Billy Preston Dies At 59 Jun 6, 2006 15:49:51 GMT -5
Post by Kay on Jun 6, 2006 15:49:51 GMT -5
Billy Preston, "fifth Beatle," dead at 59 By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Keyboardist Billy Preston, a so-called "fifth Beatle" who also played with the Rolling Stones and enjoyed solo success in his own right, died in Arizona on Tuesday after a long illness. He was 59.
Preston had been in a coma at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea in Scottsdale, Arizona, since last November after suffering kidney failure and related illnesses, the legacy of a longtime battle with drugs that landed him in prison in the late 1990s.
His sister, Lettie Preston, told Reuters his condition worsened over the weekend. An autopsy will be performed, and his funeral will take place in Los Angeles, she said.
A young keyboards prodigy, the Houston, Texas, native spent most of his life in the entertainment business. While still a teenager, he played with the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Little Richard and Ray Charles. With his large Afro hairstyle, ever-present gap-toothed smile and funky clothing style, he was a popular on-stage presence.
He entered the Beatles' orbit in 1969, as the band was on the verge of breaking up, and helped to soothe some of the tension. He performed on both sides of the "Get Back"/"Don't Let Me Down" single, which was credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston" -- the first time the band had shared the spotlight with a sideman. He also accompanied them during their last concert that year, the famous rooftop gig in London.
In the early 1970s, he topped the charts as a solo act with the Grammy-winning instrumental "Outa Space," "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing." He also wrote Joe Cocker's 1974 hit "You Are So Beautiful."
At the same time, he was becoming a fixture with the Rolling Stones, recording such tracks as "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "Heartbreaker," and playing on several tours.
"He's just such a great player, singer and songwriter and has spiced up so many recordings with his keyboard prowess," said current Rolling Stones tour keyboardist Chuck Leavell. "He's one of my true heroes."
Preston's private life was darker. In 1997, a California judge sentenced him to three years in prison for violating the terms of his probation for a cocaine possession conviction handed out earlier that year.
Born William Everett Preston on September 9, 1946, he moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 2. He appeared in the 1958 film "St. Louis Blues," which starred Nat King Cole as bluesman W.C. Handy. Preston played Handy as a child. Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson was also in the film, and he would go on to play organ on some of her best-known recordings, including "In the Upper Room."