Billy Preston was born in Houston, Texas on 2 September 1946 but was raised in Los Angeles. He passed away on 6 June 2006 in Scottsdale, Arizona following a lengthy illness. He was 59.
He began playing piano at three. While still a youngster, he directed a 100 voice church choir and began to play organ, although his feet could not yet reach the pedals. At 10, he was performing with Mahalia Jackson. Two years later, he made his film debut portraying the young W.C. Handy in St. Louis Blues.
As a young teenager, he played a wide variety of gospel singers and took part in his first recording sessions. At 15, he made the switch to rock and roll when he toured Europe. It was during this trip he first met The Beatles. Upon his return to America, he signed his first record contract. For a time, he was a regular on Shindig on ABC-TV, along with Delaney Bramlett.
In the latter part of the sixties, he toured with Ray Charles for three years. It was during a tour of England with Ray that Billy met up again with George Harrison of The Beatles. The Beatles’ boutique label, Apple, purchased Billy’s recording contract. Billy also became known as the “Fifth Beatle” due to his participation in recording sessions for Let It Be and the band’s final live performance, the famous Rooftop Concert.
Billy would go on to have a string of solo hits including, “Will It Go Round in Circles”, “That’s The Way God Planned It”, “Outta Space” and “With You I’m Born Again.” He would also work with Sly and the Family Stone and the Rolling Stones in the 1970s.
Billy first worked with Eric Clapton in the spring of 1970. George Harrison brought Eric into the studio to play on sessions for Billy’s album, Encouraging Words. In 1971, they performed together at the Concert For Bangladesh at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The men would not work together again for almost thirty years. In 2000, Eric invited Billy to play on sessions for Reptile. Billy toured with Eric for portions of the 2001 and 2004 World Tours and has continued to work with Eric in the studio.
Billy can be heard on the following Eric Clapton recordings: Reptile, One More Car, One More Rider (CD and DVD), Me & Mr. Johnson, Crossroads Guitar Festival (DVD), Sessions for Robert J (CD and DVD) and Back Home.