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  Billy Preston















Billy Preston’s gifts were as wide as his afro.  Born in Houston, Texas, he had amassed a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments by the time he was out of his teens: side musician with Mahalia Jackson, Ray Charles, and Little Richard, a spot on the early rock show Shindig, a role as W.C. Handy in the movie St. Louis Blues.

As an adult, he played with Sly Stone, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name a few.  Most impressively, his contributions to the Let It Be and Abbey Road sessions were deemed so significant that he is considered by some the Fifth Beatle.  He would be considered a legend even had he not recorded under his name. 

He had been making albums since the mid 60s, but he really blew up in the 70s, starting with the funkstrumental “Outa Space” in 1972.  The jam highlighted his keyboard wizardry.  His vocal chops were showcased on “Will It Go Round In Circles,” “Nothing From Nothing” and his standard, “You Are So Beautiful.”  His outrageous appearance and serious musical chops got him an appearance on the first episode of Saturday Night Live. Ray Charles considered Preston the inheritor of his legacy. 

He continued to record for the rest of the decade, switching to Motown in the late 70s.  There, he was paired with Syreeta for a number of duets, the most popular of which was "With You I'm Born Again," a hit culled from the Fast Break soundtrack. 

Although he would continue to perform secular material for other people (including a surprise appearance on a house music record for Spiritual Life Music), his own recordings took him back to his gospel roots.  He made several gospel LPs between the 80s and early 21st century. 

Preston fought a long battle with kidney failure, and a transplant was performed in 2002.  Still sick, he continued to play music, recording his parts for the Chili Peppers' Stadium Arcadium from the hospital. 

Preston died June 5, 2006. At the time, the cause of death was widely reported to be kidney failure, but according to the official Billy Preston site,,  

"He was not properly treated for pericarditas while in the Los Angeles area and suffered respiratory arrest holding Joyce Moore's hand for dear life itself, in the ICU unit of a local LA hospital on November 21, 2005, from which he never fully recovered."

Unfortunately, a debate over his estate has yet to be settled. 

Billy Preston's Deepest Grooves

Sixteen Year Old Soul (Derby, 1963)

 The Most Exciting Organ Ever (Vee-Jay, 1965)

 The Wildest Organ in Town! (Capitol, 1966) 

Club Meeting (Capitol, 1967) 

That's the Way God Planned It (Apple, 1969) 

I Wrote a Simple Song (A&M, 1971) 

Music Is My Life (A&M, 1972) 

Everybody Likes Some Kind of Music (A&M, 1973) 

The Kids & Me (A&M, 1974) 

It's My Pleasure (A&M, 1975) 
His most slept-on album in my opinion.  No hits, but some killer spaced out grooves that bring to mind the Stairsteps' 2nd Resurrection album.  And it has a "Preview Side Two"-styled interlude that may have predated Bootsy. 

Billy Preston (A&M, 1976) 

Whole New Thing (A&M, 1977) 

Late at Night (Motown, 1979) 

Billy and Syreeta (Motown, 1981) 

The Way I Am (Motown, 1981) 

Pressin' On (Motown, 1982) 

Ultimate Collection (Hip-O, 2000)
Greatest distillation of his career. Includes three syreeta duets.

Retrospective (Cleopatra, 2000)
A more underground-oriented companion to Ultimate Collection, this disc focuses on Preston's early forays on the organ.  Raw and gritty, with some gospel towards the end.  

Copyright ©2006  All rights reserved.

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