Billy Preston

William Everett Preston (2 September 1946-6 June 2006) was a soul musician from Houston, Texas. Along with Tony Sheridan, he was one of just two non-members to receive a performance credit on a Beatles record.

The Beatles with Billy Preston, January 1969Billy Preston first met The Beatles while touring with Little Richard’s band in 1962. At the time The Beatles were the opening act, and were yet to find fame beyond their home city.

They met again in 1969, during the fraught sessions for the Let It Be album and film. George Harrison, unwilling to further endure the animosity within the group, had walked out of the studio and gone to a Ray Charles concert in London, where he saw Preston playing the organ.

Harrison brought Preston back into the studio, where his enthusiasm and easy-going personality helped ease the tensions.

John Lennon was in favour of making Preston a full member of the band; Paul McCartney disagreed, saying there was little point as the band was close to splitting. Nevertheless, he worked with The Beatles from 22-31 January 1969, playing Fender Rhodes electric piano and a Lowrey DSO Heritage organ.

Preston performed with The Beatles during their 42-minute performance on the rooftop of Apple, on 30 January 1969, which was the band’s final public performance.

In April 1969 the Get Back single was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston”, as was its b-side, Don’t Let Me Down.

Billy Preston also played on The Beatles’ Abbey Road album. He performed on the songs I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and Something, though was not credited.

Beyond The Beatles

Preston was signed to Apple in 1969, and released the album That’s The Way God Planned It. The title track, produced by George Harrison, was released as a single.

The pair had a strong relationship after The Beatles split. Preston was the first to record My Sweet Lord, for his 1970 album Encouraging Words, and he appeared on several subsequent albums by Harrison. He also appeared at the Concert for Bangladesh.

Preston also worked with John Lennon and Ringo Starr, and performed and recorded with The Rolling Stones from 1971 until 1977.

The 1980s were more troubled, and he battled alcohol and cocaine addictions. He was arrested in 1991 for assault and cocaine possession, and was sentenced to rehab and three months’ house arrest. He did, though, turn his fortunes around enough during the 1990s to tour with Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and The Band.

Billy Preston performed at Concert For George, the 2002 tribute concert for Harrison at the Royal Albert Hall, where he played My Sweet Lord and Isn’t It A Pity.

In 2003 he was heard on Let It Be… Naked, the de-Spectored version of the 1969 Let It Be sessions.

His final public appearance was at a 2005 press junket in Los Angeles, for the re-release of the Concert for Bangladesh film. Afterwards he performed Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), My Sweet Lord and Isn’t It A Pity with Ringo Starr and George’s son Dhani.

Billy Preston had been battling kidney disease for some years, brought on by his drink and drug abuse. He fell into a coma on 21 November 2005, and died on 6 June 2006 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

According to his manager, Preston’s problems were caused in part by his homosexuality, a secret which he found difficult to publicly admit to; he was inadvertently outed by Keith Richards in his 2010 autobiography Life. The sexual abuse that Preston also experienced as a child also affected him deeply as an adult, and his unresolved problems contributed to his drug abuse.

In the years preceding his death he had worked on a collection of Beatles cover versions, which remains unreleased.

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11 Responses to “Billy Preston”

  1. sgtpepperbowman

    “Along with Tony Sheridan, he was one of just two non-members to receive a performance credit on a Beatles record”
    What about Eric Clapton? I think you left him out

    Reply
  2. Peter Kennedy

    Your ending is misleading. I believe Billy’s problems were rooted in the childhood abuse he suffered, not in his homosexuality per se. Also, noting almost in passing that Billy “appeared at the Concert for Bangladesh” is a rather extreme understatement. He bloody damn well nearly stole the show! I was there. Check out the YouTube clip if you’ve not seen it.

    Reply
    • Joe

      His homosexuality and the sexual abuse he suffered were both causes of his depression as an adult, according to his manager in a recent BBC documentary. If you have any first-hand evidence to the contrary (did you know Billy?) please let me know.

      Reply
      • Will Porter

        I was Billy’s band leader. He had NO problem being gay; he took boyfriends on the road with him; including the Stones tour. He said he knew he was gay at the age of ten when he was on tour with Mahalia Jackson. He never spoke of his abuse, except to say that the black church is full of it, and that Gospel choirs are the original “Gay /Straight Allliance”…lol

        Reply
  3. Michael

    Billy Preston was a genius on the piano and organ, he probably would have been a great addition to the beatles. Maybe someday when they are all together again, Billy may have his chance……

    Reply
  4. Paul Schmid

    Sorry, but Billy played a Lowrey DSO Heritage, not a Hammond at Twickenham and Apple. It is clearly visible in the film…look for its distinctive music rack.

    Reply
  5. Brian Ringrose

    I have only recently discovered Billy Preston, about 12 yrs. of age playing the part of a young W. C. HANDY, known as ”The Father Of The Blues ” in the 1958 movie ”St Louis Blues.” He appears in the first 10 mins. of the movie when his role is then taken over by Nat ‘King’ Cole as an adult. He was mixing it at an early age with other cast members, Pearl Bailey, Ertha Kitt, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald & Mahalia Jackson. About 4 years later he FIRST met the Beatles on tour with Little Richard.

    Reply

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