Keyboard virtuoso who recorded with the Beatles
William Everett Preston, born in Houston, TX on September 9, 1946 died Tuesday, June 6, 2006. Billy was raised in Los Angeles, CA and was a prodigy on both organ and piano. By the age of ten Billy Preston was playing keyboards with gospel diva Mahalia Jacson. Two years later (1958) he was featured in Hollywood’s film bio of W.C. Handy, St. Louis Blues, as young Handy himself. In 1962 Preston joined Little Richards band to tour overseas. It was during this tour that Preston first met The Beatles, who were the opening act for Little Richard. Later, Sam Cooke hired Preston for his band. Cooke then signed him to his own label, SAR Records. After Cooke’s death, Preston began recording instrumental albums like “The Wildest Organ in Town” (1965) and “The Most Exciting Organ Ever” (1966). He worked in the house band of the pop ABC TV series “Shindig”, proving his talent as both vocalist and pianist. Preston then joined Ray Charles’ band for three years. George Harrison of the Beatles saw him with Charles’ band, remembered him from his days with Little Richard, and brought him to work with the Beatles. He played on the Beatles “Let It Be” album. In fact, the single “Get Back” is listed as “The Beatles With Billy Preston”. And Preston was the only “outside musician” to play during the Beatles last live performance high atop the Apple Records building. His connection with the Beatles led to Preston’s big break as a solo artist with his own Apple album. His first #1 song came in 1972 with the smash “Outa-Space”. But his first foray into the Hot 100 came in 1969 with “That’s The Way God Planned It” (#62 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart). Billy earned two Grammy’s, one for Best Pop Instrumental Performance (“Outa-Space”, 1972) and one for Album of the Year (“The Concert for Bangladesh”, 1972). Sadly, Billy Preston slipped into a coma in November of 2005. Keyboardist Billy Preston passed away Tuesday, June 6, 2006.