Wednesday, March 25, 2015

TMFW 81 - We're Born Again, There's New Grass on the Field

In TMFW 29, in honor of Opening Day I walked through a few favorite baseball songs, then promised "[m]aybe I can save some for TMFW 81, right in time for Opening Day 2015."  I was being facetious and thought then that by week 81 there was no way I'd still be writing weekly music posts.  Surprise!  We are here, and baseball is back again.  (Well, my math was off by over a week - it's back April 6 when the Cardinals will start their quest against the hapless Cubs for their fifth National League Championship Series appearance in a row.)  So as promised 52 entries ago, here's the second post in what is now a baseball-related music series.
Rather than highlight some favorite baseball songs, this week we feature a whole baseball band, and (like the Masked Marauders of TMFW 27) it's a "supergroup" at that.  Calling themselves "The Baseball Project," the band is made up of ex-REM members Mike Mills and Peter Buck, Young Fresh Fellows frontman (and frequent REM contributor) Scott McCaughey, and the husband-and-wife team of Steve Wynn (ex Dream Syndicate), and Linda Pitmon.
The band has made three records so far - 2008's Vol. 1 - Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, 2011's Vol. 2 - High and Inside, and last year's 3d.  The striking thing about the albums, to me, is that they are somehow both tongue-in-cheek and fully earnest.  Their lovingly-made and free-to-listen website is testament to that, as is the wide variety of subject matter that they choose to highlight from baseball history. 
Among many other stories, the group pays respect to the mythology of Babe Ruth ("The Babe"), imagines how Jackie Robinson must have felt having to hold his tongue during his difficult first year in Brooklyn ("Jackie's Lament"), sings a Spanish song for Fernando Valenzuela ("Fernando"), tells of Larry Yount's (Robin's brother) tragic one-time-only major league appearance ("Larry Yount"), reflects on what Luis Tiant and Orlando Hernandez gave up to leave Cuba and join the major leagues ("¡Hola America!"), writes a love song to eating breakfast while reading box scores ("Box Scores"), and makes Dale Murphy's case to the Veterans' Committee for a spot in the Hall of Fame ("To the Veteran's Committee").  The band is fun - watch them play a half hour set for KEXP last year or see them on Letterman and that's evident - and the songs sound good.
So there's your TMFW for today: the non-Stipe REM guys made a band about baseball with some of their friends, and it's pretty good stuff.   We'll see you for round 3 of baseball music trivia in TMFW 134; until then, go Cardinals.
BONUS FACT:  Mike Mills is an ex-REM guitar player who fronts The Baseball Project.  Mike Mills (a different one) is an ex-minor league pitcher, too.  Michael DeWitt Mills played seven seasons of ball, from A to AAA.  His AAA line is not so great: 4.1 innings over 6 games, with an ERA of 22.85 (for those sabermetricians out there, his WHIP was 4.385).
BONUS FACT 2:  The Baseball Project's drummer Linda Pitmon got her start playing for the Minneapolis band ZuZu's Petals, which is named (of course) after George Bailey's happy discovery in It's a Wonderful Life. 
BONUS FACT 3:  There's no music part of this fact, but it's a delightful story.  Much like the "Curse of the Bambino" did to the Red Sox (for 84 years until broken in 2004) and the "Billy Goat Curse" is doing to the Cubs (70 years strong!), the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese baseball league suffer a curse too.  It's the Curse of the Colonel, cast by the ghost of KFC founder and mascot Colonel Sanders (really!).  
The Tigers have been perennial losers in Japanese baseball, so in 1985 when they won their first Japan Series title their fans went crazy.  Celebrating on a bridge over a canal, the fans chanted the names of each of the team's stars, and then a person thought to resemble that player would take a celebratory leap from the bridge into the canal below.  (Apparently this made sense in the moment.)  That worked fine for most of the roster, which was overwhelmingly Japanese, but the crowd needed to improvise when it came to their American star slugger Randy Bass.  Bass lead the team with a .350 average and 54 home runs that year - in just 126 games - so he was a critical part of the celebration.  
Not having a suitable American doppelganger to jump off of the bridge, the crowd took a life-sized statute of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC and chucked it into the water.  (Oh wait!  Here's a music tie-in!  In 1992, Kurt Cobain hung out with one such statute on a trip to Singapore.)  That must have been something great to witness, but unfortunately the act of disrespect to the Colonel also unleashed a curse.  30 years later, the Tigers have been back to the Japan Series three times, and they have endured three defeats.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

