This week, inspired by last week’s article about Duck Dunn, I’m going to start a new series about lesser known luminaries in the world of music who nevertheless, consistently rubbed shoulders with rock and roll royalty! This will not run every week, but it will be a recurrent theme that will resurface from time to time. The first in the series will focus on Billy Preston.
Billy was a child prodigy who went on to record with both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who respected Billy so much that he was given his own segment on the Stones’ tours in the 1970’s. In the middle of their set, Billy performed 2 of his songs backed by The Rolling Stones! The Beatles gave him a label credit on “Get Back”, which featured Preston, and was released as “The Beatles with Billy Preston”. Billy was the only person ever to be credited on a Beatles’ record! (Music historian note: Yes, I know there were the Tony Sheridan records, but those were Tony Sheridan releases, not Beatles’ records).
In fact, Billy was widely considered the “real” Fifth Beatle, and there were rumors at the time that he was given full group membership status! What definitely is known is that most of the group favored making Billy a member, but Paul famously vetoed it by saying, “It’s bad enough with four”! Either way, he went on to have featured credited roles on “The White Album”, “Abbey Road”, “Let It Be”, and many Beatle solo records! He was playing with The Lads at their last performance on the Apple Records rooftop! He also had featured roles in The Concert for Bangladesh, The Concert for George, and numerous Beatle solo tours!
Billy had known The Beatles since Hamburg, where they met while Billy was on tour with Little Richard, and when they started Apple Records, Billy was the first artist they signed! The band on his first George Harrison produced Apple record consisted of Clapton and Harrison on guitars, Keith Richard on bass, and Ginger Baker on drums!
Billy was a child prodigy who received his early musical education in his mother’s church, and by the age of 10, he was regularly backing Gospel stars like Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland! By 12 he was appearing in movies and TV! As a young man, he was mentored by Ray Charles, who called him his successor! And he more than proves he’s up to the task with his performance of “Double Oh Soul”, backed by Charles and his band, in the opening scene of the documentary film, “Before the Music Dies”, a performance that you MUST catch! Google it! It’s the first scene and it takes less than five minutes. The rest of the film is good, but I’ll bet it takes you a while to watch it, because you’ll be replaying Billy’s performance over and over again! It simply is one of the greatest musical performances ever, by anyone, and is in the same league as anything Otis, Jagger, James Brown, Iggy, or Tina Turner ever did! As a young man, he was a regular on the 60’s network rock TV show, “Shindig” and was the musical guest in the premier episode of the first season of “Saturday Night Live”. He continued to find work in the movie business, and scored the Sidney Poitier movie, “They Call me Mister Tibbs”, with Quincy Jones!
His friendship with The Beatles led him to The Rolling Stones, who employed Billy’s talents on the classic albums, “Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main Street”, as well as “Goat’s Head Soup”, It’s Only Rock and Roll”. “Black and Blue”, “Tattoo You”, and “Bridges to Babylon”! During his career, Billy toured or recorded with Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Winwood, Johnny Cash, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, The Funk Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, Jackson 5, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha, and more, in addition to the previously mentioned musical luminaries! In 2006, Billy climbed out of his deathbed to record a part for The Red Hot Chili Peppers “Stadium Arcadian” album!
A prolific writer, Billy wrote “You are so Beautiful” which was a huge hit for Joe Cocker. He also had a string of hits under his own name, million sellers all, and won two GRAMMY’s in the process!
His influence was such that Miles Davis recorded a song called “Billy Preston” in 1974! He gave Stephen Stills the phrase, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”! He was invited to join The Band in 1991, and did complete one tour with them, but never got to record with them.
Personal problems threatened to derail his career in the 1990’s and he became gravely ill in 2001. In his twilight years, he was still scoring movies and TV shows like “Two and a Half Men”, “Desperate Housewives”, “The Simpsons”, “Inglourious Basterds” and “Rush Hour 2”.
Billy Preston passed away in 2006, just short of his 60th birthday.
This week’s live music picks are as follows:
Wednesday, May 23 – STEVIE WINWOOD at The Beacon Theater and guitar wunderkind, KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD at City Winery, both in Manhattan.
Friday, May 25 – SONS OF CREAM, featuring the offspring of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Peter Townsend bring their act to BB King’s and DYLANFEST 2012 is at Irving Plaza, also both in Manhattan. Don’t know who’s booked at Dylanfest, but it promises to be interesting, and you never know who might show up!
Saturday, May 26 – In the city, lead singer of The New York Dolls, DAVID JOHANSEN, aka Buster Poindexter, returns to the Highline Ballroom, and upstate, guitar whiz ARLEN ROTH rolls into the Towne Crier in Pauling.
Sunday, May 27 – The only show in town tonight is The CKS BAND at Club Helsinki in Hudson, featuring Bruce Katz and Scott Sherrard from Gregg Allman’s Band, and Randy Ciarlante from The Levon Helm Band.
Tuesday, May 29 – RAVI COLTRANE, the son of John and Alice Coltrane, who has developed into a phenomenal horn player in his own right, is at Birdland in Manhattan.
Thursday, May 31 – MOUNTAIN JAM kicks off at Hunter Mountain, and continues through the weekend.
Happy Memorial Day! Stay safe!