1944 – Session pianist Nicky Hopkins is born…

Nicky Hopkins

1944 – Session pianist Nicky Hopkins is born in London. He played with just about everybody, making valuable contributions to the Beatles’ White Album, Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, and more than a dozen Rolling Stones albums, including Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed.

Nicky Hopkins (born Nicholas Christian Hopkins (February 24, 1944 in Harlesden, North London, England; died September 6, 1994 in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.) was an English pianist and organist.

Hopkins recorded and performed on some of the most important British and American popular music recordings of the 1960s and 1970s, and is widely regarded as one of the most important session musicians in rock history.

Hopkins suffered from Crohn’s disease since his youth. Poor health and ongoing surgeries made it difficult for him to tour. This contributed heavily to his focus on working primarily as a studio player.

Hopkins started his musical career in the early 1960s as the pianist with Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages, which also included Ritchie Blackmore, founder of Deep Purple. He then joined The Cyril Davies R&B All Stars, one of the first British rhythm & blues bands, and played piano on their initial single, “Country Line Special”.[1]

He began his career as a session musician in London in the early Sixties and quickly became one of the most in-demand players on the thriving session scene there, contributing his fluid and dexterous boogie-woogie influenced piano style to many hit recordings. He worked extensively as a session pianist for leading UK independent producers Shel Talmy and Mickie Most and performed on albums and singles by The Kinks, Alun Davies and Jon Mark (later of the Mark-Almond Band), while Davies was touring with Cat Stevens, Donovan, and The Rolling Stones. His performances with The Rolling Stones were among his most memorable, notably on their Sixties albums Between the Buttons, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. Hopkins also played on Jamming With Edward, an unofficial Stones release that was recorded during the Let It Bleed sessions, while Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, of the Stones– with Hopkins and Ry Cooder, were waiting for Keith Richards at Keith’s Paris flat. The “Edward” of the title was an alias of Nicky Hopkins, derived from his outstanding performance on “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder”, a song from Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Shady Grove LP.

In 1965, he played piano on The Who’s debut LP, My Generation. He recorded with most of the top British acts of the Sixties, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks, and on solo albums by John Lennon, Jeff Beck, and others. He also helped define the “San Francisco sound”, playing on albums by Jefferson Airplane, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Steve Miller Band. He briefly joined Quicksilver Messenger Service and performed with Jefferson Airplane at the Woodstock Festival.[2]

In 1967 he joined The Jeff Beck Group, formed by former Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck, with vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ronnie Wood and drummer Micky Waller,[3] playing on their influential LPs Truth and Beck-Ola. In 1968 he also played piano with the Swedish psychedelic group The Tages in the single “Halcyon Days”, produced in Abbey Road Studio.

Hopkins lived in Mill Valley, California, for several years. During this time he worked with several local dealer bands and continued to record in San Francisco. At the Church Studio in San Anselmo, Marin County, a small jam band formed around Nicky: Bruce Walford, guitar, Larry Holman, drums, and Reb Blake, on bass. Hopkins would play his songs and spin tales of his time in London’s early rock scene and his father’s piano playing in England during World War Two. Hopkins never allowed any of these sessions to be recorded, citing his complete disgust with the music business. One of his complaints throughout his career was that he did not owning royalties from any of his recording sessions, because of his status at the time as merely a “hired hand”, as opposed to pop stars with agents. Only Quicksilver Messenger Service, through its manager Ron Polti, and its members, gave Hopkins an ownership stake.

As a session player, Hopkins was renowned for his ability to give accomplished performances with little or no rehearsal, and for his quirky habit of reading comic books at recording sessions. The classic Kinks song “Session Man” from Face to Face is dedicated to (and features) Hopkins. The Kinks’ Ray Davies wrote a memorial piece that appeared in the New York Times after Hopkins’ death.

Selected performances

  • The Who, My Generation album (1965), “The Song Is Over” (1971), “Getting In Tune” (1971), “We’re Not Gonna Take It [movie remix]” (1975), “They Are All in Love” (1975), “Slip Kid” (1975)
  • The Kinks, The Kink Kontroversy (1965), Face to Face (1966), “Mr. Pleasant” (1967), “Village Green” (1968), “Berkeley Mews” (1968)
  • Jeff Beck, “Blues De Luxe”, “Morning Dew” (1967), Truth (1967), “Girl From Mill Valley”, Beck-Ola (1969)
  • Cat Stevens, “Matthew and Son” (1967), Matthew and Son (1967)
  • Marc Bolan, “Jasper C. Debussy” (1966-7, released 1974)
  • The Rolling Stones, “She’s a Rainbow” (1967), “Sympathy for the Devil” (1968), “No Expectations” (1968), “Gimme Shelter” (1969), “Monkey Man” (1969), “Moonlight Mile” (1970), “Tumbling Dice” (1972), “Torn and Frayed” (1972), Exile on Main St. album (1972), “Angie” (1973), “Time Waits for No One” (1974), “Fool to Cry” (1976), “Waiting on a Friend” (1981)
  • Led Zeppelin, “Rock and Roll” (1969)
  • The Beatles, “Revolution” (single version) (1968)
  • The Move, “Hey Grandma”, “Mist on a Monday Morning”, “Wild Tiger Woman” (all 1968)
  • Jamming With Edward [jam session with Ry Cooder and some members of the Rolling Stones] (recorded 1969, released 1972)
  • Quicksilver Messenger Service, “Shady Grove”, “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder”, “Spindrifter”
  • Jefferson Airplane, “Volunteers” (1969), “Eskimo Blue Day” (1969), “Hey Fredrick” (1969)
  • John Lennon, “Jealous Guy” (1971), “Oh My Love” (1971), “Oh Yoko” (1971), “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (1971), Walls and Bridges album (1974)
  • George Harrison, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” (1973)[6]
  • Joe Cocker, “You Are So Beautiful” (1974)
  • L. Ron Hubbard, “The Mining Song” (1982), “The Banker” (1982)
  • Dogs D’Amour, “Hurricane”, “Trail of Tears”, and “Princes Valium” from the Errol Flynn/King Of The Thieves album (1989)
  • The Jayhawks, “Waiting for the Sun” and other tracks from the Hollywood Town Hall album (1992)

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