TMFW 80 - (Purple) Hey, Heys

Before we get into today's TMFW, let's make one thing clear right up front.  The Monkees - however you wish to define that band - made some excellent music.  In their first two years, they had big hits with "Last Train to Clarksville" (#1 for 1 week in 1966), "I'm a Believer" (#1 in 7 weeks in the US, and #1 in the UK, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway in 1966), and "Daydream Believer" (#1 for 4 weeks in 1967).  Add that to songs like "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone,""Shades of Gray," "Mary, Mary," "Listen to the Band," and (insert your own favorite Monkees tune here), and their catalog becomes pretty impressive.  Even "That Was Then, This is Now" from the 1980s-era Monkees is a decent tune.   

OK, now that we all agree that The Monkees were an underrated and great band, your True Music Fact for today is not actually about them.  Instead, it deals with an unlikely opening act of theirs on a 1967 tour: The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

As this "Forgotten Hits of the '60s" blog post and this this excellently-researched (as usual) Snopes entry explain in detail, in the summer of 1967 The Monkees were at the height of their powers and were playing to sold-out crowds around the country.  And despite their teeny-bopper image and silly television personas, they were also a part of the "legitimate" music scene: Peter Tork was roommates with Stephen Stills and was friends with Jackson Browne, the group hung out with the Beatles, and being famous-young-people-in-the-60s they were at the Monterrey Pop Festival to take in the scene.  By summer 1967, the Monkees had encountered Hendrix several times - in England with the Beatles, in New York City, and at Monterrey. 

On the flip side, though he was well-appreciated by people in the know, and though he was a hit in England (three top-10 songs by summer 1967), Jimi Hendrix was at that time still largely unknown in America.  So The Monkees got the idea to bring him along on their tour.  They would get to see Hendrix each night and he would get much-needed exposure: it was a classic win-win scenario.

Except that it wasn't.  Hendrix started the tour with The Monkees in Jacksonville, Florida, and stayed on for dates in Miami, Charlotte, Greensboro, and three days in New York City.  By all accounts, Hendrix's performances were met with hostility and impatience from the mostly teenage (and younger) girls who were there to swoon for The Monkees rather than have their mind blown by "Purple Haze."  The crowds jeered Hendrix and chanted "we want the Monkees" throughout his set.  Mike Nesmith recalled the crowd modifying the song "Foxy Lady," with the girls answering each of Jimi's "Foxy" calls with an answer of "Davy."  Micky Dolenz reflected on the absurdity of Hendrix, playing in front of southern crowds of pubescent girls in the 1960s, as "this Black guy in a psychedelic Day-Glo blouse, playing music from hell, holding his guitar like he was fucking it, then lighting it on fire."

After only seven shows, Hendrix had had enough.  On his third night in New York City, he put down his guitar, flipped off the crowd, and walked offstage.  He asked the band for a release from his contract, and they obliged.  It just wasn't fair to put a dude like Jimi Hendrix through that. 

After the oil-and-water experience of 'Hendrix opens for the Monkees' became apparent, Peter Tork reasoned in hindsight that "nobody thought, 'This is screaming, scaring-the-balls-off-your-daddy music compared with the Monkees,' you know? It didn't cross anybody's mind that it wasn't gonna fly."  That's hard to imagine.


BONUS FACT:  You can't write an entry about the Monkees without the Trivia Everybody Knows that Mike Nesmith's mom invented Liquid Paper (a/k/a white-out).  Bette Nesmith Graham came up with the idea in 1951 while working as an executive secretary at a bank. After making bottles of it for her co-workers she tinkered with the product to improve the formula and starting selling it full-time.  Liquid Paper was sold in 1979 to Gillette for almost $50 million plus future royalties. Mrs. Nesmith Graham died the next year, and Mike became the heir to the white-out fortune.

