Widely acclaimed as a virtuoso keyboardist, Billy Preston’s career in music lasted almost fifty years. He was a prodigy as a child, performing a duet at the age of 11 with Nat King Cole on television and appearing with him in a movie about W.C. Handy, a famous songwriter known as “The Father of the Blues.” He recorded his first solo album at 16 and went on to join the bands of legendary musicians Little Richard (while still in high school) and Ray Charles.
He did session work and/or performed with with Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Barbara Streisand, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, Eric Clapton, Elton John, The Jackson Five, Bob Dylan, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Luther Vandross and many other talented and famous musicians throughout the years.
However, he would reach a spectacular level of stardom in 1969 after performing on the Beatles’ singles “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” and their “Let It Be” and “Abbey Road” albums. He’s the only outside musician to ever be given songwriting credit on a Beatles song – on “Get Back.” He also appeared in the Beatles’ movie “Let It Be” joining them for their final public performance – their famous impromptu “rooftop concert” on top of their business headquarters, Apple Corps in London.
John Lennon and George Harrison were eager for Billy to officially join the group, but it’s said that Paul McCartney thought the group had enough trouble getting four musicians to agree. His friendship with Lennon and Harrison and musical relationship with the band earned him the nickname “The Fifth Beatle.”
In the 1970s, he hit the “big time” with his own solo hits, including “Outa-Space” (#2 overall, #1 R&B), “Slaughter” (from the movie), “Will It Go Round In Circles”, “Space Race” (#4 & #1), “You’re So Unique”, “Struttin'” and “Nothing From Nothing.”
As if this wasn’t enough for one musician’s resume, he joined another band of legendary status, The Rolling Stones. He played on their albums “Sticky Fingers”, “Exile On Main Street”, “Goats Head Soup”, “Made In The Shade”, “It’s Only Rock And Roll”, “Black And Blue”, “Love You Live”, “Tattoo You” and “Bridges To Babylon.” He also toured with the band from 1973 to 1977.
Billy Preston on tour with The Rolling Stones (L), performing with The Beatles (R)
The following song by Billy Preston has been one of my favorites since it was released in 1973. Enjoy: