Billy Preston: "That's The Way God Planned It"

'Fifth Beatle' Billy Preston Dies at 59 Tuesday, June 06, 2006 By Roger Friedman,2933,198353,00.html

'Fifth Beatle' Billy Preston Dies at 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 21, but was still struggling to recover. He died at Shea Scottsdale Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., 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' 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 include "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 (see below), 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 Bangladesh." Last year, in one of his final appearances, he performed at a reunion in Los Angeles for the release of the Bangladesh DVD with Ringo Starr 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.

A few Notes on Billy Preston

A couple of weeks ago, near the end of the day at the Philadelphia Black Heritage Festival, a Philly Soul-Patroller came up to me and said....

"I figured that you would dig this, after all Clark Park has traditionally been a "black hippie" kind of a place here in Philly, it's a perfect place to have this kind of event..."

Today when I heard about the passing of Billy Preston, I thought about that comment and smiled. I never met the man and I never had a conversation with him. Nevertheless it always felt like he was a "friend".

Earlier today, right after I heard about Billy Preston's passing I called Clarence Burke Jr. of the Five Stairsteps. Clarence doesn't have internet access; I figured that he had not heard yet. When I interviewed Clarence Burke Jr. a few years ago, he talked quite a bit about Billy Preston and how instrumental he had been in the career of the Five Stairsteps. So I figured that he would want to know about the passing of Billy Preston.

Clarence said...."Damn man, Billy Preston was a good guy. Let me get off the phone with you Bob, I need to call my brothers and let them know about this".

To me that's how I always thought about Billy Preston. Sure he was a great artist, singer and instrumentalist. But he was also a revolutionary, because he was willing to step out there and help to create some bridges for the rest of us to walk over. For example, he created a "bridge" for the Five Stairsteps to walk over, which led to them working with George Harrison.

The first time I saw a picture of Billy Preston with the Beatles it was in a magazine. It was so long ago I can't remember which one. But I can remember staring at the picture and wondering just who was this brotha hanging out with the Beatles.

I don't think that it's any accident that both Billy Preston and Jimi Hendrix came out of Little Richard's band. I think that they both learned what it meant to be a "rock n' roll star" from Little Richard and they learned that they wanted that for themselves. I think that they also learned that if they truly wanted to be "rock n' roll stars", that they would have to "cross over to the other side" in order to attain that. Back in the late 1960's I doubt if "crossing over" was an easy thing to do. But both Billy Preston and Jimi Hendrix were successful in doing so. I have often wondered if the two of them ever played together or if Hendrix had ever considered adding Billy Preston to the Band of Gypsy's?

I also think that they thought that "crossing back" could be accomplished as well.

Jimi Hendrix didn't live long enough to "cross back", although clearly he was on the way by the time he passed. However Billy Preston was able to "cross back" and when he did "cross back", he came back first as a "hard core funkateer" and then later as a balladeer. He was able to score big hit records that appealed across the demographic lines. Billy Preston created bridges and by doing so, he helped to bring people together.

I think that without ever saying a word about it, Billy Preston taught all who observed him a valuable lesson about race in amerikkka, and I think that, in addition to his musical accomplishments this is the legacy that he should be remembered for.

I never got to meet Billy Preston. I never even got to have a telephone conversation with him. I think that is my loss.

But I don't feel too bad.
I think that he was my friend, just the same....

--Bob Davis

CD Review: "Billy Preston: Ultimate Collection"

Check it out at the HIP-O website

Billy Preston is a true pioneer of our music!
Much like Jimi Hendrix, his music is so diverse that it defies classification. He is Blues, Soul, Rock, Funk, Gospel, Show Tunes, etc all at once and then some!
Billy Preston was born on September 9, 1946 in Houston Texas. By age ten, he was playing keyboards with gospel diva Mahalia Jackson. At age twelve he stared on the Silver Screen, playing the young WC Handy in the movie "St Louis Blues"

  • Billy Preston was a prodigy on organ and piano, recording an instrumental gospel album called The Most Exciting Organ Ever, for Vee Jay records in 1966.
  • During the 60's Billy Preston also played with and toured with the Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and the Shindig TV show, where he was a regular.. He was a regular on the mid-'60s ABC-TV Shindig series, proving his talent as both vocalist and pianist.
  • In 1968 George Harrison brought Billy in to play keyboards on some of the tracks on the Beatles album Let It Be. Billy Preston is the STAR of the Get Back hit single and the Beatles even give him a credit on the 45!
  • Next to Jimi Hendrix, he is probably the most famous of the 60's group of "Black Rockers".
  • During the 1970's in retrospect, his career was kinda like a "prototype" for the kind of career that Rick James would later have, in my opinion.
  • In 1972 he laid down what was perhaps the WILDEST, FAR OUT INSTRUMENTAL JAM of all time with "Outta Space"
  • In 1979 he combined with the angelic voice of Syreeta Wright to create the erotic/blasphemous masterpiece "With You I'm Born Again"

    These songs and many more Billy Preston songs appear on the recent HIP-O records release entitled "Billy Preston: Ultimate Collection"
    Check it out at the HIP-O website


    "I got a song ain't got no melody, I'm a gonna sang it to mah friends…"

    Now if EVER someone sounded like they were high when they wrote a song, this was it…
    But it was a hit record and people used to J-A-M on this record at house parties.
    Can I explain the song?
    (of course not, even he says that he can't explain the damn thing…
    Just know that it's PHUNKY


    Sometimes when writing these reviews I run up against the limitations of the english language and the total inadequacy of using text as a medium to describe music. This is one of those times. I am TOTALLY UNABLE TO PROVIDE A WRITTEN DESCRIPTION OF THIS SONG MYSELF.

