Billy Preston’s passing on June 6 and his funeral on Monday reminds me of a concert of his at Memorial Auditorium in the mid-70s. Preston and his band were headlining a show that included Tower of Power; the Buddy Miles Express opened.
Preston was riding the crest of his radio hits “Outa-Space” and the not-so-complex pop ditty “Will It Go Round in Circles.” His band included the teenage guitar/bass tandem of George and Louis Johnson (later known as the Brothers Johnson). What I remember most was the exuberance Preston and his fellow keyboardist (whose name I don’t recall) showed as they crossed the stage between the acoustic piano on one side and the Hammond B-3 on the other, always slapping hands as they passed each other.
I saw numerous shows at the Memorial Auditorium during the early '70s - pretty much anything that came there - because I had figured a way to sneak in. The method wasn’t particularly complicated - just wait around near the backstage door on I Street. At some point, when bands or entourages were coming or going, or both, one could simply blend into the scenery and scoot inside. From there, it was just about 10 feet or three long strides to another door, which leads out to the main floor. I worked it for more shows than I can remember and became so accomplished I even brought a couple of friends.
On this night, there hadn’t been any openings, and all the musicians for all the bands had arrived. All except one: The lead singer for Tower of Power, the ill-fated Rick Stevens. Their manager occasionally came out, casting frantic looks up and down the block. TOP was working their first national hit, “You’re Still a Young Man,” from their “Bump City” album, and Stevens’ vocal on that tune remains memorable.
The street was now deserted because the Buddy Miles band (still playing “Them Changes”) was already on. Suddenly, an old sedan came careening down the street and skidded to a stop in front of me.
"Is this Memorial Auditorium?” the driver asked, and I nodded. Stevens, in a tank top and creased straw hat, popped out with a couple of friends and they rushed up the steps and knocked on the door.
I naturally followed and we were all hustled inside, and I made my accustomed dash for the next door - melting into to the crowd to watch Mr. Preston do his thing.
-- Marcus Crowder