Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Billy Preston 1947-2006

It is mind-boggling...the frequency in which we are losing bona-fide R&B legends. We must now add the name of Billy Preston to the evergrowing list of entertainers who have recently lost their lives. Billy Preston was a child prodigy. His career began as the pianist/organist for gospel legend Mahalia Jackson while in his early teens. Preston then was signed to Sam Cooke's SAR/Derby label but shortly after the signing Cooke was killed. Preston was a fixture on the ABC teen-oriented dance show "Shindig", where he became known as the fifth Beatle. Preston's ties with the Beatles became even stronger towards the end of the sixties when Preston played the organ on the Beatles' classic "Get Back". Billy Preston was the only artist American or otherwise to share label credit with the fab four. The single "Get Back/Don't Let Me Down" read "The Beatles With Billy Preston" George Harrison recorded the original version of "My Sweet Lord" for Billy Preston. After the Beatle break up in 1970 Preston began to tour with the Rolling Stones.
Billy Preston's solo career took off with the Quincy Jones' produced "I Wrote A Simple Song"
I was living in Spain at the time and I remember how frequently you would hear this song on the radio. When I got back to the United States I was suprised to see that "I Wrote A Simple Song" was the B-side in the States and that the hit was the rousing instrumental "Outa-Space" which won Preston a Grammy Award in 1973. After "Outa-Space" there was a succession of vocal and instrumental hits making Preston among the most versatile entertainers of the era. Both "Will It Go "Round In Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing" went to #1 nationally, more instrumental hits came with "Space Race" and "Struttin" Then Joe Cocker had a huge hit (#4) with Billy Preston's composition "You Are So Beautiful" After some troubles with drugs and the law Preston resurfaces in a somewhat unusual pairing with Syreeta Wright to produce the beautiful ballad "With You I'm Born Again" (#4 in 1980). Before the kidney problems began to challenge his mobility Preston made sporadic appearances touring with Ringo Starr's Hall Of Fame Band, but through most of the late 90s Preston was encarcerated or fighting kidney disease. One of Billy Preston's last appearances on CD was on the late Ray Charles multi-platinum recording "Genius Loves Company" Preston was the consummate entertainer, outstanding singer and instrumentalist. He will surely be missed.

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