June 6, 2006: Billy Preston died in Scottsdale, Arizona of complications of malignant hypertensionthat resulted in kidney failure and other complications. Preston had battled kidney disease in his later years, brought on by his hypertension. He received a kidney transplant in 2002, but his health continued to deteriorate. He had voluntarily entered a drug rehabilitation clinic in Malibu, California, at the suggestion of guitarist Is’real Benton and suffered pericarditis there, leading to respiratory failure that left him in a coma from November 21, 2005.
His funeral was held on June 20 at the Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California, where his remains were interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery.
William Everett “Billy” Preston was a musician whose work included R&B, rock, soul, funk and gospel. Preston became famous first as a session musician with artists such as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and the Beatles, and was later successful as a solo artist with hit pop singles including “Outa-Space”, its sequel, “Space Race”, “Will It Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing from Nothing”, and a string of albums and guest appearances with Eric Clapton, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others. In addition, Preston was co-author, with The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson, of “You Are So Beautiful,” recorded by Preston and later a #5 hit for Joe Cocker.
Alongside Tony Sheridan, Billy Preston was the only other musician to be credited on a Beatles recording: the artists on the number-one hit “Get Back” are given as “The Beatles with Billy Preston”. Stephen Stills asked Preston if he could use Preston’s phrase “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” and created the hit song.
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BEATLES:
Preston is one of several people sometimes referred to by outsiders as a “Fifth Beatle”. At one point during the “Get Back” sessions, John Lennon even proposed the idea of having him as the “Fifth Beatle” (to which Paul countered that it was bad enough with four). Preston first met The Beatles as a 16-year-old in 1962 while part of Little Richard’s touring band, when their manager Brian Epstein organized a Liverpool show, at which the Beatles opened. The Washington Post explained their subsequent meeting:
“They’d hook up again in 1969, when the Beatles were about to break up while recording the last album they released, Let It Be (they would later record Abbey Road, which was released prior to Let It Be). George Harrison, a friend of Preston, had quit, walked out of the studio and gone to a Ray Charles concert in London, where Preston was playing organ. Harrison brought Preston back to the studio, where his keen musicianship and gregarious personality temporarily calmed the tension.”
Preston played with the Beatles for several of the Get Backsessions, some of the material from which would later be culled to make the film Let it Be and its companion album, during which he joined the band for its rooftop concert, its final public appearance. “Get Back”, one of the album’s singles, was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston”, the only time such a joint credit had been given on an official Beatles-sanctioned release (as distinct from an unsanctioned reissue of some Hamburg-era recordings on which they were the backing group for Tony Sheridan). The credit was bestowed by the Beatles to reflect the extent of Preston’s presence on the track; his electric piano is prominent throughout and he plays an extended solo.
Preston also worked, in a more limited role, on the Abbey Roadalbum, contributing to the tracks “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Something.”
In 1978, he appeared as Sgt. Pepper in Robert Stigwood’s filmSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was very loosely based on the Beatles’ album of the same name.
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