Nicky Hopkins

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Nicky Hopkins
Nicky Hopkins.png
Hopkins in 1973
Background information
Birth name Nicholas Christian Hopkins
Born (1944-02-24)24 February 1944
Perivale, Middlesex, England
Died 6 September 1994(1994-09-06) (aged 50)
Nashville, Tennessee
Genres Rock and roll, rock
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Keyboards, melodica, accordion, backing vocals
Years active 1960s–1985
Labels Fontana
Associated acts Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, Cyril Davies All Stars, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Jeff Beck Group, Sweet Thursday, Steve Miller Band, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Who, John Lennon, George Harrison, Rod Stewart

Nicholas Christian "Nicky" Hopkins (24 February 1944 – 6 September 1994) was an English pianist and organist.

Hopkins recorded and performed on many notable British and American pop and rock music releases from the 1960s through the 1990s including many songs by The Rolling Stones.[1]

Early life[edit]

Nicholas Christian Hopkins was born in Perivale, Middlesex, England on 24 February 1944. His musical talent emerged early and he began playing piano at age three. He attended Wembley County Grammar School[2] which now forms part of Alperton Community School and was initially tutored by a local piano teacher and in his teens he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London.[3] He suffered from Crohn's disease from his youth. Poor health and ongoing surgery made it difficult for him to tour. This resulted in his working primarily as a studio player for most of his career.

Early groups and as a session musician[edit]

Hopkins' studies were interrupted in 1960 when he left school at 16 to become the pianist with Screaming Lord Sutch's Savages until, two years later, he and fellow Savages Bernie Watson, Rick Brown (aka Ricky Fenson) and Carlo Little, joined the renowned blues harmonica player Cyril Davies, who had just left Blues Incorporated, and became the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars.[3] Hopkins played piano on their first single, Davies' much-admired theme tune "Country Line Special".[4] However he was forced to leave the All Stars in May 1963 for a series of operations that almost cost him his life and was bed-ridden for nineteen months in his late teenage years. During his convalescence Davies died of leukaemia and The All Stars disbanded.[3]

Hopkins' frail health led him to concentrate on working as a session musician instead of joining bands, although he left his mark performing with a wide variety of famous bands, including the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.[5] He quickly became one of London's most in-demand session pianists and performed on many hit recordings from this period. He worked extensively for leading UK independent producers Shel Talmy and Andrew Loog Oldham and performed on albums and singles by the Easybeats,[6] the Kinks, the Pretty Things, the Move and the Who.

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,[7] playing on the LPs Truth and Beck-Ola.

The same year Hopkins recorded Beggars Banquet with the Rolling Stones (he had first worked for them on Between the Buttons). He also recorded for several San Franciscan groups, playing on albums by Jefferson Airplane (with whom he performed at the Woodstock Festival), the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Steve Miller Band. He briefly joined Quicksilver Messenger Service and also appeared with the Jerry Garcia Band.[8]

At this point he was one of Britain's best-known session players, recording with British acts of the Sixties, including the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, on several Nilsson albums in the early 70s, including Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson, and with Donovan.

With The Rolling Stones[edit]

Hopkins played with the Rolling Stones on their studio albums from Between the Buttons in 1967 through Emotional Rescue in 1980 and Tattoo You in 1981, including the prominent piano parts in "She's a Rainbow" (1967), "Sympathy for the Devil" (1968), "Monkey Man" (1969), "Loving Cup" (1972) and "Waiting on a Friend" (1981). During this period, Hopkins tended to be employed on the Stones' slower, ballad-type songs, with longtime Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart playing on traditional rock numbers and Billy Preston used on soul and funk-influenced tunes.

Hopkins – along with Ry Cooder, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts – released the 1972 album entitled Jamming with Edward! which was recorded during the Stones' Let It Bleed sessions when Stones guitarist Keith Richards was not present in the studio. The "Edward" of the title was an alias of Nicky Hopkins derived from studio banter with Brian Jones and later became a song title on his outstanding performance, "Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder", a song on the Quicksilver Messenger Service album Shady Grove. Hopkins also contributed to the Jamming With Edward! cover art.

