Nicky Hopkins

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Nicky Hopkins
Hopkins in 1973
Hopkins in 1973
Background information
Birth nameNicholas Christian Hopkins
Born(1944-02-24)24 February 1944
Perivale, Middlesex, England, UK
Died6 September 1994(1994-09-06) (aged 50)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
  • Piano
  • organ
Years active1960–1994
Formerly of

Nicholas Christian Hopkins (24 February 1944 – 6 September 1994) was an English pianist and organist. He performed on many popular and enduring British and American rock music recordings from the 1960s to the 1990s, most notably on songs recorded by the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Beatles, the Steve Miller Band, Jefferson Airplane, Rod Stewart, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, The Hollies, Cat Stevens, Carly Simon, Harry Nilsson, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, Jerry Garcia, Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker, Art Garfunkel, Badfinger, Graham Parker, Gary Moore, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Donovan. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest studio pianists in the history of popular rock music.[1]

Early life[edit]

Nicholas Christian Hopkins was born in Perivale, Middlesex, England, on 24 February 1944. He began playing the piano at the age of three. He attended Sudbury Primary School in Perrin Road[2] and Wembley County Grammar School,[3] which now forms part of Alperton Community School, and was initially tutored by a local piano teacher; in his teens he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London.[4] He suffered from Crohn's disease for most of his life.[5]

His poor health and repeated surgery later made it difficult for him to tour, and he worked mainly as a session musician for most of his career.[6] Hopkins's 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.[4] Hopkins played piano on their first single, Davies's much-admired theme tune "Country Line Special".[7]

However, he was forced to leave the All Stars in May 1963 for a series of operations that almost cost him his life and he was bed-ridden for 19 months in his late teenage years. During Hopkins's convalescence Davies died of leukemia and the All Stars disbanded.[4] Hopkins's 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.[8] He quickly became one of London's most in-demand session pianists and performed on many hit recordings from this period.[citation needed]

With the Rolling Stones[edit]

Hopkins played with the Rolling Stones on all their studio albums from Their Satanic Majesties Request in 1967 through until Tattoo You in 1981, except for Some Girls (1978). Hopkins first session with a member of the Rolling Stones was on the A Degree of Murder soundtrack, with Brian Jones, in February 1967. Hopkins' first sessions with the Rolling Stones as a band were also in 1967, from May 17 to 22, where he contributed prominent piano parts on "We Love You" and "She's a Rainbow". Hopkins added further significant piano parts to "Sympathy for the Devil", "No Expectations", and "Salt of the Earth" (1968), "Gimme Shelter" and "Monkey Man" (1969), "Sway" (1971), "Loving Cup" and "Ventilator Blues" (1972), "Coming Down Again", "Angie", and "Winter" (1973), "Time Waits for No One" (1974), "Fool to Cry" (1976), and "Waiting on a Friend" (recorded 1972, released in 1981). When working with the band during their critical and commercial zenith in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hopkins tended to be employed on a wide range of songs, including ballads, up-tempo rockers and acoustic material; conversely, longtime de facto Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart only played on traditional major key blues rock numbers of his choice, while Billy Preston often featured on soul- and funk-influenced tunes. Hopkins's work with the Rolling Stones is perhaps most prominent on their 1972 studio album, Exile on Main St., where he contributed a variety of musical styles, often playing the main melodic part. Hopkins plays on 14 of the album's 18 tracks, giving him a greater presence than full time Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, who only contributed to nine of the songs.[9]

Along with Ry Cooder, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, Hopkins released the 1972 album Jamming with Edward! It was recorded in 1969, during the Stones' Let It Bleed sessions, when guitarist Keith Richards was not present in the studio. The eponymous "Edward" was an alias of Nicky Hopkins derived from studio banter with Brian Jones. It was also incorporated into the title of Hopkins's instrumental song "Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder", recorded with Quicksilver Messenger Service and released on Shady Grove in December 1969. Hopkins also contributed to the Jamming With Edward! cover art.

