June 07, 2006

Sho' Nuff Gonna Miss Billy Preston

Ms Merry

"Sho' Nuff" (B. Preston - J. Greene)
Merry Clayton, from Merry Clayton, Ode, 1971

I was sorry to read today of the passing of Billy Preston. While he was not a New Orleans cat, he was still a soulful and funky songwriter, keyboardist and singer. He had that rare ability to function as a valuable sideman or a powerful performer up front; and he did have his HOTG connections. In his youth he toured backing New Orleans-born gospel queen Mahalia Jackson; and, right as he was breaking out with his own big hits in the early 1970’s, he collaborated with Merry Clayton on her two albums for Ode, Gimme Shelter and Merry Clayton, playing keyboards on various tracks and contributing material. I am sure the two had numerous prior contacts, having been on the Los Angeles music scene for many years. She returned the favor, singing on Preston’s 1971 album, I Wrote A Simple Song.

An impressive singer birthed and raised in the Crescent City, Ms Clayton never quite broke through as a solo artist, remaining better remembered to most for her background vocals on various stars' projects: the Rolling Stones, the Who, Joe Cocker, Carole King, et al. Also of note to HOTG hounds are her background appearances on Allen Toussaint’s first LP in 1970 and the Mylon Lefevre album, Mylon, that Toussaint produced that same year (see my recent post on Lefevre). While not big sellers, Clayton’s Ode albums were nonetheless impressive affairs, full of great vocals and impressive playing from top L.A. studio guns, and are well worth seeking out. I featured a cut from her first LP
way back in 2004.

I’ve chosen “Sho’ Nuff” from her 1971 follow-up to Gimme Shelter, as it was co-written by Billy Preston and surely features him on keys. It’s got that classic Church of Soul feel to it, revealing the composer’s roots. Clayton does a fine job on it, too. Just listen to her warm, righteous delivery and wonder how she’s been overlooked so long.

I remember watching Shindig on TV when I was a teenager in the mid-1960’s, and seeing an oh-so-cool Billy Preston playing organ in the show band. He wasn’t much older than me. Of course, his visibility went up exponentially when he sat in with the Beatles in the studio and on film at the end of their run. Then he had that string of monster pop hits in the 1970’s. Several other mp3 bloggers have done posts on him since news of his illness hit; and I am sure you’ll find many more tributes coming. Hate to see him go so young.

Thanks for all the music, Mr. Billy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad to see him go so young. I recently caught a TV clip of a very young Billy gigging with Nat King Cole. They were on the same piano and would alternate playing the same song.

7:48 AM, June 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i pulled out my copy of the SAR Story to hear billy as a 16 year old play greazee, a fine instrumental piece that would not be out of place here. i dont think there are any NOLA connections, recorded in LA with LA session men. could be an NOLA native there, however, the groove is tigher than most sam cooke productions of the time achieved. RIP Billy, all i really gotta say is you were outtaspace.

4:08 PM, June 10, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Could be several NOLA cats on those sessions. I'd have to refer to the notes, anon; but a number of HOTG notables mentioned here from time to time were LA session men and worked with Cooke and company. So, I think your intuition could be right on. Thanks.

7:42 PM, June 10, 2006  
Blogger selectormarx said...

I love the "Merry Clayton"...delicious!!!

3:08 AM, June 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fine tribute, my man!

(And, parenthetically: Toussaint produced a Mylon Lefevre album? How did I miss that?)

7:50 PM, June 14, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, Rob. And, yeah, Toussaint produced two for Lefrevre, as I discussed in that ML post. You're certainly not alone in having missed 'em.

10:04 PM, June 14, 2006  

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