Usually, when I combine artists in one Night Owl playlist, they share a similar style, or sound, or there’s some commonality that links them together. This Owl is an example of the latter. The common link between Billy Preston and Leon Russell is that their musical talent and influence has generally gone unrecognized and unappreciated by the general public. Well, that and the fact that they were both keyboardists: Preston was a wiz on the organ, Russell a master of piano.
There are musicians, and there are great musicians. Then there are the musicians that all other musicians respect, admire, and want to work with. Billy Preston and Leon Russell were such musicians. They both performed with an impressive list of giants in the music business.
Preston recorded and performed extensively with The Beatles in 1969 and is the only musician to be credited on any Beatles recording – a sign of the high esteem they had for him. Also in that year, John Lennon wanted Preston to become the fifth Beatle. If he had, it would have been a short-lived membership, as the band split up soon afterward.
After the split, George Harrison produced Preston’s first solo album and even gave him the right to record My Sweet Lord, which Harrison had written and would also record. Harrison’s version became an international #1 hit, of course. Unfortunately, Preston’s version was only a minor hit, primarily in Europe. No matter, big hits were just around the corner for him. Meanwhile, Preston was in demand among big name stars of the time.
Games People Play (4:22)
Billy Preston, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck
Will It Go Round in Circles (4:25)
Space Race (3:24)
Nothing from Nothing (2:36)
With You I’m Born Again (3:37)
Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright
Leon Russell had fewer commercial successes than Preston, but his greatest strength lay in helping others become successful. A prime example of this was the Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour, which Russell organized to promote Joe Cocker in the States. The Owl posted this video before, but it’s so awesome (and highlights Leon Russell), we’re willing to watch it again (and again).
The Letter (3:23)
Joe Cocker and Leon Russell
Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour
Tight Rope (3:21)
Lady Blue (3:32)