Hopkins' prodigious talents were well known among his fellow keyboard players and were frequently on display. Small Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan recounted the story of Ian Stewart playing McLagan the album The Original Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and in particular the track "Ghetto". Both were astonished by the piano work performed by session pianist Leon Russell. Stewart then told McLagan he had played it to Hopkins once, who then promptly sat at the piano and played the entire song perfectly. Stewart's half-serious comment was "that's what I hate about him". McLagan further elaborated "I understood his frustration, as neither of us could compete with Nicky as a piano player. Our talents are our own, but we couldn't just play something that brilliant after hearing it for the first time. He really was annoyingly, incredibly talented".

Hopkins was added to the Rolling Stones touring line-up for the 1971 Good-Bye Britain Tour, as well as the 1972 North American tour and the 1973 Pacific tour. Audio recordings of those tours reveal the band reaching an incredible live peak, with Hopkins’s dazzling piano work meshing perfectly with the twin guitars of Taylor and Richards.

He contemplated forming his own band with multi-instrumentalist Pete Sears and drummer Prairie Prince around this time but decided against it after the Stones tour. Hopkins failed to make the Rolling Stones' 1973 European tour, possibly due to ill health. For the 1989 Steel Wheels tour Hopkins was considered but the band settled for Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford instead, according to Hopkins this was due to insecurities regarding his frail health. After this, aside from a guest appearance in 1978, Hopkins did not play live on stage with the Stones again.

With the Kinks[edit]

Hopkins was invited in 1965 by producer Shel Talmy to record with the Kinks. He played on four of the group's 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 Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Hopkins maintained that "about seventy percent" of the keyboard work on the album was his, and was incensed when Ray Davies apparently credited himself with most of the keyboard playing.[10] He was also angered that he was not paid for his session work with the group.[11]

Despite Hopkins's grudge against him, Davies spoke positively of his contributions in a New York Times interview in 1995, a few months after Hopkins' death:

Nicky, unlike lesser musicians, didn't try to show off; he would only play when necessary. But he had the ability to turn an ordinary track into a gem – slotting in the right chord at the right time or dropping a set of triplets around the back beat, just enough to make you want to dance. On a ballad, he could sense which notes to wrap around the song without being obtrusive. He managed to give "Days," for instance, a mysterious religious quality without being sentimental or pious.

Nicky and I were hardly bosom buddies. We socialized only on coffee breaks and in between takes. In many ways, I was still in awe of the man who in 1963 had played with the Cyril Davies All Stars on the classic British R & B record, "Country Line Special." I was surprised to learn that Nicky came from Wembley, just outside of London. With his style, he should have been from New Orleans, or Memphis.

... His best work in his short spell with the Kinks was on the album Face to Face. I had written a song called "Session Man," inspired partly by Nicky. Shel Talmy asked Nicky to throw in "something classy" at the beginning of the track. Nicky responded by playing a classical-style harpsichord part. When we recorded "Sunny Afternoon," Shel insisted that Nicky copy my plodding piano style. Other musicians would have been insulted but Nicky seemed to get inside my style and he played exactly as I would have. No ego. Perhaps that was his secret.[8]

With the Who[edit]

Hopkins was first invited to join the Who by Shel Talmy in 1965, while recording their debut album My Generation. His trademark licks and fills bounced effortlessly off the rest of the band and he received a rare songwriting co-credit for the riotous instrumental "The Ox". Due to the band breaking ties with Shel Talmy, he didn't record again with the band until the quirky single "Dogs" in 1968. However he was front and centre for the Who's Next album in 1971, contributing massively to "Song is Over" and "Getting in Tune". In addition, during those sessions he played on the single "Let's See Action" as well as "Too Much of Anything". His worth and repute among fellow musicians was such that Pete Townshend offered him a full-time role in the band, adding "if you would ever like to join a band, we'd love to be considered first".

Hopkins missed the Quadrophenia album, before making a full return in 1975 on The Who by Numbers. He was also a key instrumentalist on the soundtrack for Ken Russell's 1975 film Tommy. Hopkins played piano on several tracks and is acknowledged in the album's liner notes for his work on arrangements for most of the songs.

In later years Hopkins always maintained a soft spot for the band, stating they were probably his favourite act to work with.