    So this one time I am going to rely on someone else,

    Spoiks of the Acid Logic website….

    "You really can't deny that Billy Preston is the funkiest, grooviest MF on the planet. And to anyone that says Billy Preston isn't the funkiest, grooviest MF on the planet, I say "Step back, b*tch! I've got words *for your mother!" It all comes down to the Preston classic, "Outta-Space" (a tune most recently re-introduced to American culture through a series of Intel ads.) How can you not groove to this funkified instrumental madness - a montage of clavinet grooves, moog madness and spiny guitar. It's not a song about "melody" or "chord progressions" but simply vibe. A vibe of spacey grooviness: the kind of hoodoo John Glenn must have tripped out on when he was jiving with the star people. That is "Outta-Space": pure mood music, man... and the mood is full speed freak!

    The way it zooms in and out of cosmic asteroids towards the trippathon of lunar madness. No doubt, P-Funk owes a lot of it's spacey iconography to way out groves of Billy P. James Brown may have invented Funk, but it was Billy Preston who invented Psychedelic Funk - the kind of juice you get flowing when you mix your Angel Dust with your LSD. Laid down and groovy, it's the kind of funk that let's you soak up the sweet sugar of the opposite sex while tripping the light galactic. With Preston, funk flew to a whole new level, "

    Outta Space surely has to be the FUNKIEST jam to ever be a #2 record on the Pop Charts



    "They changed the words and the melody, now it all sounds wrong, it sounds like a symphony…"
    Uh oh
    Somebody tried to mess with Billy's song…
    This song is Billy Preston's first song as a solo artist to be released on A&M records his mellow "I Wrote an Simple Song" sing-a-long


    badd, badd, badd, badd, badd, badd, badd,

    Now I am not usually a fan of Gospel music, but this song has always been one of my favorites and looking back the song was perfect for the times. This is a live recording from the George Harrison Bangladesh LP, however if one looks back at the 1970's FUNK movement for the traces of "spirituality in the music, this one isn't a bad place to start

    Much like on "Space race", Billy is trying too hard on this one. Although this record did make it to #11 R&B and #22 Pop, Billy Preston and his GOD SQUAD would NEVER again be able to take that damn trip to OUTTA SPACE again :

    This song does nothing for me and approaches "muzak". It could easily have also been done by Frankie Beverley and Maze :

    More filler

    Now yall remember this song, much like "Outta Space", it's a FUNK BOMB!!!
    But it's different from "Outta Space" as "Stand" is as different from "There's a Riot Goin On". To me "Space Race" sounds like a "commercial version" of "Outta Space". It sounds controlled/contrived in comparison Space Race sounds like it's from NYC…"Outta Space", sounds like, well, it sounds like it's NOT of this earth :

    When the Beatles first did this song I liked it (remember, Billy Preston played on the original and is sometimes called the "5th Beatle"). I like the Billy Preston solo version just as much

    Another Lennon/McCartney song sounds kinda boring to me

    This joint is SLAMMIN, it's also an instrumental, and it's MUCH FUNKIER than "Space Race"

    I have always liked this song a whole lot. I remember that it was a pop hit for Billy Preston. It's sounds kinda schmaltzy; however it's a very nice pop song, with a positive message.

    Billy Preston in some ways is like Rick James in that when it is only when he sings a slow song, do you realize that the man is actually an excellent singer! This song starts out with a MIGHTY gospel organ and turns into a very nice slow jam. This is a GREAT slow jam that could have been done just as easily by the Dells, Temps, etc of the same timeframe



    Of course this duet with the former "Mrs. Steveland Morris", is well known as a song which went to #4 on the pop charts. It's also one of the most beautiful/erotic love songs EVER laid down on wax! The words are beautiful, but Billy and Syreeta make lovemaking sound like it's truly a religious experience (and I agree with them). This song has been FULLY ROAD TESTED by me (several months ago when I first got the album) and I can assure you that it's best listened to with NO CLOTHES ON and it certainly contributed to a "personal spiritual experience" for yours truly

    Come bring me
    Your softness
    Comfort me through all this madness
    Woman don't you know with you
    I'm born again

    Come give me
    Your sweetness
    Now there's you there is no weakness
    Lying safe within your arms
    I'm born again

    I was half not whole
    In step with none

    Reaching through this world
    In need of one

    Come show me
    Your kindness
    In your arms I know I'll find this

    Woman don't you know with you
    I'm born again
    Lying safe within your arms
    I'm born again


    Check it out at the HIP-O website

    --Bob Davis

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