William Everett Preston was born September 2, 1946 in Houston, Texas. He moved to Los Angeles with his mother, never had a music lesson and was considered a child prodigy. In 1962 he became Little Richard’s organist. met the Beatles and in 1967 joined Ray Charles Band.
In 1969, as the Beatles were recording the Let It Be album George Harrison went to a Ray Charles concert in London. He brought Billy back to the Abbey Road studios with him where his “keen musicianship and gregarious personality temporarily calmed the tension” (The Washington Post quote). Sometimes referred to as the “fifth Beatle” he played on the Get Back Sessions and the famous Rooftop Concert. n 1978, he appeared as Sgt. Pepper in Robert Stigwood’s film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
He was signed to the Beatles Apple label in 1969. He had singles such as “That’s the Way God Planned It”, “I Wrote a Simple Song”, “Outa-Space” charting at number 2 (one of my favorites), “Will It Go Round in Circles” a number 1, “Space Race”, another number 1 “Nothing from Nothing”, “Struttin'” and “With You I’m Born Again” (with Syreeta).
Every keyboard player I know loves Billy Preston. You can spot his playing a mile off, whether it’s the Hammond organ, the Fender Rhodes or the piano. He had such a spiritual touch to his technique, it made him completely unique.Rick Wakeman
Billy Preston recorded 23 studio albums. In 1974 he released a live album entitled “Live European Tour 1973” on A&M Records. Miles Davis’ 1974 album Get Up with It features a track called “Billy Preston” in his honor.
Billy died at age 59, June 6, 2006, after a long illness as a result of malignant hypertension that resulted in kidney failure and other complications. He died at Shea Scottsdale Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he’d lived for the last couple of years.