Listen: Will It Go Round In Circles / Billy Preston
I had no idea that huge Afro hairdo was a wig during the 1970′s when Billy Preston and his clavinet seemed omnipresent. Like no idea at all. Instead, I just became mesmerized by his seemingly effortless keyboard funk, possibly requiring the word chops be applied to a musician’s style for the first time.
The whole sound and image kind of outdid Sly Stone for me. Sans the seediness, which as it turns out was all there, he was my black Elton John, with the shiny pastel clothes, those glam meets Blaxploitation spade shoes and all the remaining trimmings.
Once I started researching his past, actually around the time of his Apple Records singles, I discovered his early mod organ releases with their wonderfully suggestive titles luring me in, for example THE MOST EXCITING ORGAN EVER and WILDEST ORGAN IN TOWN. Wow, these albums were right up there with Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith, Brain Auger as well.
Like some of his contemporaries, he caught the musical ear of various British acts resulting in both recording and touring partnerships. Most notably were The Rolling Stones, who he worked with throughout the 70′s, all the while donning that fantastically oversized Afro wig. Then there were The Beatles, adding keyboard magic to yet another of their rather dull songs, ‘Get Back’, turning it into something special. Certainly for me the highlight was always his electric piano solo midway through. As soon as it finished, I dove for the dashboard to switch the station.
During his most successful mid 70′s stretch came the A&M years, and several huge singles including ‘Will It Go Round In Circles’. Although a US #1 during ’73, the record never charted in the UK despite heavy airplay on the BBC that summer. I mean, seriously, I was there and know for sure, it was played constantly. Maybe too much, because as a possible result, no one needed to buy it.