Billy Preston – Dead at 59

Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'Lots of people have made the claim of “the Fifth Beatle” and many more have been appointed the title. From manager Brian Epstein to roadie Mal Evans to producer George Martin to engineer Geoff Emerick, all have been tagged as the fifth Beatle. But only one man can truly claim that role in my eyes: Billy Preston.

Preston’s contribution to Let It Be alone gives him the right to claim the title. Imagine that album without his soulful, tasteful, and entirely emotional playing. You can’t.

Billy Preston died today at age 59 after falling into a coma in November.

Career highlights (other than Let It Be):

• Solo: “Nothing From Nothing”

• Wrote “You Are So Beautiful”

• Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup

• Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted and Black

Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks [It’s been widely reported that Preston contributed bass, but who knows? Preston himself couldn’t remember in a 2003 interview. – Ed.]

• Sly and Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On

• Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around

• Neil Diamond – 12 Songs

• Also recorded with Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Sam Cooke, Macy Gray, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Mahalia Jackson, Jet, Les McCann, Joni Mitchell, Sesame Street, Barbra Streisand, and many, many more.

In short, he brought a lot of soul to an unbelievable number of great albums.

19 thoughts on “Billy Preston – Dead at 59”

  1. A coma since November?! Jesus Christ. I’m pretty sure he’s in a better place now. A great talent.

  2. Not to put down the late, great Mr. Preston, but there was more than one 5th Beatle that played with The Beatles and contributed as much, if not more than Mr. Preston did.

    Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best for that specifically….but they’re always forgotten….Oh well.

    R.I.P. Billy Preston…..

  3. Sure, if we’re looking at the entire history of the band, Stu and Pete Best certainly played their parts. But that’s not what the term “fifth Beatle” has come to mean. It refers to a person who was not a permanent member of the band but contributed to their history. Hence, Epstein, Martin, Evans, Emerick, etc.

    And it seems you’re right, Adam. He’s not listed on Blood on the Tracks.

  4. Well, I think of the “5th Beatle” term differently…I think of it as anyone other than John, Paul, George and Ringo who played a substantial amount with the band on recordings or as a member of the band…


  5. I wonder why the AP,, and wikipedia all think that Preston contributed bass to Blood on the Tracks. Weird.

    And Russ: I love Stu, and Pete was nice looking, but neither of those dudes recorded anything outstanding with the Beatles. And Preston recorded lots. Therefore, he wins.

  6. “I love Stu, and Pete was nice looking, but neither of those dudes recorded anything outstanding with the Beatles.”

    Except “Besame Mucho” I love that song. Cha cha Oooh!

  7. He also brought the only soul and credibility to the Stigwood “Sgt. pepeer’s Lonely Heart’s club Band”. Really, just when you think it is the worse idea ever, Preston shows up. They stretch so hard for the characters to have song title names that the female lead is actually named “Strawberry Fields” and the villain is “Mean Mr. Mustard”. Then, they kill the ingenue. But, preston redeems it all with a version of “Get back” that one reviewer would say “whips the llama’s ass”. Then, all of a sudden, the movie’s only one of the top 5 worst ideas ever. Oh, and Steve Martin is funny too.

    R.I.P. Preston.

  8. Howard Stern this morning agreed with you guys and said Preston was the 5th Beatle.

    So, I will shut my yap now….

  9. Murray The K used to bill himself as the “original” Fifth Beatle because he was the first to play them in the US on WMCA, New York..but music-wise Billy was the finest outside musician the band used.


  10. You know, the more I think about this whole “Fifth Beatle” thing, the more I realize that Billy Preston would be more like the 7th, 8th, or 9th Beatle.

    The first three Beatles were John, Paul, and George. Then Stu Sutcliffe joined, making him the Fourth Beatle. Then they recruited Pete Best, making him the Fifth Beatle. Then they hired Ringo (the Sixth Beatle). This much is clear.

    Then things get a little weird.

    Not sure if you should count Andy White who played drums on a version of “Love Me Do” (Seventh Beatle?) or Jimmy Nicol who played drums on the 1964 tour of Australia (Eighth Beatle?).

    There were no other significant band “members” until Billy Preston. So he’s obviously the Ninth Beatle.

  11. No no no… Billy Preston undeniably deserves the title of Fifth Beatle. More than any other outsider, he probably kept the Beatles chugging during the dreadful Let it Be sessions. Without him, we would never have heard Abbey Road. Thank you Billy. The baddest ass around.

  12. Preston bought the Beatles another year or so so thank you Billy! ‘That’s the way God Planned it’ should be required listening for every grade schooler in the world.

  13. Bernard Purdie, legendary drummer, blowhard and lardass is surely the real 5th Beatle since he lays claim to re-recording a substantial amount of Ringo’s drum tracks.

Leave a Reply