Billy Preston: 1946-2006
The Real Fifth Beatle
June 6 - Billy Preston has died after a long illness as a result of malignant hypertension that resulted in kidney failure and other complications.
Billy Preston began his career playing in the bands of Little Richard and Ray Charles as a keyboardist, however he was probably best known for his work with the Beatles. He played on their 1970 Let It Be album and on the songs "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and "Something", from 1969's Abbey Road. Signed to their Apple 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 break up of The Beatles; he was the first artist to record My Sweet Lord (the single flopped), and he was on several of George's 70's solo albums. Preston also made notable and energetic contributions to the Concert for Bangladesh, a Harrison-organised charity concert, and, after George's death, the Concert for George. Preston also worked on solo recordings by two other ex-Beatles, John Lennon and Ringo Starr.
After the Beatles, Preston played keyboards for the Rolling Stones, alongside pianist Nicky Hopkins. 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 on which he contributed harmony vocals on "Melody." . He toured as a support act with the Stones in 1973, and recorded his live album Live in Europe in Munich with Mick Taylor on guitar. In 1974 composed one of Joe Cocker's biggest hits You Are So Beautiful. In 1975 he became the first musical guest on Saturday Night Live.
In 1975 and 1976 he again toured with the Stones, this time getting to play two of his own songs, backed by the Stones, in the middle of every concert. The Stones and Preston parted company in 1977, mainly due to a row over money. He continued to play on solo records by Stones members, and made an appearance again on the Stones' 1997 Bridges to Babylon album.
The 1980s were lean years for Preston. 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. In 1991, 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 managed to conquer his problems in the early 1990s, and toured with Eric Clapton, and recorded with a wide range of artists.
Preston participated in the tribute concert "Concert for George Harrison" at Royal Albert Hall and his performance of My Sweet Lord has received critical acclaim. He also recorded on the last album of Ray Charles. He toured with The Funk Brothers and Stevie Winwood in Europe in early 2004 and then with his friend Eric Clapton in Europe and North America. It has been claimed that his big contribution to the Beatles' sound was made clear with the release of the Let it be naked album.
Preston played clavinet on the song "Warlocks" for the Red Hot Chili Peppers album Stadium Arcadium released in 2006. Although very ill, he jumped out of 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 contribution was playing Gospel-tinged organ on the Neil Diamond album, 12 Songs.
Listen / Download:
Get Back - The Beatles with Billy Preston
Melody - Rolling Stones (inspiration by Billy Preston)
Nothing From Nothing - Billy Preston