At the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, after he introduced the band who had come from all around the world to perform for free, George Harrison stopped suddenly and shouted, “We’ve forgotten Billy Preston!”
No, we haven’t. In 2004 I saw Eric Clapton in concert. The keyboard player looked like a middle-aged minister, but man, could he play. Midway through the show, Clapton introduced his band, and the crowd let out a roar when he came to the great Billy Preston.
I was sorry to hear that Billy Preston died today, and that he had been in a coma since November.
I saw Preston in concert early in the 1970s. At that time, I wouldn’t stand up and clap my hands to the music at a concert. I wouldn’t sing along. But somehow, Billy Preston got me on my feet, clapping my hands and singing along to “That’s the Way God Planned It,” and I’ve never been quite the same since.
He sure could dance. I think you had to see him in person to understand just how amazing his dancing was. In the film of Concert for Bangladesh, the cameramen lost track of Billy when he stepped out from behind the keyboards during “That’s the Way God Planned It.” You can hear the crowd roar, but the cameras miss almost all of Billy’s amazing footwork.
I saw him again in 1976, at a Rolling Stones concert, where he sang one of his own songs and danced across the stage to the cheers of the stadium-sized crowd. At one point he went to the side of the stage and pulled out someone to dance alongside him. I felt sorry for the poor victim, who seemed awkward and fumbling next to Preston’s fancy footwork. It took a moment to recognize the poor victim was Mick Jagger.
I’m going to be playing a lot of Billy Preston songs tonight.