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.