BONUS FACT 2:  After Hendrix departed the tour, a rock journalist invented a press release that said (satirically) that the Daughters of the American Revolution had demanded his ouster because he was "too erotic."  That was reported by some outlets as the real story, and it became legend.

BONUS FACT 3: "Pleasant Valley Sunday" was written for The Monkees by the legendary husband-wife songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. 48 years later, it is still a sharp critique of American suburban life.  It's on par with "Little Boxes," written by Malvina Reynolds and made famous by TMFW 21 subject Pete Seeger.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

TMFW 79 - The Scopes Monkey Trial Inspires a Top-5 Hit

Today's TMFW starts with the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925.  For those of you (like me) who know your American history primarily through half-remembered anecdotes and one-paragraph writeups in your 10th-grade history book, let's start with a little bit of True Monkey (Trial) Facts Wednesday.  If you aren't interested in such things, skip down past the plus signs below to get to this week's True Music Fact


Most people know the basics about the Scopes trial: John T. Scopes was a science teacher who taught evolution to his students in contravention of Tennessee's Butler Act, which provided that "it shall be unlawful for any teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals."  He was arrested and charged criminally, and his trial was the subject of intense (and international) public interest.  Scopes was defended by the famous civil liberties lawyer Clarence Darrow, while the lead prosecutor was William Jennings Bryan.  Bryan was a religious fundamentalist and prohibitionist who had by that point in his life (1) served as secretary of state (from 1913-1915), (2) made three failed runs for President (in 1896, 1900, and 1908), and (3) not actually tried a case in court for 36 years.  After the well-publicized trial, Scopes was found guilty by the jury.

But here's some stuff you might not have known:

1.  The whole thing was a publicity stunt. Though in high school I learned about the trial as a Big Serious Issue, in fact the whole thing was concocted for the show of it.  When the Butler Act was passed, the ACLU offered to defend anyone who was charged with violating it.  Recognizing an opportunity to stimulate the local economy and bring publicity to his town for what was sure to be a spectacle, a local businessman in Dayton, Tennessee named George Rappleyea convinced the town leaders that they should be the ones to accept the challenge.  They got Mr. Scopes on board as the volunteer defendant, invited William Jennings Bryan to prosecute, and went from there. 

Rappleyea was right that the trial brought people to Dayton - more than 200 reporters attended, and the trial was front page news around the country for weeks.  WGN radio in Chicago broadcasted portions of the trial in real time, with an announcer describing the scene.  And the great H.L. Mencken wrote appropriately bombastic articles in the Baltimore Sun about the circus atmosphere.

And Rappleyea was right that the trial would be a spectacle: near the end of it, Clarence Darrow called William Jennings Bryan himself as a witness, to answer questions about Biblical stories.  That portion of the questioning was done outside of the courthouse on the lawn, because there were so many people and because the summer heat inside the courtroom was stifling.  It must have been something to behold.

2.  Evolution was already being taught in every public school in Tennessee, with little controversy.  At the time of the trial, the approved (and in fact mandated) Tennessee high school biology textbook included a section that specifically endorsed evolution - including adaptations in mammals.  The textbook included the lesson "[w]e have now learned that animal forms may be arranged so as to begin with very simple one-celled forms and culminate with a group which contains man himself."  So it was not as though Scopes was a revolutionary or a crusader for science who was unique in his teaching.  He was just a convenient defendant.

3.  Scopes was a substitute teacher and might not have even taught evolution.  When Scopes was brought before the town leaders and asked whether he'd be a willing defendant, he pointed out that he might not have ever specifically taught evolution.  (He had apparently assigned the chapter but was out sick the next day and may not have gone back to cover it.)  Considering that the whole trial was really about anything but that specific violation, that detail was seen as unimportant to the overall proceedings.  So Scopes asked his students to testify that he had in fact done so, and even helped them with their testimony.  It was good enough to get him charged, and the trial was on.