Hopkins' work with the Rolling Stones is perhaps most prominent on their 1972 studio album, Exile on Main St..

Hopkins was added to the Rolling Stones live line-up on the 1971 Good-Bye Britain Tour, as well as the notorious 1972 North American Tour and the early 1973 Winter Tour of Australia and New Zealand. He started to form his own band around this time but decided against it after the Stones tour. He had planned on using Prairie Prince on drums and Pete Sears on bass. Hopkins failed to make the Rolling Stones' 1973 tour of Europe due to ill health and, aside from a guest appearance in 1978, did not play again with the Stones live on stage. He did manage to go on tour with the Jerry Garcia Band, from 5 August to 31 December 1975.[9] He continued to record with the Stones through the sessions for 1980's Emotional Rescue.

With The Kinks[edit]

Hopkins was invited in 1965 by producer Shel Talmy to record with the Kinks. He recorded 4 studio albums: The Kink Kontroversy (1965), Face to Face (1966), Something Else by the Kinks (1967) and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968).

The relationship between Hopkins and the Kinks deteriorated after the release of the The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society album; Hopkins maintained that "about seventy percent" of the keyboard work on the album was his, and was incensed when Ray Davies apparently credited himself for the majority of the keyboard playing.[10]

Despite Hopkins' ensuing grudge against him, Davies spoke positively of his contributions in a New York Times interview in 1995:


Other groups and solo albums[edit]

Quicksilver Messenger Service in January 1970, with Hopkins second from right

In 1969, Nicky Hopkins joined Quicksilver Messenger Service and performed on their album Shady Grove. His presence is apparent throughout the album, particularly on the closing instrumental track "Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder". He also played on the two Quicksilver Messenger Service albums from 1970, Just for Love and What About Me and contributed to their 1975 reunion album.

Also in 1969, Hopkins was a member of the short-lived Sweet Thursday line-up, a quintet made up of Hopkins, Alun Davies (Cat Stevens), Jon Mark, Harvey Burns and Brian Odgers. The band completed their eponymous debut album, however the project was doomed from the start. Their American record label, Tetragrammaton Records, abruptly declared bankruptcy[11][12] (by legend, the same day the album was released)[13] with promotion and a possible tour never happening.

Sweet Thursday; left to right: Hopkins, Alun Davies, Mark, Burns, Odgers

He released his second solo album in 1973 entitled The Tin Man Was a Dreamer. Other musicians appearing on the album include George Harrison (credited as "George O'Hara"), Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, and Prairie Prince, who was later the drummer for the Tubes. Re-released on Columbia in 2004, the album is a rare opportunity to hear Hopkins sing.

His third solo album, entitled No More Changes (Mercury SRM 11028), was released in 1975. Appearing on the album are Hopkins (lead vocals and all keyboards), David Tedstone (guitars), Michael Kennedy (guitars), Rick Wills (bass), and Eric Dillon (drums and percussion), with back-up vocals from Kathi McDonald, Lea Santo-Robertie, Doug Duffey and Dolly.

A fourth album, Long Journey Home, has remained unreleased. He also released three soundtrack albums in Japan between 1992 and 1993, The Fugitive, Patio and Namiki Family (Toshiba EMI TOCT-6640, TOCT-6841, and TOCT-6914).

Hopkins, given his long association with the Who, was a key instrumentalist on the soundtrack for the 1975 Ken Russell film, Tommy. Hopkins played piano on most of the tracks, and is acknowledged in the album's liner notes for his work on the arrangements for most of the songs.

In addition to working with The Beatles as a group in 1968, Hopkins also worked with each of the four when they went solo, appearing on many of John, George and Ringo's albums in the 1970s. He was a core contributor to the critically acclaimed Harrison album Living in the Material World. Despite working many times with the other various members of The Beatles, he worked only once with Paul on his 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt.

