Murray The K wanted to be the Fifth Beatle, but I think Billy Preston earned the title. Considering the legacy of the band and the state of society in those days, adding Billy Preston as a member of The Beatles might have ended racism in 1970.
Back in the 60’s, it wasn’t unusual for musicians to be all over a band’s album and get no credit whatsoever. Motown, Stax and other labels had crack house bands that made everyone sound great. Most pop acts were noted for their vocal performances while a session band did most of the work in anonymity. Highly paid work, mind you, but still behind the pop culture curtain.
Consider that most people were shocked when The Monkees admitted that other musicians played on their albums, and at the time they were just four actors pretending to be a band! Glen Campbell and Jimmy Page played on countless sessions before becoming famous under their own name, much like many of the classic songwriters (Neil Diamond, Carole King, Burt Bacharach, etc.) figured out that you could make a ton of money behind the scenes but a ton more out front.
Billy Preston – has he ever not been smiling? – added a great vibe to the Beatles sound. His solo in “Get Back” makes the song what it is, and the track is actually credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston” – the only time in the band’s career outside of the Tony Sheridan era where another artist shares billing with them. Nice resume, Mr. Preston!
Sadly, we lost him in 2006, three months shy of his 60th birthday. So whether you know him from his long list of guest stints (everyone from Little Richard and Ray Charles to Johnny Cash and The Rolling Stones – the list is almost endless) or his own chart topping hits “Nothing from Nothing” and “Will it Go Round In Circles“, celebrate the memory of Billy Preston today.
Billy Preston on Wikipedia.