4.  Scopes's conviction came only with a fine of $100, and was thrown out by the appeals court on a technicality.  By the end of the "trial of the century" (well, one of them, anyway), the legal issue had been narrowed down to the very specific question of whether Scopes had taught evolution to his students.  That part of the prosecution had lasted all of 2 hours in the 7-day trial, and was pretty well undisputed. Addressing the jury, Clarence Darrow said "we cannot even explain to you that we think you should return a verdict of not guilty. We do not see how you could. We do not ask it."  So taking their cue from Darrow, the jury played their part and brought back a conviction.  Scopes was ultimately fined $100 by the judge for his misdeed.  He had never spent one minute in jail, and he was not even detained when he was initially arrested for the "crime." 

The case then went up on appeal.  The Tennessee Supreme Court, weary of the case and well aware that it was created solely for publicity, had no appetite to participate.  It issued an opinion that upheld the Butler Act but nevertheless reversed the conviction on a technicality.  (The technicality in this case was that the judge had set the fine rather than the jury, which was not allowed under Tennessee law for fines of over $50.)  Then the court advised the prosecutors below to knock it off, saying "we see nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case" and urging the Attorney General to decline to take up the case for a second round.  He did just that, immediately declaring that he would not seek retrial.  And with that the whole thing was over.


Okay, so how to we get from True Monkey Facts Wednesday to a True Music Facts Wednesday?  I am glad you asked.  Though William Jennings Bryan was the lead prosecutor in the trial, his prosecution team included two local lawyers - brothers named Herbert and Sue Hicks. (Do you see where this one is going now?)

Years after he became famous as a prosecutor in the Scopes Trial, Sue Hicks presented at a judicial conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  An attendee at that conference was the great Shel Silverstein.  Silverstein is probably known to most of the TMFW audience as a poet and children's book author - The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic are all classics - but he also did grown-up stuff.  He wrote cartoons for Playboy from the late 50s through the 70s, and was an accomplished songwriter.  Silverstein was friends with Chet Atkins and lived in Nashville in the 1960s, and he became a friend of Johnny Cash as well. 

By now most of you have surely figured out today's story.  When Silverstein saw Sue Hicks - MISTER Sue Hicks - present at the conference, he took inspiration from his name and wrote a poem that he called "A Boy Named Sue."  Silverstein played his song for Johnny Cash one night, and Cash loved it.  Only a few days later, at the urging of June Carter Cash, Cash took the song with him to San Quentin prison, where he recorded a live version.  It was one of the first times that his band had even played through the song, and Cash had to read from a lyrics sheet.  The song went over huge with the inmates, and Columbia records released it as the lead single from Cash's At San Quentin record.  It hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969 and stayed there for three weeks.  And it earned him a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.

If you can believe it, though he had a good deal of Country chart success, "A Boy Named Sue" was the one and only top-10 song that Johnny Cash ever had on the Billboard Hot 100.  And it was all thanks to a poet who was inspired by a lawyer who became famous for prosecuting a sham "monkey trial" 40 years earlier.


BONUS FACT:  According to oft-repeated folklore - told to David Letterman and adapted into a Highwaymen song - the night in 1969 that Johnny Cash first heard "A Boy Named Sue" played by Shel Siliverstein, he was hosting a songwriting session at his house with a number of friends.  Going around the room to play the latest tunes they were working on, Bob Dylan played "Lay Lady Lay," Joni Mitchell played "Both Sides Now," Kris Kristofferson played "Me and Bobby McGee," and Graham Nash played "Marrakesh Express."  Not a bad night.

BONUS FACT 2:  In real life, Sue Hicks was not named by an absent father who wanted to make him tough.  Instead, he was named for his mother, who died giving birth to him.  That would have made a really sad song, though. 

BONUS FACT 3:  For another great "Johnny Cash tells the amusing tale of an unusual guy" song, try his take on Loudon Wainwright III's "The Man Who Couldn't Cry."  I love that song.