Hopkins also played with the first lineup of the Jerry Garcia Band (from August to December 1975) and many different appearances through the years that followed. He also is featured on official released JGB material that are listed at bottom of this page.[14]

Later life[edit]

Hopkins lived in Mill Valley, California, for several years. During this time he worked with several local bands and continued to record in San Francisco. One of his complaints throughout his career was that he did not receive 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 Polte and its members gave Hopkins an ownership stake.[citation needed] Towards the end of his life he worked as a composer and orchestrator of film scores, with considerable success in Japan.

As a session player, Hopkins was a quick study. The Kinks' song "Session Man" from Face to Face is said to be dedicated to (and features) Hopkins.[5] Ray Davies wrote a memorial piece that appeared in the New York Times after Hopkins' death.[5]


Hopkins died on 6 September 1994, at the age of 50, in Nashville, Tennessee, from complications resulting from intestinal surgery presumably related to his lifelong battle with Crohn's disease. At the time of his death, he was working on his autobiography with Ray Coleman. He is survived by his wife, Moira.[citation needed] Songwriter and musician Julian Dawson collaborated with Hopkins on one recording, the pianist's last, in spring 1994, a few months before his death. After Ray Coleman's death, the connection led to Dawson working on a definitive biography of Nicky Hopkins, first published by Random House, Inc. in German in 2010, followed in 2011 by the English-language version with the title And on Piano...Nicky Hopkins (a hardback in the UK via Desert Hearts, and a paperback in North America via Backstage Books/Plus One Press).

Selected performances[edit]


  1. ^ Welch, Chris (9 September 1994). "Obituary: Nicky Hopkins". The Independent (UK). Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  2. ^ "Homage to Wembley session musician who played with The Beatles. – What's on – Brent & Kilburn Times". 3 June 2011. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  3. ^ a b c Nicky Hopkins official website – biography
  4. ^ Bodganov, Vladimir et al. (2003). All Music Guide to the Blues (3rd ed.). Backbeat Books. p. 140. ISBN 0-87930-736-6. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Ray Davies on Nicky Hopkins, from The New York Times, January 1, 1995". 1 January 1995. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  6. ^ a b "MILESAGO – The Easybeats". Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  7. ^ Hoffmann, Frank W. (ed.) (rev. 2005). Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, p. 83. CRC Press. ISBN 0-415-93835-X.
  8. ^ Fenton, Craig (22 November 2006). Take Me to a Circus Tent: The Jefferson Airplane Flight Manual. Infinity Publishing. pp. 155–56. ISBN 0-7414-3656-6. 
  9. ^ Jackson, Blair (2000). Garcia: An American Life, pp. 269–70. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-029199-7.
  10. ^ Dawson, Julian (2011). And on Piano...Nicky Hopkins. Backstage Press. p.82-83
  11. ^ Callahan, Mike; Eyries, Patrice; and Edwards, Dave (25 March 2008). "Tetragrammaton Album Discography". Both Sides Now Publications. Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  12. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Deep Purple [1969]: Review". Allmusic. Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  13. ^ George-Warren, Holly; Romanowski, Patricia; Pareles, Jon, eds. (2001). The Rolling stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (3rd ed.). Fireside Books. p. 608. ISBN 0-7432-0120-5. 
  14. ^ Jerry Garcia Band
  15. ^ Matt Kent and Andy Neill, liner notes to The Who—The Ultimate Collection, p. 4, (MCA Records, 2002)
  16. ^ Harry Castleman & Walter J. Podrazik, All Together Now: The First Complete Beatles Discography 1961–1975, Ballantine Books (New York, NY, 1976; ISBN 0-345-25680-8), p. 206.
  17. ^ Leng, Simon (2006). While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison, p. 126. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 1-4234-0609-5.
  18. ^ Drakoulias, George (2011). Hollywood Town Hall (booklet). The Jayhawks. American Recordings. pp. 9–11. 88697 72731 2. 

External links[edit]