Billy Preston Part Three
It’s time for Billy Preston Part Three, and I can’t wait to start, this blog.
In 1997, Billy Preston recorded the album You and I, in Italy, with Italian bandNovecento. The album was produced by Vaughn De Spenza and Novecento members Lino and Pino Nicolosi. In 1998, Preston played organ during the choir numbers on the UPN comedy show Good News. The same year he sang and played synthesizer in thefilm Blues Brothers 2000, as part of the Louisiana Gator Boyssupergroup.
On November 29, 2001, while touring and fighting his own health problems, Preston received the news that George Harrison had died, having long suffered from throat cancer. Preston, among many of Harrison‘s longtime friends, performed in the 2002 Concert for George at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Preston‘s performance of“My Sweet Lord“ received critical acclaim. Additionally, he sang “Isn’t It aPity“, provided backing vocals on most of the other songs, and played the Hammond organ for the show.
In 2002, Preston appeared on the Johnny Cashalbum American IV: The Man ComesAround, playing piano on “Personal Jesus“ and “Tear-Stained Letter“.
In 2004, Preston toured with the Funk Brothers and Steve Winwood in Europe, and then with Clapton in Europe and North America. After the Clapton tours, he went to France, where he was featured in one episode of the Legends Rock TV Show. His performance included a duet with Sam Moore on “You Are So Beautiful“; this was Preston‘s last filmed concert.
In 2004, Preston performed as a jazz organist on Ray Charles‘ Genius Loves Company, an album of duets, on the song “Here We Go Again“ with Charles and NorahJones.
In March 2005, he appeared on the American Idol fourth season finale. Playing piano, he performed “With You I‘m Born Again“ with Vonzell Solomon( who finished the contest in third place). The same year, he recorded “Go Where No One‘s GoneBefore“, the main title song for the anime series L/R: Licensed by Royalty.
Preston played clavinet on the song “Warlocks“ for the Red Hot Chili Peppers albumStadium Arcadium( 2006 ). Although very ill by this point, he jumped out of his bed after hearing a tape of the song given to him by the band, recorded his part, and went back to bed. Preston‘s final recorded contributions were the gospel-tinged organ on the Neil Diamond album 12 Songs (2005 ), and his keyboard work onThe Road to Escondido (2006) by Eric Clapton and J. J. Cale.
In late 2005, Preston made his last public performance, in Los Angeles, to publicize the re-release of the 1972 documentary film The Concert for Bangladesh. He played a set of three Harrison songs— “Give Me Love“, “My Sweet Lord“ and“Isn’t It a Pity“— with Dhani Harrison and Starr joining on guitar and drums, respectively, for the last song
Billy Preston was brought up in the African-American gospel tradition; he was a committed Christian throughout his life and he openly expressed his faith in works such as his 1970s hit “That‘s the Way God Planned It“. However, his personal beliefs were sometimes at odds with the attitudes and musical expressions of the secular world of rock & roll in which he often worked; while he was apparently willing to put his religious views aside when working on tracks like John Lennon‘s openly atheistic song “God“. Preston was also deeply attached to his mother, for whom he wrote the song that became his best-known composition, “You Are So Beautiful“.
Although the details did not become fully known to the general public until after his death, Preston struggled throughout his life to cope with his homosexuality, and the lasting effects of the traumatic sexual abuse he suffered as a boy. Although his sexual orientation became known to friends and associates in the music world (such as Keith Richards), Preston did not publicly come out as gay until just before he died. This was reportedly partly due to the fact that he felt that it conflicted with his deeply held religious beliefs and his life long association with the church, so he remained “in the closet“ until shortly before his death. Keith Richards‘ autobiography, Life, mentions BillyPreston‘s struggles with his sexuality.
In an interview for a 2010 BBC Radio 4 documentary on his life and career,Preston‘s manager Joyce Moore revealed that after she began handling his affairs,Preston opened up to her about the lifelong trauma he had suffered as the resultof being sexually abused as a boy. Preston told Moore that at about the age of nine, after he and his mother moved to Los Angeles from Houston to perform in a touring production of Amos ‘n’ Andy, he was repeatedly abused by the touring company‘s pianist. When Preston told his mother about the abuse, she did not believe him, and failed to protect him. The abuse subsequently went on for the entire summer, and Preston stated that he was also later abused by a local pastor.
Another traumatic incident, which reportedly affected Preston deeply, occurred inthe early 1970s, while he was engaged to actress/model Kathy Silva. At this time Preston had become close friends with musician Sly Stone, and made many contributions to Stone‘s recordings of the period (including the landmark albumThere‘s a Riot Goin‘ On). According to Moore, Preston was devastated when he came home one day to find Stone in bed with Silva (who later famously married Stone onstage at Madison Square Garden). According to Moore, Silva‘s affair with Stone was the trigger that led Preston to stop having relationships with women. It was after this incident that he began abusing cocaine and having sex with men, and Moore has stated that she saw his drug abuse as his way of coping with the internal conflicts he felt about his sexual urges.
Preston lived in London for a time, possibly around 1969— 1971, but he moved back to the US sometime in the early 1970s.