High Octane Fuel - Spotlight On Billy Preston

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					A musician credited with giving Gospel, Blues, Pop, Rock, R&B and
Soul music a healthy dose of premium grade originality is Billy Preston.
Billy Preston made many hot, instrumental recordings like many other
recording acts such as Dennis Coffey; his "Scorpio" featured one of the
longest bass solos I ever listened to. It lasted for almost 90 seconds.
Other acts that made great instrumentals include the Average White Band
("Pick Up The Pieces"), Barry White with his Love Unlimited Orchestra
("Love's Theme"), Edgar Winter ("Frankenstein"), and another personal
favorite of mine, The Incredible Bongo Band ("Bongo Rock"). Of the most
popular Billy Preston releases with A&M Records was the 1972 song
"Outa-Space." It was on the B-side of the single "I Wrote A Simple Song,"
and peaked at #2 on the charts.The 1973 #1 hit "Will It Go Round in
Circles" spent two weeks at the pinnacle; "Space Race" and "Nothing from
Nothing" each went to #1 in 1974. By 1980, he racked up a huge,
international #1 hit - "With You I'm Born Again," featuring the serene
grace of co-vocalist Syreeta. As a relative unknown, Syreeta got her
name in the business from being a singer's singer. She later got married
to Motown prodigy and musician Stevland Hardaway Judkins in 1970. He
would change his name to Stevland Morris before coming to terms as
"Little" Stevie Wonder when he busted out on the playing field.Together,
Syreeta and Stevie wrote some of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs, like
"If You Really Love Me," "It's A Shame," and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."
Let me run a few more names you should know by you 'right quick,' and
we'll get 'right back' to Syreeta. During the 70s, another female singer
named Deniece Williams got her big break as a vocalist with Stevie
Wonder's backup vocal group "Wonderlove." Signed to Columbia Records,
she released some of her best hits with legendary producer, George Duke,
who laid his own path making music like Jazz, Fusion, R&B and Funk.
Back in the early 80s, George Duke was doing what more and more recording
artists are just getting into these days, diversifying: in addition to
being a performer on the road and a producer in the studio, he also wrote
a column in a popular musician's periodical - Keyboard Magazine. I
enjoyed reading the information he shared, and got a lot out of it.
Hopefully, some of the same will happen with this book and YOU.George
Duke provided all kinds of valuable information in the mag, and made even
better music in the studio! Duke also did well producing vocalists like
Diana Reeves and LTD frontman Jeffery Osborne. If you ever get a chance
to check out George's song "Dukey Stick," you'll hear some real thick,
Duke-style Funk. To hear a lighter, cheerful side, check out a delicate,
piano-laced ballad (another fave of mine) with bassist bassist (that's
not a typo!) Stanley Clarke, called "Sweet Baby." I saw them perform
this song and others at a memorable Jazz festival in Atlanta's Piedmont
Park. On the bill were many acts, including a Diva's Diva: the late,
great Phyllis Hyman. Stanley Clarke and George Duke used the latest
technology, like a bass guitar with red LED lights on the frets (Clarke),
and a wireless MIDI system for his keyboards (Duke). Watch for more info
elsewhere in this book on these two phenomenal musicians.Now, back to
where we left off: Syreeta also collaborated with the songwriting team of
Holland-Dozier-Holland, who along with "The Corporation" (I still don't
know who they are), wrote songs for TONS of Motown artists - The Jackson
5 was just one of many groups that benefited from this service. While
the J5's lead singer went on to reign as the King of Pop (Mikey), brother
Jermaine became a solo artist in his own right. He was also blessed to
have Syreeta as a singer with him. Unfortunately, on July 6, 2004,
cancer sent this Heavenly voice back to 'headquarters,' to sing directly
for The Most High...with all the other angels.But before the multi-
talented keyboardist, composer and singer known as Billy Preston was
heard in concert halls and on the radio, he was already earning a
respectable reputation. Early in his career, he toured with established
acts like Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Little Richard. Prior to his
newfound radio popularity, he joined the Ray Charles Revue and also
worked with The Beatles. Preston eventually expanded his horizons into
the Pop music genre by playing keyboards on a few Beatles tracks, most
notably "Get Back," and "Let It Be."Originally from Houston, Texas, Billy
Preston began his career during the 1950s at church. His mother was a
church organist, and he worked his way up to the position of choir
director. By the age of 10, he played a young W.C. Handy in the film
"St. Louis Blues." His work as organist for the impeccable Mahalia
Jackson revealed his talents to big-wigs like Sam Cooke with his SAR
Records. Along the course of their union, they recorded a duet called
"Little Red Rooster." Because I'm a fan of sound creation, I took note of
this song the very first time I heard it. Even before sampling and
synthesized sound effects became popular on records, Preston was making
the organ sound like a dog, owl, and rooster. I remind you that this
particular song was recorded in 1963, which was long before sampling ever
became popular. "Little Red Rooster" was trendy enough to also be
recorded and performed by Rock acts like The Rolling Stones.When Preston
toured in 1962 performing Gospel with Sam Cooke and Little Richard, he
was asked to play keys later in a Rock tour with Little Richard and his
British backup band. Preston also teamed up with Ray Charles, who he did
several recordings and tours with. At this time, no American (let alone
a Black artist), was signed to the same label as the world-famous
Beatles, but Preston made it happen. With his Apple Records label mates
(The Beatles), he was featured in the movie "Let It Be." During the
1970's, Preston was shown love from other musicians as he toured with
acts like Sly & The Family Stone and The Rolling Stones. More
popular acts would pop up with the word 'Stone' and party themes in their
names: and fans got hooked. During the '70s, 'King of Punk Funk' Rick
James assembled a wildly electrifying band called "The Stone City Band,"
and we better not forget the sultry "Mary Jane Girls".Billy Preston's
tributes by peers include Joe Cocker, who with gratitude and respect, did
a cover version of Billy's hit "You Are So Beautiful." It became a huge
Pop hit. Preston's career approached its zenith during the '70s and
peaked in the early '80s. He continued to tour, record and collaborate
through the remainder of the '80s and early '90s with Ringo Starr's All
Star Band, Ian Levine's Motor City Records and songstress, Syreeta.
While he is no longer with us physically and despite the customary
obstacles thrown in his path, Preston has solidified his position in the
music industry as one of the most extensive contributors to the world of
Gospel, Blues, Pop, Rock, R&B and Soul music.

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