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 the El Monte Legion Stadium and Harmony Park. Those early inspirations are heard in Don's music and albums, including his album Sacre Blues.
The 1960s opened the door to a new musical era as Don and the Deacons regularly played the popular Cinnamon Cinder club, owned by Bob Eubanks, in North Hollywood. That exposure led to Don joining The Shindogs with Joey Cooper, Chuck Blackwell, and Delaney Bramlett. 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 J.J. 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." Leon's all-star band, including Don (a.k.a. "The Gentle Giant"), then joined Joe Cocker to form the celebrated Mad Dogs and Englishmen troupe, whose performances were seen and heard in concerts around the world, on film, and now on CDs and DVDs.
At that time, the specter of famine was rising in the region of Bangladesh (near India) as a war for independence was escalating during 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. 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.
"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 with bookings across the country. Rick Nelson then recruited Don to tour with his Stone Canyon Band.
Since then, Don Preston 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-winning musical It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues. He also toured with the classic band Canned Heat, as well as legendary songwriter J.J. Cale—and came full circle, reuniting with Leon Russell for several U.S. concerts.
© 2013 Don Preston Guitar