On Tuesday, June 6, Billy Preston passed away of complications due to kidney failure after some years of ill-health. I am saddened at the loss to the music community but I am also experiencing his transition on a personal level. I had the opportunity to get to know Billy way back in 1970 when he was living in London at the same time that my good friend Doris Troy was there. Billy was working with The Beatles' Apple Records at the time and when he first arrived in London, he was staying with Doris while he got situated. We had many wonderful conversations and of course, I was totally blown away by Billy's musicianship: he was all of 24 years old at the time...I was a year or two younger. We got the chance to hang out socially and we always had fun clubbing in London.
Over the years, I got to interview Billy in a professional capacity for Britain's "Blues & Soul" magazine and other publications. During the mid-'70s when I was in L.A. for a brief time, I remember going out to his Topanga Canyon abode and talking music and life for hours. He never forgot those great times in London in the early '70s and it was always a joy to see him in person as well as watch him onstage.
He was a magnificently inspired musician who brought much to the party on his contributions to such artists as Ray Charles, Aretha, The Beatles and so many more. I listen to "Just Right Tonight," an Aretha track from her Quincy Jones '72 album, and along with his own stellar work for Capitol, A&M and Motown, I am reminded of his incredible artistry, his keyboard wizardy and his alway-soulful approach to music.
He was one of a kind, a character, a man with wit and a ready smile. I will miss our time together, albeit infrequent in recent years as his health deteriorated and at the same time, I celebrate the joyous music he brought to us all. May peace be with you, Billy, always...
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.