Billy Preston – American keyboardist
Billy Preston (September 2, 1946, Houston – June 6, 2006, Scottsdale) was an American keyboardist. During his musical career, he worked with such performers as Mahalia Jackson, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Sam Cook, Little Richard, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and Elton John. His career embraced soul, R & B, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll.
William Everett Preston was a child prodigy. Since early childhood he had been playing the piano on his mother’s knee. At the age of ten he performed for gospel giants Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland.
As one of the first R & B artists to work directly with rock musicians, Billy Preston certainly chose prestigious company. He met The Beatles as a teenager while he was playing with Little Richard’s band, the largely unknown group opening for the flamboyant star in 1962. It wasn’t until 1969 and The Fab Four’s end, though, that he became more of a fixture in the rehearsal studio. Preston drove much of the Abbey Road and Let It Be albums. John Lennon was keen to sign Preston up as a full-time member, but Paul McCartney was against the idea.
Preston became the only other musician credited on a Beatles single Get Back, which became the final transatlantic number one for the band. He was considered a good friend by the entire group.
In 1971 Preston was headhunted by Sly & The Family Stone as guest musician on There’s a Riot Goin’ On. He also toured with The Rolling Stones.
Preston released the Grammy-winning Outa-Space (1972), then Will It Go Round in Circles? (1973) and Nothing from Nothing (1974) – both of which topped Billboard’s Hot 100.
His ill health required a kidney transplant in 2002. Billy Preston went into a coma in November 2005. He died on June 6, 2006 at his adopted home of Scottsdale, Arizona.
His final recorded contribution to the world was on the multiplatinum Red Hot Chili Peppers album, Stadium Arcadium (2006).