The Story Goes...
Born in 1942 in Denver, Colorado, Don Preston moved to Whittier, California, with his family when he was 8 years old, and joined the Sewart-Barber Boys Choir as its youngest member. By age 11, he had been studying and playing the guitar for 3 years, and began performing with The Cactus Kids and another musical troupe of girls and boys who played at market openings, company parties, and USO clubs all over Southern California.
With trips to see live broadcasts of TV's Town Hall Party in nearby Compton, CA, Don’s musical style was taking root in country music as well as in the blues and rock 'n' roll as he became immersed in the diverse and vibrant pop culture of Southern California during the 1950s.
At age 15, he first heard B.B. King, Lowell Fulson, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and other emerging blues artists on late-night AM radio broadcasts. Within a few years, he would be playing the same bills with them when they headlined in Los Angeles.
Living a few miles from the entertainment capital of the world, Don had the opportunity to play his guitar with many of R&B's icons, including The Penguins, The Coasters, The Olympics, and The Jaguars. He also backed up legendary hitmakers such as Ritchie Valens, The Righteous Brothers, Gene Vincent, Don Julian and the Meadowlarks, and Jessie Hill in clubs, halls, and historic L.A. venues like El Monte Legion Stadium, playing in the house band The Masked Phantoms, and at Harmony Park. Those early inspirations echo throughout Don's music, including his album Sacre Blues.
The 1960s opened the door to a new musical era as Don and the Deacons played as the house band at the popular Cinnamon Cinder club owned by Bob Eubanks in North Hollywood. That exposure led to Don joining The Shindogs on tour in 1966, with Joey Cooper, Chuck Blackwell, and Delaney Bramlett who'd been regulars on the popular TV show Shindig!. The group's pure Beatle-esque harmonies immediately produced a hit single, and they went on the road touring numerous states.
"Los Angeles in the mid-60s was the germinating ground of
a new strain of blues rock, and Don Preston was at the heart
of it, along with JJ Cale, Leon Russell, Chuck Blackwell,
and David Gates."
By the dawn of the 1970s, Don brought his soulful vocals and guitar riffs to Leon Russell's band and album Leon Russell and the Shelter People, which included Don and Leon’s classic song, "Stranger in a Strange Land." This all-star band, including Don (a.k.a. "The Gentle Giant"), joined Joe Cocker and other talent, put together by Leon and Denny Cordell, for an eight-week tour during March–May 1970 as the celebrated Mad Dogs and Englishmen troupe, whose performances can be seen and heard on film, DVDs, CDs, and online.
At that time, the specter of famine was rising in the region of Bangladesh (near India) as a war for independence was escalating in 1971. Legendary sitarist and composer Ravi Shankar, a native son of the region, told Beatle George Harrison of the plight. In response, George organized the groundbreaking charity concert for hunger relief, The Concert for Bangladesh, attended by more than 40,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York City on August 1, 1971. Joining George and Ravi were some friends—Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, and others who donated their talent. Also invited to appear, Don contributed his signature guitar and vocals, which are included on the re-released album and DVD that preserve "that righteous day" in rock 'n' roll history. (View Madison Square Garden's retrospective interviews with some of those involved in this historic concert.)
"A series of albums with Don Preston on guitar and
vocals... helped define the musical attitude of an era."
Don continued to play with Leon's L.A./Tulsa-based band on tour and on recordings such as Carney and Leon Live. Some of Don’s other work during the 70s included three albums with the influential Texas blues legend Freddie King. Later, he fronted his own southern blues-rock band, Drivin' Wheel, with bookings across the country. Rick Nelson then recruited Don to tour with his Stone Canyon Band.
Since then, from the 1980s to the present, Don has played numerous sessions, concerts, and gigs as a featured, side, and solo artist throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. He showcased his versatility, performing in the Tony Award-nominated musical It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues. He later toured with the classic band Canned Heat throughout Europe and the U.S., went on tour with legendary songwriter/guitar player JJ Cale (and recently contributed to Eric Clapton's all-star tribute album honoring him)—and came full circle, reuniting with his old friend and colleague Leon Russell for several U.S. concerts.
© 2019 Don Preston Guitar