Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Billy Preston

Billy Preston, one of the most influential funk keyboard players of all time, has passed away.

Here's a guy who played on hits for everybody from Sly & The Family Stone to The Beatles, and yet has toiled away from the spotlight he deserved, mainly due to personal issues and, recently, illness.

But, good lord, the cat could play.

My one Billy Preston story comes from a few years ago, when my friends Chris Rodriguez and Tommy Sims were in the infant stages of their band 1World (which, sadly, went nowhere), but because of their individual statuses (statii?) as great session players were asked to put together a band for a charity show at the late, lamented 328 Performance Hall.

1World played, and a bunch of friends like Judson Spence and Owsley showed up to do short solo sets. But about halfway through the show, a gentleman appeared and stood quietly at the end of the bar. It was Preston, who was in town for rehearsals with that year's edition of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band.

He wasn't on the bill, he only knew a handful of people in this half-full bar in Nashville, but he showed up because there was music there. Tommy found out he was in the room, and asked him to come up on stage. And they pulled together an impromptu version of Preston's hit "Will It Go Round In Circles" that absolutely levelled the room. The place went nuts, and the smiles on the faces of those supremely talented musicians will be forever etched in my mind. There's nothing quite like watching talented people interact with their heroes.

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