Sunday, June 11, 2006

RIP Billy Preston

This is a photo of Billy with what Ryan would call his "afro power" and George Harrison when they were invited to meet President Ford.

Billy Preston "The Fifth Beatle" passed away june 6, 2006 at the age of 59.

The great singer-songwriter and performer Billy Preston, the real "Fifth Beatle" has died after a long illness as a result of malignant hypertension that resulted in kidney failure and other complications. As a result of a medical insult he'd been in a deep coma since last November 21st, but was still struggling to recover. He died at Shea Scottsdale Hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona where he'd lived for the last couple of years.

Billy was called the Fifth Beatle because he played keyboards on Let it Be, The White Album and Abbey Road. He also played on the Rolling Stones's hit song Miss You, and often played with Eric Clapton. He also did the organ work on Sly & the Family Stone's greatest hits.

Preston's own hits included "Nothing from Nothing," "Will it Go Round in Circles," and "You Are So Beautiful," which Joe Cocker turned into an international hit. Preston was actually mentored by Ray Charles, and acts like Little Richard, Mahalia Jackson, and James Cleveland had a huge impact on him at a young age. In the early 60s, Billy went to Europe with Little Richard who was playing in Hamburg.

The Beatles were the opening act and as the story goes he was the one who made sure they got fed. His friendship with them lasted through the 1960s and he was the first act signed to Apple Records thanks to George Harrison. The resulting album is called "That's the Way God Planned It." In 1971, Preston played in "The Concert for Bangla Desh." Last year, in one of his final appearances, he performed at a renuion in Los Angeles for the release of the Bangla Desh DVD with Ringo and Harrison's son Dhani on guitar.

More recently, Billy can be heard on the latest albums by Neil Diamond and Red Hot Chili Peppers. He's also featured on the Starbucks soul album "Believe to My Soul" featuring Mavis Staples and Ann Peebles.I had the good fortune to know Billy the last few years, and saw him perform--as chronicled in this column--last August at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and last October at the Atlantis in the Bahamas. He was one of those spectacular performers who put everything into his show even though he had no working kidneys by then and was receiving dialysis. He was a warm, wonderful human being with a mile wide smile. He was also a genius musician, the likes of whom we will not see again.

Rest in peace, Billy. You deserve it.


boneman said...

Wow. Steve'n'I were just talking 'bout him this morning. We were trying t'figure out who the dude was that did the whole beatle alblum, Abbey Road, and in "jazz" form.
Didn't think it was Billy, nor do I believe it was Ramsey Lewis, but, I'm old, and too many years of smokin and drinkin caught up t'm'memory, and I just can't remember.

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