BONUS FACT 4:  Maybe putting the lie to this week's whole entire entry, though he surely did attend the judicial conference in Gatlinburg where Hicks was speaking, Shel Silverstein often referenced his friend Jean Shepherd as the principal inspiration for the song.  Shepherd - yes, the same Jean Shepherd who co-wrote and narrated A Christmas Story - said once that he "fist-fought [his] way through every grade in school" as a result of his first name. 

(But let's not let that get in the way of a good story.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

TMFW 78 - The "Fifth Beatle," times seven

A few weeks before yesterday, I decided to drive my car to the grocery store, and brought my daughter along to help.  On the way there, while driving through the rain the two of us were listening to rock and roll music, and we heard Billy Preston playing with The Beatles on "Get Back."  "He's famous," I told her.  "Some people say he was the Fifth Beatle."  My girl responded "I dig it, but I thought the Fifth Beatle was the guy who played the really high trumpet on 'Penny Lane.'"  (1. She was thinking of George Martin, who produced the song and helped arrange for the piccolo trumpet.  But let it be known that he did not, of course, play it. 2. I tried to act naturally, but her knowing that made me glad all over.) 
Because she and I were discussing the competing "Fifth Beatle"s of Billy Preston and George Martin, I thought to myself "when I get home, I will write a TMFW about the people who have been most commonly referred to as the 'Fifth Beatle.'"  It is sad, but that is in fact what goes on now: I have TMFW in my brain all the time. Seven of the candidates are listed below, all together now.  
1. Pete Best. 

Best, along with Stuart Sutcliffe, have the most literal claims to the "Fifth Beatle" title as they were in fact early members of the actual band.  Best was the group's drummer for just over two years, including the hugely influential time that the group spent playing in Hamburg, Germany in 1960 and 1961.  But in 1962, right after their first recording sessions with George Martin and EMI, the band fired Best and he was replaced by Mr. Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey.

Theories of why Best was fired from the group include (a) because he didn't take drugs, (b) because he wouldn't get a mop-top haircut, (c) because he was the most handsome of the group and the others were jealous, or (d) that his mother (an early Beatles promoter) was too difficult.  But the commonly accepted reason is that he just wasn't that great of a drummer.

After leaving the band, Best was put in a few other bands by Brian Epstein and others sympathetic to his plight.  None of them made it, so by the mid-60s Best quit music and took a civil service job for the English government. 

After 20+ years of refusing to play drums for money, in 1988 Best finally came out of retirement.  He now regularly performs as a part of The Pete Best Band, where he shares drumming duties with his younger brother Roag. 
Sutcliffe was the original bass player for the Beatles, and played with the group from May 1960 to July 1961.  Like Best, Sutcliffe's tenure with the group took place during their time in Hamburg.  Sutcliffe, with John Lennon, came up with the name "Beetles," which was a play on Buddy Holly's band The Crickets.
Sutcliffe was not a particularly strong bass player, and his popularity (which came in part from his on-stage ensemble of sunglasses and tight pants) caused some jealousy from Lennon and McCartney.  Conversely, Sutcliffe was a very good artist.  As he got more and more into painting, he decided to leave the group to pursue art full-time.  Sutcliffe enrolled in a Hamburg art school in 1961, but in April 1962 he suffered a brain aneurysm and collapsed during a class.  He died en route to the hospital.

Taylor was a 31-year-old journalist when, in 1963, he was assigned to attend and review a Beatles show.  Rather than turn in a negative review - which was expected, given that the teenybopper rock-and-roll scene was looked down upon by the serious people at the time - he praised the group and fed the growing Beatles momentum.  That review earned him an invitation to meet the group, and he became a friend. 

During the early Beatlemania days, Taylor and George Harrison collaborated on a recurring column in the Daily Express newspaper, and in early 1964 Taylor went to work as the Beatles' press manager.  He was instrumental in creating much of the Beatlemania hype that came in those early days, and handled all of the press that came with the group's first visit to the US in 1964. 
Though he separated from the group in 1965 and moved to California (he did work for the Byrds and was the guy who urged the music press to treat Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys as a musical genius), Taylor was involved with the Beatles on and off throughout his career.  He remained a close friend of George Harrison and John Lennon after the band's break-up, and had a central role in organizing and publicizing John and Yoko's world peace campaign in 1969.  He died in 1997 of cancer.

