Billy Preston is among the music world’s most gifted musicians as well as an often underrated influence on modern music. The Houston native was a prodigy, playing piano when he was just three years old and by the age of ten playing piano and organ in church as well as with artists like Nat King Cole, James Cleveland and Mahalia Jackson. In the early 1960s when Preston was fifteen, he toured Europe as a member of Little Richard’s band. While on tour he met The Beatles, and his relationship with “The Fab Four” would become a major factor in his musical career several years later. Back in the states, at sixteen years old, Preston released his debut album and gained the reputation as a master musician and showman touring the country with his band The Soul Brothers. During this time Preston was able to live out the dream of many a musician–to perform with their musical idol–when he became a protégé of superstar Ray Charles. Preston continued to perform, record and gain popularity. In 1969 he signed with The Beatles’ Apple Records and released the album That’s The Way God Planned It. His rendition of the title track was one of the most notable performances at The Concert for Bangladesh, the charity concert organized by Beatles member George Harrison. Preston also made his musical mark performing on The Beatles albums Abbey Road and Let It Be and would eventually become known worldwide as “The 5th Beatle.” In 1972, his solo career took off with the release of his groundbreaking instrumental “Outa-Space,” helping push the percussive sounds of the organ and clavinet to the musical forefront. “Outa-Space” made it to number two on the pop chart and number one on the R&B chart, and won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Of course old school fans remember Preston’s number one “Will It Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing From Nothing,” as well as the classic ballads “With You I’m Born Again” and “You Are So Beautiful,” the latter of which became a big hit for singer Joe Cocker in 1975. Up until his death in 2006, Preston continued to record and perform with such artists as Eric Clapton, Me’shell Ndegeocello, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. With over thirty albums to his credit (along with an additional fifty in which he is noted as a guest performer) his undeniable influence on modern music is intact and never to be forgotten.
Montrose Cunningham is an independent funk/rock/soul artist and devoted music aficionado residing in Dallas, Texas. When he isn’t digging through the crates–digital and analog–he’s jamming with his band or hanging with his daughter, sometimes at the same time. Purchase his latest release “Inertia” at www.MontroseMusic.com, visit him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @MontroseC.