Billy Preston (September 2, 1946 – June 6, 2006) was an American musician whose work encompassed R&B, rock, soul, funk, and gospel…..as Preston was a top session keyboardist in the 1960’s….during which time he backed artists such as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Rev. James Cleveland and The Beatles. He went on to achieve fame as a solo artist….with hit singles such as “That’s the Way God Planned It”….the Grammy-winning “Outa-Space”….“Will It Go Round in Circles”….“Space Race”….“Nothing from Nothing” and “With You I’m Born Again”. Additionally, Preston co-wrote “You Are So Beautiful”….which became a # 5 hit for Joe Cocker….plus he performed on a string of albums and guest appearances with artists like Eric Clapton and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Preston was one of five musicians credited on a Beatles recording other than the group’s four members ….as he continued to record and perform with other artists….such as George Harrison after the Beatles’ breakup, Eric Clapton and he played keyboards for the Rolling Stones on many of the group’s albums and tours during the 1970’s.
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….but their subsequent meeting in 1969 was explained in The Washington Post by writing “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…..as George Harrison, a friend of Preston, had quit and walked out of the studio….and gone to a Ray Charles concert in London where Preston was playing organ….so, Harrison brought Preston back to the studio….where his keen musicianship and gregarious personality temporarily calmed the tension.
Preston is one of several people referred to as the “Fifth Beatle”….for at one point during the Get Back sessions….John Lennon actually proposed the idea of having him join the band…to which Paul McCartney countered that it was difficult enough reaching agreements with four….however, Preston played organ and electric piano for the Beatles during several of the Get Back sessions….when some of these sessions appeared in the film Let it Be….and on its companion album. Preston also accompanied the band on electric piano for its rooftop concert….which was the Beatle’s final public appearance. In April 1969, their single “Get Back” was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston”….which was 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, as his electric piano is prominent throughout….and he plays an extended solo. Preston also worked, in a more limited role, on the Abbey Road album….while contributing organ to the tracks “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Something”.
In 1978, he appeared as Sgt. Pepper in Robert Stigwood’s film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band….which was based on the Beatles’ album of the same name….and sang and danced to “Get Back” as the penultimate song.
In this video herewith, Billy Preston performsone of his originals….Fancy Lady…..which has a little bit of everything Billy Preston in it…including r &b, soul, rock and funk….as Musical Guest on a 1977 Saturday Night Live program.