Aspinall was was a high school classmate of Paul McCartney and a friend of George Harrison.  He got his start with the group as their "road manager," which mostly involved him lugging their equipment from gig to gig in a van, for which he charged them a small per-gig fee.  As the group became more popular - often playing several gigs a night at different venues - Aspinall quit his job as a trainee accountant and took a job with the band full time. 
Aspinall stayed with the group through their entire tenure; in fact, his employment with The Beatles ended with his retirement in 2007 (!!) from his position as CEO of Apple Corps (!!!) , the multi-billion dollar company that the Beatles founded to manage their business affairs.  Along the way, he'd acted as the group's personal assistant, as their driver, as their manager, and finally as the head of Apple Corps.  His careful management of the band's catalog and brand no doubt helped to cement the band's legend.

MIDDLE-OF-THE-POST-BONUS-FACT: Remember a few paragraphs up in the Pete Best section where I told you that Best now plays in a band with his brother Roag?  Well, it turns out Roag is Pete's half-brother.  While Pete was a member of the Beatles, the 19-year-old Aspinall rented a room in the Best family house.  While there, he had an affair with Best's 36-year-old mother Mona, and fathered Roag.  The boy was born in July, 1962: just one month prior to Pete being fired from the group.  Despite all of that, Aspinall stayed on working for the Beatles.  He severed his relationship with Mrs. Best, and their son was given the surname Best and raised in that household.  That must have been interesting times around the holidays.

5.  Brian Epstein. 
While running his family's record store in Liverpool, Epstein "discovered" The Beatles in 1961 at The Cavern Club and signed on shortly thereafter as their manager.  He was responsible for almost all of the business decisions that turned them from The Beatles to **The Beatles**: from securing a hard-won record deal with EMI and George Martin, to firing Pete Best and bringing in Ringo, to acting as personal shrink to each band member as they navigated fame and intra-band squabbles, to directing the group's suit-and-tie wardrobe and professional stage presence, to hiring Aspinall and Taylor, to managing licensing as the group blew up.
On the flip-side, Epstein's arrangement with the band was unusually generous: he set up a scaled percentage that was based on the group's earnings that started at 15% (the standard at the time was 10%) and stepped up to 20% and then 25%, plus payment of all of his management expenses from the band's share.  Epstein also set up the early Northern Songs publishing deal that gave the publishers a 50% share of the company, Epstein a 10% share, and McCartney and Lennon only a 20% share each.  That arrangement eventually lead to McCartney and Lennon losing control of the company in the 1969, which Michael Jackson famously acquired in the mid-1980s.  Finally, just before the expiration of his first management contract in 1967, Epstein negotiated a new record deal for the band with EMI, which included a 25% share of royalties with Epstein's company even if the band decided not to renew with him.  Despite all of this shady business, the Beatles loved and trusted Epstein implicitly. 
As the Beatles got more and more successful, Epstein got involved with drugs and developed a dependence on sleeping pills. In August 1967, he overdosed on sleeping pills and alcohol and died in his apartment.  He was 32 years old.  Epstein's death affected the Beatles greatly; John Lennon said in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone "I knew that we were in trouble then...I was scared. I thought 'we've fuckin' had it now.'"  Without a clear leader, McCartney and Lennon's relationship deteriorated, and within three years the band was broken up. 
George Martin came to know the Beatles when he was the head of Parlophone, a label owned by EMI records.  Parlophone mostly made classical music, with some soundtrack, comedy, and novelty records mixed in.  They were most definitely not a rock label, but for Brian Epstein it did not matter.  When the two were introduced, Epstein's enthusiasm for The Beatles impressed Martin and though he did not care for the band's audition tapes he was persuaded to offer them a record deal.  Martin recalled later that EMI had "nothing to lose" from the contract, as the royalty rate for the band was extremely cheap. 
Martin produced nearly all the Beatles original recordings, starting with "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" and continuing through Abbey Road (chronologically, their last studio record).  His classical music expertise and skill as an arranger greatly influenced the Beatles' sound, including the "Penny Lane" trumpet solo noted at the outset of today's entry, the strings on "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby," the cacophony of "A Day in the Life," the baroque piano on "In My Life," and many others.
Martin is still involved with the Beatles' music, and with his son Giles was the architect of the soundtrack for the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show Love.  He is 89.
Preston was an excellent organ player who in the 1960s backed musicians like Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.  He met The Beatles when he was 16 years old and touring with Little Richard in Liverpool.  The Beatles opened the show. 
Preston's "Fifth Beatle" claim comes from his time with the group just before their break-up.  After bailing out on a recording session, George Harrison went to a Ray Charles show where Preston was playing.  Harrison brought him back to the studio, and he sat in with the group on some songs.  One of those turned into "Get Back."  When Let it Be was released, "Get Back" was credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston."  It is the only song of theirs that officially shares credit with another artist. 
Preston also played with the band in their famous "rooftop concert," which was the last public performance of the group.  (So on that day at least, he was quite literally the fifth Beatle.)
Preston went on to a solid solo career in the 70s, with five top-5 singles including the number one songs "Will it Go Round in Circles" and TMFW-favorite "Nothing From Nothing."  He died in 2006 of kidney failure, after struggling later in life with alcohol and drug addiction.