Solo albums and soundtrack work[edit]

In 1966, Hopkins released The Revolutionary Piano of Nicky Hopkins, produced by Shel Talmy. His next solo project released was The Tin Man Was a Dreamer in 1973, under the aegis of producer David Briggs, best known for his work with Neil Young and Spirit. Other musicians appearing on the album include George Harrison (credited as "George O'Hara"), Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, and Prairie Prince. Re-released by Columbia in 2004, the album features rare Hopkins vocal performances.

His next solo album, entitled No More Changes, 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 third 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.

Other groups[edit]

In 1967, he joined the Jeff Beck Group. Intended as a vehicle for former Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck, the band also included vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ronnie Wood and drummer Micky Waller.[12] He remained with the ensemble through its dissolution in August 1969, performing on Truth (1968) and Beck-Ola (1969). He also began to record for several San Franciscan groups, including the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Steve Miller Band and Jefferson Airplane, with whom he recorded the album Volunteers and also performed at the Woodstock festival. From 1969 to 1970, Hopkins was a full member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, appearing on Shady Grove (1969), Just for Love (1970) and What About Me (1970). In 1975, he contributed to the Solid Silver reunion album as a session musician.

By this point Hopkins was one of Britain's best-known session players, particularly through his work with the Rolling Stones and after playing electric piano on the Beatles' "Revolution". Further raising his profile, he contributed to the Harry Nilsson album Son of Schmilsson, and recordings by Donovan.

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

In 1969, Hopkins was a member of the short-lived Sweet Thursday, a quintet comprising Hopkins, Alun Davies (who worked with 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[13][14] (by legend, the same day the album was released)[15] with promotion and a possible tour never happening.

In August 1975, he joined the Jerry Garcia Band, envisaged as a major creative vehicle for the guitarist during the mid-seventies hiatus of the Grateful Dead. His increasing use of alcohol precipitated several erratic live performances, resulting in him leaving the group by mutual agreement after a 31 December appearance.[16] During 1979–1989, he was playing and touring with Los Angeles-based Night, who had a hit with a cover of Walter Egan's "Hot Summer Nights". In addition to recording with the Beatles in 1968, Hopkins worked with each of the four when they went solo. Between 1970 and 1975, he appeared on many projects by John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, making key contributions to their critically acclaimed respective solo albums Imagine, Living in the Material World and Ringo. He worked only once with Paul McCartney, on the latter's 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt.

Hopkins also performed with Graham Parker's backing band the Rumour after their keyboardist Bob Andrews left the band.[17]

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. He received songwriting credit for his work with the Jeff Beck Group, including an instrumental, "Girl From Mill Valley", on the 1969 album Beck-Ola.

His precarious health, a consequence of Crohn's disease and its complications, made touring very difficult, limiting him largely to studio work. Only Quicksilver Messenger Service, through its manager Ron Polte, who went to great lengths to treat his musicians fairly, as well as with assent of the band's members, included Hopkins in an ownership stake.[18] Towards the end of his life Hopkins worked as a composer and orchestrator of film scores, with considerable success in Japan.[citation needed]

In the early 1980s, Hopkins credited the Church of Scientology-affiliated Narconon rehabilitation program with curing his drug and alcohol addiction so he ultimately remained a Scientologist for the rest of his life.[19] As a result of his religious affiliation, he contributed to several of L. Ron Hubbard's musical recordings.[citation needed]

In 1993, Hopkins, Joe Walsh, Terry Reid, Rick Rosas, and Phil Jones put together an informal group called The Flew. They played one show at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. This was Hopkins's last public performance before his death.[20][21]


Commemorative plaque at 38 Jordan Road, Perivale

Hopkins died on 6 September 1994, at the age of 50, in Nashville, Tennessee, from complications resulting from intestinal surgery related to his lifelong battle with Crohn's disease. At the time of his death, he was working on his autobiography with Ray Coleman.[22]

Legacy and recognition[edit]

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 Hopkins, first published by Random House 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).[citation needed]

On 8 September 2018, the Nicky Hopkins "piano" park bench memorial, crowdfunded through PledgeMusic, was unveiled in Perivale Park near Hopkins' birthplace.[23]

