Billy Preston has been gone for a decade now. Much to my surprise,it turns out none of his songs have been covered here on Andresmusictalk. This was child organ prodigy to gained fame by playing with Ray Charles and eventually for The Beatles. Miles Davis even named a song after the keyboard maestro on his 1974 album Get Up With It. Billy Preston is a very important musician due to his renowned session work. He also created a musical vocabulary of his own as a solo artist. Also this being both Black American Music Month and LGBT Pride Month,Preston was both of those things as a human being.
Preston actually had two solo careers. In his mid teens to early 20’s,he recorded a series of organ based instrumental soul albums for three different labels. During the late 60’s and early 70’s,he recorded two acclaimed solo albums for the Beatles Apple label. That led to him being signed to A&M in 1971 and beginning to hit his stride as a solo hit maker. While he did a lot of singing on these later solo albums,each one still contained at least on instrumental. His final A&M album from 1977 was called A Whole New Thing. It contained an instrumental Henrique Hopkins and I have often discussed called “Wide Stride”
A dense polyphonic synthesizer and a rhythmically accompanying synth bass begin the song over bell like percussion. A round whine of a keyboard brings the drum into the mix. This represents the refrain of the song. On the chorus,the polyphonic synth provides a rhythmic pulse while the main line is Preston’s trademark high pinched synth whir-playing the melody in more of a major key. As the groove goes on, the different synth lines begin to swell into a multi layered swell of bluesy funk-with Preston bringing in a highly digitized sounding synth pulse just as the song begins to fade out.
In many ways,this song is my favorite Billy Preston instrumental. And he’s had many wonderful ones. It gets right into the blues oriented funk groove. But the deep thing about it is that it came out a year before Prince’s debut album For You dropped. In his chunky 60’s style soul/funk/jazz/blues framework,Preston does here what Prince start a movement from-using layers of synthesizers to simulate heavy horn and string orchestrations. In that sense,this song is like one generation of funk instrumentation giving way to the next. And came at exactly the right time.