So now you know seven of the Fifth Beatles.  If anyone ever brings it up in conversation - any time at all, whether at a birthday party, in an octopus's garden, or on a yellow submarine (OK those were a stretch, there) - you can hopefully impress them with your knowledge.  Call your family and tell them about it - your mother should know important trivia like this.
Okay, I've got a feeling that this week's gag has by this point gotten long long long.  It is starting to seem like it's all too much.  To be honest, though usually I feel fine about each week's entry, with all the time spent on this one I feel like I'm a loser.  But don't worry: it won't be long now; I'm down to my last few.  I'll be on my way for this week, but I'll be back next Wednesday with another True Music Fact. 
BONUS FACT:  Though not a candidate for the "Fifth Beatle" title, 24-year-old Jimmie Nicol had a wild week in 1964 when he played drums for the Beatles on a tour of Australia and Asia.  Nicol joined the group at the height of Beatlemania when, on the eve of a tour, Ringo went down with tonsillitis. His rise to the highest heights and subsequent fall back to Earth affected him, and he was depressed for sometime thereafter.  A common (though probably not true) story is that Nicol was often asked how he was dealing with the let down from his post-Beatle life.  He typically answered "it's getting better," which inspired McCartney to write the song of the same name. 

BONUS FACT 2:  When I was a kid, our local grocery store had a video rental section.  During the week, tapes were rent-one-get-one-free.  Don't ask me why, but a frequent selection of mine was the Saturday Night Live "Best of Eddie Murphy" video.  One of the selections from the video tells the story of Clarence Walker, the saxophone player who was the original Fifth Beatle until he was kicked out of the group in 1963.  I loved every skit on that tape, but as a young Beatles fan that one was particularly funny.

BONUS FACT 3/BIBLIOGRAPHY:  As I sketched out this post, I discovered that there is a Wikipedia entry devoted to cataloging the various "Fifth Beatle"s.  I should have known better that something like that already existed.

BONUS FACT 4/PERSONAL UPDATE:  Many of you who actually know me in my life already know this, but our family recently became a foster family.  Last month, we welcomed another girl into our house - lovely Rita.  She's a little child of five years old, and I love her

BONUS FACT 5/SINCERE APPRECIATION/EXCUSE FOR A FEW MORE:  Do you want to know a secret?  I started this weekly exercise because I had always wished I could be a (paperback) writer and wanted to have a creative outlet.  You never give me your money for any of the entries; in fact, most of the time these go out into the ether and get no reply at all.  And I don't blame you: my topics are admittedly helter skelter, they don't always come together coherently, and I write these entries for no one in particular.

But sometimes in these past 78 weeks I have gotten random words of love from readers - Jason, Jinxie, Andy, Les, Mobes, Ben: I'm talking about you - and I want to tell you that means a lot to this boy.

P.S. I love you.