Stones albums - including Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street and
Black And Blue - touring for a time as the band's featured guest.
In his own solo career he enjoyed several years of remarkable success
in the mid-1970s, beginning with the Grammy-winning hit "Outa-Space"
in 1972 and ending in 1980 with "With You I'm Born Again",
a Top 5 duet with Syreeta Wright. In later years, Preston made studio
appearances with singers including Luther Vandross, Elton John,
Gladys Knight and Enrique Iglesias.
The 1990s were difficult times, as the singer, who admitted a decades-long
dependency on drugs and alcohol, was in recurring trouble with the
law over charges including an insurance fraud scam that involved
a fire at his house. Though he spent much of the decade in prison
or on probation, he continued to perform whenever possible. Just
before his death, he appeared on albums by Neil Diamond (12 Songs)
and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Stadium Arcadium). A virtuoso, Preston
was also extremely versatile, spanning gospel, funk, classic rock
and many other styles. Prefiguring a 1973 album that he called Everybody
Likes Some Kind Of Music, he described his ideal audience in a 1971
Rolling Stone interview: "Young whites, young blacks, old people,
jazz people - I want 'em all."
Sullivan, Rolling Stone)