William Everett “Billy” Preston (September 2, 1946 – June 6, 2006) was an American musician whose work included R&B, rock, soul, funk and gospel. A virtuoso keyboardist, particularly on Hammond organ, Preston was recognized as a top session musician in the 1960s, during which he backed artists such as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and the Beatles. He then went on to achieve fame as a solo artist, with hit pop singles including “That’s the Way God Planned It“, “Outa-Space“, “Will It Go Round in Circles“, “Space Race“, and “Nothing from Nothing“. In addition, Preston co-wrote “You Are So Beautiful“, which became a number 5 hit for Joe Cocker, and Stephen Stills asked Preston if he could use his phrase “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” and created the hit song.
Preston was the only musician to be credited on a Beatles recording other than the group’s four members: the group’s number-one hit “Get Back” billed as “The Beatles with Billy Preston”. Preston continued to record and perform with other artists, notably George Harrison after the Beatles’ break-up, and Eric Clapton, and he played keyboards for the Rolling Stones on many of the group’s albums and tours during the 1970s.
Preston is one of several people referred to as the “Fifth Beatle“. At one point during the Get Back sessions, John Lennon proposed the idea of having him join the band (to which Paul McCartney countered that it was difficult enough reaching agreements with four). Preston played with the Beatles for several of the Get Back sessions, some of the material from which would later be culled to make the film Let it Be and its companion album. Preston also accompanied the band for its rooftop concert; the group’s final public appearance. In April 1969, their single “Get Back” was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston”, 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; 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, contributing 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 “Get Back” as the penultimate song.
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