Billy Preston was born on September 2, 1946, in Houston, Texas. He was performing on the organ by the age of 10, and touring with Little Richard at age 16. Preston played on classic albums by artists like the Beatles and launched a successful solo career in the 1970s, releasing the hit songs "Nothing From Nothing" and "Will It Go Round in Circles." He died on June 6, 2006, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Early Life and Career
Billy Preston was born William Everett Preston on September 2, 1946, in Houston, Texas. The family moved to Los Angeles, California, when Preston was very young. It was in L.A. that Preston began playing the piano, at the age of 3. By age 10, he was playing the organ behind gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson. He also appeared on television and in the film St. Louis Blues.
In 1962, Preston joined Little Richard's touring band. He met the Beatles while performing with the band in Hamburg, and began recording shortly thereafter. In 1963, he played on the classic Sam Cooke album Night Beat. In 1967, he joined Ray Charles's band, gaining exposure that heightened demand for Preston as a studio musician.
Among the bands that recruited Preston were the Beatles, who asked him to play on their albums Abbey Road and Let It Be. Preston made significant contributions to the tracks "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and "Something." He performed with the band during their famous final performance on a rooftop, and in 1978, he appeared as Sgt. Pepper in the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Preston recorded as a solo artist for the Beatles' label, Apple Records, and for A&M. His major hits included the 1972 song "Outa-Space," which won a Grammy Award, "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing from Nothing." In October 1975, Preston appeared as the musical guest on the first episode of Saturday Night Live. He also continued to tour and record with bands such as the Rolling Stones during this period.
Preston's work influenced musicians beyond the realm of rock, soul and funk. Jazz musician Miles Davis was heavily influenced by Preston during the 1970s, honoring him with the track "Billy Preston" on his 1974 record, Get Up With It.
After 1976, Preston's career began to wane, but he continued to work as both a studio musician and songwriter. He rebounded in the 1990s, touring and recording on his own and with old friends such as Ringo Starr, Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton for the remainder of his career.
Preston struggled with drug abuse in the 1990s and was arrested several times. In 1991, he was convicted of insurance fraud after setting his own home on fire. That same year, he was arrested for sexually assaulting a teenaged boy. Preston was treated for cocaine abuse following both arrests.
Kidney disease and hypertension plagued Preston in his later years. A kidney transplant in 2002 did not solve his medical problems. Preston died on June 6, 2006, in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications resulting from his longstanding ailments.
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