Billy Preston – 16 Year Old Soul (1963; 2013 reissue)

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For all of the unabridged amazement surrounding Billy Preston’s high school-aged mastery of both the bubbling jazz of Jimmy Smith and the lean Memphis R&B of Booker T. Jones, the truth is, he’d been at this a while.

When Derby released the aptly titled 16 Year Old Soul five decades back, Preston had already made an unforgettable contribution to Sam Cooke’s ageless blues project Night Beat, adding his own organ-based barnyard asides to a simmering new take on “Little Red Rooster.” Prior to that, Preston had served as the choir director at his mothers church going back to the tender age of five.

He appeared on Nat King Cole’s television variety program, singing “Blueberry Hill,” toured Europe with Little Richard (where Preston began a life-long friendship with the Beatles) — and even played the childhood version of W.C. Handy for a 1958 biopic called St. Louis Blues.

16 Year Old Soul wasn’t even Billy’s first recording. That honor went to the tiny Contract label out of Hollywood, which released a pair of largely forgotten early 45s. Still, his debut on Cooke’s fledgling label (started with J.W. Alexander, of the Pilgrim Travelers; and S.R. Crain, of his Soul Stirrers) is generally understood to be the beginning point of Preston’s legend — the moment when many first came to know the boundless talent, enthusiasm, joy and marrow-deep groove that surrounded his work at the organ.

A mixture of covers and original material — including Preston’s first single for Derby, the appropriately named “Greazee” — 16 Year Old Soul found Billy surrounded by a group of ace sessions guys, including drummer Earl Turner and guitarist Tommy Tedesco, among others.

He returns with a swinging update of “Lost and Lookin’,” which had earlier appeared on Cooke’s Night Beat,; transforms “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (which had just become a crossover hit for Ray Charles) into a girder-rattling groover; finds the heart-opening gospel centerpoint of Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”; and threatens to shake the studio loose of its foundation on his own hard-charging “Ain’t That Love” — the last of which serves as a small glimpse into the afro-shaking funk to come. This new reissue is rounded out by two rare bonus cuts, both of them instrumentals.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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