William Everett “Billy” Preston was born on September 2, 1946. He started as a child prodigy, and performed with Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and Andrae Crouch by the time he was 10. He was soon making appearances with Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Ray Charles. In the mid-1960s, he was a regular on the mid-1960s ABC-TV musical variety series Shindig! In the 1970s, Preston had hits with “Outa-Space”, “Will It Go Round in Circles”, “Nothing From Nothing”, “Space Race”, and with Syreeta Wright ,”With You I’m Born Again”. He also wrote “You Are So Beautiful,” a major hit for Joe Cocker.
In January, 1969, George Harrison recruited Preston for the Beatles’s Get Back/Let It Be sessions to ease tensions within the band:
… Billy was in London playing organ for Ray Charles. George Harrison caught Ray’s show at the Royal Festival Hall and spotted someone he recognized in the band. George said in The Beatles Anthology book: “I thought, ‘That guy looks familiar,’ but he seemed bigger than I remembered… I thought, ‘It’s Billy!’. Since we had last seen him in Hamburg in 1962, when he was just a little lad, he had grown to be six foot tall.”
Preston was rewarded with a credit on the “Get Back”/”Don’t Let Me Down” single, and was suddenly in demand, playing sessions for various solo Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and many others.
The Beatles then signed Preston to their Apple Records label, where he covered Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” for the album That’s The Way God Planned It. Later, while on A&M, he recorded a version of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” on the 1973 album, Everybody Likes Some Kind of Music. Preston also covered “Maggie’s Farm” back in 1965 on Shindig!
Preston and Dylan both played at The Concert For Bangla Desh, but did not appear on stage at the same time.
Preston later toured with Ringo Starr in 1989, along with Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and others. He also toured with the Band in the early 1990s, but reportedly couldn’t accept an invitation to permanently become a member due to legal problems.
If you believe postings on the internet, Billy Preston was born on September 9, not September 2, and also played bass on Dylan’s album, Blood On The Tracks. It’s even been hinted at on his official Apple Records page.
However, there is no evidence he ever played on sessions for Dylan’s 1975 masterpiece (especially the bass), or any other Dylan recording. It appears someone confused Preston with Minneapolis musician Billy Peterson, and the error has been copied ever since.
Here’s Preston on (not) playing with Dylan:
Preston muses when asked about the making of Dylan’s 1975 milestone, Blood on the Tracks.
No, Mr. Preston, I was asking about the making of Blood on the Tracks.
“What? Is that Michael’s record?” he asks. (Michael who?) (Note: Preston was possibly referring to Michael Jackson’s Blood On The Dance Floor 1997 remix album).
No, that’s a record by Bob Dylan.
“I don’t know, I forget a lot of sessions from way back then,” Preston admits. He pauses, then adds with canned sincerity, “It was great to be able to play with them and experience their style — I played the songs and felt out what they needed.” …
Preston’s phone kept ringing. Clapton called. Dylan called.
Or did he?
Preston died on June 6, 2006:
He did not go into the coma due to kidney failure or a failed transplant. He was not properly treated for pericarditas while in the Los Angeles area and suffered respiratory arrest holding Joyce Moore’s hand for dear life itself, in the ICU unit of a local LA hospital on November 21, 2005, from which he never fully recovered.
You can hear Preston covering Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” by clicking here, and watch him perform “Maggie’s Farm” on Shindig!, aired July 21, 1965, by clicking on the embedded link on the left. The complete Shindig! #45:
- Opening medley (song excerpts): Gene Pitney – “Carol”/ Sir Douglas Quintet – “Roll Over Beethoven”/ Bruce Scott – “Maybelline”/ Sonny and Cher – “Ride On Josephine”
- The Righteous Brothers – “Justine”
- Gary Lewis and The Playboys – “Save Your Heart For Me”
- Billy Preston – “Do The Boomerang”
- The Nashville Teens – “Tobacco Road”
- Jody Miller – “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”
- Billy Preston – “Maggie’s Farm”
- Gene Pitney – “Looking Through The Eyes Of Love”
- Bobby Sherman – “Seventh Son”
- Gary Lewis & The Playboys-“This Diamond Ring”
- Bruce Scott-“Sweet Little Sixteen”
- The Chiffons-“Nobody Knows What’s Goin’ On (In My Mind But Me)”
- Sir Douglas Quintet-“She’s About A Mover”,
- Bobby Hatfield – “Unchained Melody”
- Bruce Scott – “Let the Little Girl Dance”
- Sonny and Cher – “Do You Love Me?”
- Gene Pitney – “Last Chance To Turn Around”
- The Eligibles & The Blossoms – “I Want Candy”
- The Righteous Brothers – “In That Great Gettin’ Up Morning”
- Cher – “All I Really Want To Do” (BOB DYLAN)
- The Blossoms – “I Can’t Help Myself”
- Sir Douglas Quintet – “The Tracker”
- Gene Pitney – “The Race Is On”
- Finale: The Righteous Brothers – “Here ‘Tis”
(Note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on September 8, 2010.)
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