Billy Preston Biography

William Everett Preston, 9 September 1946, Houston, Texas, USA, d. 6 June 2006, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. Preston’s topsy-turvy musical career began in 1956 when he played organ with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and appeared in the film St. Louis Blues as a young W.C. Handy. As a teenager he worked with Sam Cooke and Little Richard, and it was during the latter’s 1962 European tour that Preston first met the Beatles, with whom he would later collaborate. Preston established himself as an adept instrumentalist recording in his own right, especially on the driving ‘Billy’s Bag’. He also frequently appeared as a backing musician on the US television show Shindig!

After relocating to Britain as part of the Ray Charles revue, he was signed to Apple Records in 1969. George Harrison produced his UK hit ‘That’s The Way God Planned It’, and Preston also contributed keyboards to the Beatles’ ‘Get Back’ (on which he was co-credited) and Let It Be. The following year he made a guest appearance at The Concert For Bangla Desh. Preston subsequently moved to A&M Records, where he had a successful run of hit singles, including ‘Outa-Space’ (1972), the US number 1 ‘Will It Go Round In Circles’ and ‘Space Race’ (1973), and another US number 1 in 1974 with ‘Nothing From Nothing’. His compositional talents were also in evidence on ‘You Are So Beautiful’, a US Top 10 hit for Joe Cocker. Preston, meanwhile, continued as a sideman, most notably with Sly And The Family Stone and on the 1975 Rolling Stones US tour. A sentimental duet with Syreeta, ‘With You I’m Born Again’, was an international Top 5 hit in 1979.

In 1989, Preston toured with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band and recorded for Ian Levine’s Motor City label in 1990/1, including further collaborations with Syreeta. He was arrested on a morals charge in the USA during 1991 and his life continued a downward spiral when he was sentenced to three years for a drugs possession offence in 1997. Preston made a welcome return to the stage at the November 2002 memorial concert for George Harrison. The same year he underwent a kidney transplant in an attempt to combat chronic kidney failure. He remained in poor health and was in a coma from November 2005 until his final passing in June 2006.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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