BILLY PRESTON
SOLDIER IN THE WAR ON POVERTY

09.09.46 to 06.06.06

Wow, what a day to die-but what a life he lived! I believe my first experience with Billy Preston occurred when he played on the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975. Preston was the first musical guest and performed his great upbeat soul song “Nothing From Nothing”—a longtime favorite of mine and in fact one of the first tracks I downloaded on I-Tunes in preparation for a Mystery Island barbecue. It’s just one of those great party songs that always feels right when you’re having a drink with friends. Hell, Billy was so cool Miles Davis wrote a jazz tune called “Billy Preston.” Now that’s better than any goddamned award you could ever win!

Preston, of course, was also that energetic dynamo that played keyboards on the Beatles’s “Get Back” and is probably remembered most for his brush with Beatledom and other favors he did for British Invasion lads, such as touring with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, but truly the highlight of Preston is witnessing him sing his own songs, like “Will It Go Round In Circles?”—another kickass jingle you have to fire up round the ‘cue this summer.

I once had the pleasure of seeing Billy live with Ringo Starr’s “All Star” band in the late ‘80s. Kind of a corny setup, yeah, but Preston actually stole the show with his passionate lead vocal on “Yellow Submarine.” Imagine that, Joe Walsh playing guitar, Ringo on drums, and Billy just belting it out front stage. He wasn’t a sing-it-by-the-numbers kind of a guy. You could really hear the soul-driven courage burst out of him every time he sang. I think the only other person I’ve seen sing with the same level of pure optimism, spirit, and power would be Al Green. Even Ringo singing “Boys,” that “song I did with those other lads,” didn’t raise the excitement of Preston helming the Yellow Sub and bringing it vibrantly to the surface of Cal Expo in Sacramento.    

Billy Preston had been suffering this year with kidney failure due to high blood pressure. Earlier today that struggle ended and a new journey began. Billy, we hope this new voyage is an even more psychedelic cool adventure than your action-packed rocket ride on Earth. You made an everlasting, constructive impact on pop culture. You sang you were “a solider in the war on poverty,” and you did your job. We are richer from having experienced your spiritual gift. We are less fucked up in the head in a seriously depressed world—with songs like “You Are So Beautiful” sung by Joe Cocker, your music, baby, your music, just one of your contributions. So thank you, thank you, thank you—and we’ll keep it goin round—cuz:

“Nothing from nothing leaves nothing, you gotta have something, if you wanna be with me.”

Indeed, you gave us something. Hell, you even played keys on the song “Something,” backing ol’ George, but he’s coming to get you, amigo. The Sub is at the dock. Get on, rock on, and we’ll all see you again, sooner or later, in a dimension no doubt enhanced by your presence.

G’night, Billy.

Bradley Mason Hamlin: 6/6/6


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