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
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.
Bradley Mason Hamlin: 6/6/6
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