Billy Preston

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Billy Preston Pencil Portrait
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The quality of the prints are at a much higher level compared to the image shown on the left.


A3 Pencil Print-Price £45.00-Purchase

A4 Pencil Print-Price £30.00-Purchase

*Limited edition run of 250 prints only*

All Pencil Prints are printed on the finest Bockingford Somerset Velvet 255 gsm paper.

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At the tender age of ten, young Billy Preston was playing keyboards with gospel diva Mahalia Jackson, and two years later, in 1958, featured in the Nat King Cole movie St. Louis Blues.’ Later that year, he would duet with Cole on his top rated Tv show.

A prodigy on the Hammond organ and piano, he toured with Little Richard and Ray Charles before becoming the only outside musician to be namechecked on an official Beatles release. Preston’s connection with the band led to his big break as a solo artist with the early-‘70s soul smashes “Outta-Space” and the high-flying vocal “Will It Go Round in Circles” for A&M, that put him on the permanent musical map. With his undoubted instrumental virtuosity and compositional gift – he wrote ‘You are so beautiful’ – Billy should have remained on top of his game for years. Sadly, changing shifts in taste and personal demons would undermine his career, yet his affability always ensured the loyal support of friends and colleagues.

Preston was one of those spectacular performers who put everything into his show, even though, by the end of his life, he had no working kidneys and was receiving dialysis. He was a warm, engaging personality with an infectious mile-wide smile.

Born William Everett Preston on Sept. 2, 1946, in Houston, he grew up in Los Angeles as a child prodigy. After receiving piano lessons from Ray Charles, he worked with Sam Cooke and starred as the young W.C. Handy in the film St. Louis Blues. A 1962 tour of Europe with Little Richard gave Preston the opportunity to meet his boss’ opening act, an unknown band called The Beatles.

Billy was reportedly addicted to crack cocaine in the later part of his career, right up until his death in 2006, at the age of 59. It has been suggested that he was self medicating to numb the pain of behavioural traits he could not change. According to close sources, Billy feared that if he came out as gay, he would be shunned by the Black community and the music industry. Unfortunately he was probably right, especially during his era.

Recommended listening

16 year old soul (1963) [Remastered 2011]

Interest in Billy Preston was revived in 2009 thanks to reissues of his work with The Beatles (“Get Back,” being one of the last great hits on The Fab Four’s Grammy-winning remastered box sets) and his work thereafter – two albums for The Beatles’ Apple Records, reissued in 2010. Delving even further into the vaults, ABKCO remastered Billy’s Preston’s first album the following year.

‘16 Year Old Soul’, released in 1963 on Sam Cooke’s SAR/Derby label, captured Preston at the very beginning. He had impressed Cooke with his session work on ‘Nightbeat’ earlier that year, and so was rushed into the studio to cut his own LP just months later. It was the first stepping stone to a career that included rubbing elbows with Leon Russell and Delaney Bramlett on the television show ‘Shindig!’, becoming the only artist to be credited next to The Beatles on a single and many more great R&B moments that live on despite Preston being no longer with us, having passed away in 2006 at the too-young age of 59.

The release includes all of the original tracks from the album plus two bonus rarities.

‘16 Year Old Soul’ reflects the legacy of Sam Cooke’s SAR label, one of the first African American-owned and operated record companies, and was recorded as a result of the enthusiasm that Cooke and J.W. Alexander, his SAR partner, evinced for the young Preston. To their brilliant ears, the teenage Billy Preston was the embodiment of the term “musical prodigy.”

Cooke and Alexander had, in fact, tapped Preston to play on the sessions for Cooke’s legendary ‘Nightbeat’ album, recorded in February of 1963. They were so taken with his manifest talent that they immediately signed him to a recording deal with Derby Records, SAR’s sister label. Just one month later, the sessions for Preston’s very first album took place and the record was rush released that June. Thus, this historic album highlights the brilliance of a pop/rock/soul/gospel legend at the start of his ascent to stardom.

In 1958, before his career as a key collaborator with such major artists as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, the Jackson 5, Barbara Streisand and many others, the stage was set when an 11-year-old Billy Preston portrayed W.C. Handy, “The Father of the Blues,” as a child in the film St. Louis Blues. Nat “King” Cole starred as the adult Handy. Soon thereafter, and prior to the recording of 16 Year Old Soul, Preston began gaining wider recognition in both gospel and R&B circles.

Preston’s debut is an album of percolating organ-fueled instrumentals that offers insight into the roots of one of the music world’s most innovative and genre-busting stars. With songs covering a broad spectrum of styles from country (“Born to Lose”) to R&B (“Good News”) to jazz (“God Bless the Child”) with pop and blues undertones aplenty, ’16 Year Old Soul’ is a preserved-in-amber glimpse of an artist whose musical maturity belied his years.

Shortly after the album’s original release, Preston broke through to a national TV audience as the hyperkinetic young keyboard player in the Shin-diggers (later renamed the Shindogs), the house band on Shindig!, ABC’s weekly network live music series. His Shindog band mates included, among others, Glen Campbell, Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell and James Burton.