Wednesday, June 07, 2006

That's the Way God Planned It

Billy Preston died yesterday at age 59. This name probably does not ring a bell for many people, but for a Beatles devotee like myself, his loss will be recognized as what it is: a very sad loss.

Billy was one of those musicians who seemingly was everywhere for a period of time, yet never really got enough credit for his work. He played with Little Richard, was a keyboard prodigy (like Stevie Wonder) at age 12, was the only artist ever credited on a Beatles single ("Get Back" by The Beatles with Billy Preston), he played at their final ever live performance on the rooftop of Abbey Road studios, played on 5 Rolling Stones albums, plus albums by Elton John, Bob Dylan (the classic Blood on the Tracks), a few Beatles solo albums, co-wrote the Joe Cocker classic "You Are So Beautiful," won a few Grammys, had two solo #1 hits and was the first ever musical guest on Saturday Night Live.

He was also a man who was always smiling - his big toothy grin was many times accompanied by a larger than life afro. His positive energy can be seen on this clip. This is from the famous Concert for Bangla Desh - the very first all-star charity concert. Billy manages to upstage Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and George Harrison with his one song showcase of his Gospel hit, "That's the Way God Planned It." His vocals and organ absolutely smoke on this live recording, but the true legacy of Billy comes not with his voice or his hands, but with his feet. Watch, towards the end of the performance, as Billy leaps up from his organ, as if somehow beyond his own control and starts dancing across the stage. This is met by smiles in the band and roaring applause from the audience. You see a man who doesn't simply want to dance - he needs to move, the music is so within his body.

Some thirty one years later, Preston again managed to upstage everyone on stage at the Concert for George - a tribute to his friend George Harrison. Taking George's "Isn't It A Pity?," Billy sings and plays his ass off, in the company of Paul McCartney, Clapton, Tom Petty and more once again steals the show with his consomate musicianship. Sure, lots of Billy's records were less than fantastic. Sure, he had drug problems and served time in prison. But listen to his early 70s material, with or without other artists surrounding him, and you will be pleasantly surprised at just how talented this unsung organist was. You'll be missed, Billy. Rest in Peace.


At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If your day wasn't already bad enough, John Tenta died today from bladder cancer at age 42.

Matt P

At 11:52 PM, Anonymous toby said...

WORD about Billy's playing on The Concert for George.


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