||THE TWO most positive feelings that Billy Preston was experiencing when I unwillingly had to wake him up in his hotel in Amsterdam, more than two thirds the way through his 16 week long European trek, were of happines and fatigue! Fortunately, the former outweighed the latter and within a few seconds he was happily engrossed in conversation about one of his current favourite subjects — his exciting new album, "Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music", which has just been rush-released in this country to coincide with Billy's solo concert at London's Rainbow Theatre.
"I'm truly excited about it and its prospects", Billy admitted with more than a hint of fervour in his voice, "because I really believe that everybody does like some kind of music. And this album does cover all kinds of music. For example, there's even a Country-Western song in there called "Sunday Morning" and that's the first time I have ever done anything close to Country-Western. Then, there's some straight pop, something classical and some R&B and jazz — in fact, just about something of everything".
Currently, Billy's new single, "Space Race" is racing up the American pop and R&B charts and is about to be levelled at the great British public. It's another of the tracks on the album that is especially pleasing to the talented man.
"It's the first time I've ever used an arrp on record", he said excitedly.
At which I dolefully had to ask him just what an arrp is — and how to spell it in case you thought I was being clever.
"Well, it's another form of keyboard", he patiently began, "and the record's an instrumental that is kind of successor to "Outa Space".
"Outa Space", of course, earned Billy his very first Gold record almost two years ago and also gave him his second British hit — remember his vocal hit of "That's The Way God Planned It" when he was the 'Black Beatle' — Billy's own words — on the Apple label.
"The funny thing about "Outa Space"," Billy now laughingly admits, "is that it was never intended as a release. You see, to start with, we were only jamming around in the studio at a session and the engineer happened to have the recording machine running. So, we put it on the 'B' side of what we hoped would be a hit — the title track from the "I Wrote A Simple Song" album. But the R&B stations started playing "Outa Space" and you know the rest!"
Well, it went on to sell a million and although it didn't sell as well as its successor, "Will It Go Round In Circles", it still remains the biggest R&B record Billy Preston has had to date. "Circles", though, has been a massive 'pop' record and is still selling strongly enough for Billy to consider the possibility of it eventually hitting the two million mark.
All of which conveniently brought me to ask Billy whether he considered himself to be a soul artist any longer — though I put the question slightly more diplomatically!
"To be honest and true to myself", he immediately responded, "I don't put myself into any category. I'm certainly not just a soul artist or just a jazz or Rock artist. I try to play and sing to please as many people as possible. I honestly like to entertain people".
Bearing in mind that so much of Billy's recording success has been with instrumentals, does he have any preference for them?
"Well, I enjoy making instrumentals", he half-laughed, "but I enjoy making records full stop!"
Billy's instrument is the piano — or rather, I should point out that he is a master of the keyboards. His 'live' show will reveal something like a dozen different keyboards on the stage at one time — and they all get used during each show. Being different, his band consists of only a drummer and three keyboard players — no bass or guitar or anything. The guys are known as the God Squad.
During his life, Billy has been fortunate enough to work for and with two of the great legendary names of the music world — Ray Charles and the Beatles. And they have both exerted influences on Billy's style.
"Ray Charles always was and still is my idol", he freely admits and anyone who has heard Billy sing and play could pick up more than a hint of a young and vigorous Ray Charles in both the piano and vocal style of Mr. Preston.
"And the Beatles opened so many doors for me — and I don't just mean to business doors", he enthuses. "They opened my eyes to a music that was new to me at the time. And they gave me my first hit record with "That's The Way God Planned It" — though I remember how many people knew me in England from "Billy's Bag". You know, more people know that record in England than in the States! And the other big break that I got while with the Beatles was the Bangladesh Concert".
Billy's earliest inspiration, though, came from the church — as a raw teenager in his native Los Angeles he played piano for the revered 'king' of gospel music, James Cleveland. And his gospel roots — and belief in religion and God, incidentally — hold true to this day. Every Sunday when he is home, you'll find him playing organ or piano in his nearest church.
So, what of the future for this far-sighted young superstar? "Well, I'll just take it as it comes", he modestly says. "Whatever comes along, I'll do to the best of my ability".
Could this include a full-length movie score — which surely must bear serious consideration for a man with this amount of creative talent?
"If I'm asked to, I would be happy", he answers, almost too embarrassed to consider it. And, bearing in mind the quality and success that were met with Billy's self composed main theme to the first "Slaughter" movie, he is certainly ready.