Friday, February 25, 2011

Before the Beatles were the Beatles and then there was Billy Preston


This story was told to me by Leroy Cooper during our first session and I transcribed it from the recording. First I wanted to corroborate the story since Leroy was 78 years old and I was checking on his memory. He insisted the club was the Star Club and that they did NOT have a regular drummer during Ray's gig at the club. When I saw Paul, John and George in their 'cowboy clothes' just as Leroy described them I felt I would publish his personal memory of the events that followed. It is all in his own voice.

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.


In Hamburg, Germany, I was with Ray and we played in a place called the Star Club. It was a very popular venue in Hamburg at the time. It was very impressive. They met us at the airport with Mercedes Benz convertibles, a whole parade of them.

We went to the club and there was a house band playing there. There was all these guys with English accents and they were wearing cowboy clothes and boots. That seemed real funny to us because they were from England, not from the States. Every night, all we did was play shows but they had to play for the dancing and we used to laugh because they had this black drummer at the time. He was a showman. He really impressed me. He was in the Air Force and just passing through, fillin’ in. We lived at the same hotel as this band

They would say, “Come on over and listen to some records,” in their English accent. You know and we used to hang with them. There were two or three of us to a room because we weren’t making the big bucks, and these guys were all bunched up in one room. We would go and listen to records. Back then, they weren’t the Beatles yet.

So when they came to the States to be on the Ed Sullivan show we were watching these guys and somebody said, “Hey, they are the same guys that were in Hamburg, Germany. They changed their haircuts.” When we first saw them in Germany they were playing rock ‘n’ roll. Now they were doing this other music.

I said, “Wow, they made it. They made it.” From then on they were the Beatles and they were big, big, big, big. What a difference a day makes. What a difference.

*****

Billy Preston

One year we were in Liverpool and we usually packed the place out, but this time the crowd was a little slim. We asked what’s happening?

They said, “They have a local group that’s real big. And they’ve got a movie out A Hard Day’s Night.” We had a big show that same night and that sort of hurt our crowd. So I said this new outfit must be dy-no-mite!

In Ray’s band at the time, Billy Preston was sitting next to me on the front line. He played organ and I played the baritone sax, and he met The Beatles at the rock ‘n’ roll show over here in the States.

Years later we were over in England again and the guys were laughing at Billy, saying the Beatles are big and you are supposed to be such good friends with them and everything.

I said “Why don’t you call them?” You know how guys put you on. “Have another drink. Why don’t you call the Beatles, you’re supposed to know them so much.”

He said, “Okay I’ll call ‘em,” We thought we could get a good laugh.

He calls and the housekeeper answers and she said, “They’re not in at the moment and did you want to leave a message?” So he left a message. Two or three days later he heard from one of them.

They said, “This is so and so and we bought your record contract.” At the time Billy was signed up with Ray Charles. They said, “Oh yeah, we bought it and we want you to join the group.” After that, he was like the fifth Beatle.

This must have been in the ‘60s. I remember he was driving a little ‘67 Plymouth and he was getting five hundred a week. He was always complaining about money.

“I’m tired of these cheeseburgers and I got to have more money,” he told Ray. He got with the Beatles and the next time I saw him he had a white Rolls Royce.

One time we were playing in San Francisco at The Fairmont Hotel there up on Nob Hill. It was real ritzy. We were on stage and I said, “Ray, Billy Preston’s in the audience.”

Ray said, “Aw he’s too big to sing with us now.”

Somebody announced Billy. McCartney and the other guys brought him up to the bandstand and he stayed up on the bandstand with us the rest of the night. The Beatles were sitting right next to him in the audience and Billy stayed up there with us. He didn’t forget. He admired Ray. I’ve never seen anything like him.

Anything Ray would play on the piano Billy would play exactly what Ray was playing and I thought this boy is a genius!

He was a young man at the time. He was so young guys would tell him how to dress. He was eating cheeseburgers and milk shakes. And I didn’t get to see him after he got to be a big wheel. He used to come through here and I was determined to try to get out to see him but you know you can’t get to people when they get that big. It changes.

1 comment:

Jai Joshi said...

Ray had some amazing memories! I've read about the Beatles before they made it big and how they played in little bars in Germany and bunked four to a room. It's so cool to know about those phases because it makes their later success so phenomenal.

Jai