The campaign offered the opportunity for pledgers to have their name inscribed on the bench and contribute towards funding a music scholarship at London's Royal Academy of Music, where Hopkins himself won a scholarship in the 1950s. Names that have pledged in the campaign include Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Bill Wyman, Yoko Ono Lennon, Roger Daltrey, Jimmy Page, Hossam Ramzy, Johnnie Walker and Kenney Jones. A quote about Hopkins by Bob Harris appears on the bench.[24][25]

On what would have been Hopkins' 75th birthday (24 February 2019), the Nicky Hopkins Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music was created, and on 19 October 2019, a commemorative plaque on his childhood home, 38 Jordan Road, Perivale, donated by the Ealing Council and Ealing Civic Society, was unveiled.[26] [27]

The Session Man documentary[edit]

In 2021, it was announced that a documentary about Nicky's life, called The Session Man, was in production.[28][29] The film's world premiere opened Doc'n Roll Film Festival 2023 at The Barbican Centre on 26 October 2023[30] for which it was nominated for a Doc’n Roll Jury Award – Best Music Doc of 2023.[31] The film was also screened at the Berlin Independent Film Festival 2024 where it won a Low Budget Feature award.[32]


Solo albums[edit]


  • The Fugitive (1992)
  • Patio (1992)
  • Namiki Family (1993)

Selected performances and collaborations[edit]

with the Rolling Stones
with Jeff Beck
with Joe Cocker
with Art Garfunkel
with George Harrison
with Jefferson Airplane
with the Kinks
with John Lennon
with Quicksilver Messenger Service
with Ringo Starr
with Rod Stewart
with the Who
with others


  1. ^ Welch, Chris (9 September 1994). "Obituary: Nicky Hopkins". The Independent. UK. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  2. ^ Dawson, Julian (2011). And On Piano...Nicky Hopkins. Desert Hearts. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-898948-12-4.
  3. ^ "Homage to Wembley session musician who played with The Beatles. – What's on – Brent & Kilburn Times". 3 June 2011. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "Nicky Hopkins – Biography". Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  5. ^ Janovitz, Bill (2014). Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-857-90790-5.
  6. ^ "Hopkins Forsakes Studios For Solo". Billboard. 16 June 1973. p. 21. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  7. ^ Bodganov, Vladimir; et al. (2003). All Music Guide to the Blues (3rd ed.). Backbeat Books. p. 140. ISBN 0-87930-736-6.
  8. ^ a b "Ray Davies on Nicky Hopkins, from The New York Times, on January 1, 1995". 1 January 1995. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  9. ^ richards, keith (2010). Life (1st ed.). uk: orion books. pp. 327–363. ISBN 978-0-7538-2661-4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  10. ^ Dawson, Julian (2011). And on Piano ... Nicky Hopkins. Backstage Press. pp. 82–83
  11. ^ Hasted, Nick (2011). You really got me: the story of the Kinks. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-1-84938-660-9. OCLC 711051606.
  12. ^ Hoffmann, Frank W. (ed.) (rev. 2005). Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, p. 83. CRC Press. ISBN 0-415-93835-X
  13. ^ |Callahan, Mike; Eyries, Patrice & Edwards, Dave (25 March 2008). "Tetragrammaton Album Discography". Both Sides Now Publications. Retrieved 3 April 2010.
  14. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Deep Purple [1969]: Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 April 2010.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Jackson, Blair (2000). Garcia: An American Life, pp. 269–70. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-029199-7.
  17. ^ Cabin, Geoff. "The Musical Obsessions of Andrew Bodnar". Rock Beat International. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  18. ^ Quicksilver Messenger Service manager Ron Polte dies in Mill Valley at 84, Marin Independent Journal, 16 September 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  19. ^ "Book Review: and on the piano..Nicky Hopkins-The Life of Rock's Greatest Session Man". 30 September 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  20. ^ "Keeper of the Keys : Pianist Nicky Hopkins Brings Impressive Resume to Coach House". Los Angeles Times. 27 February 1993. Retrieved 6 May 2022.
  21. ^ "POP MUSIC REVIEW : The Flew Straightens Up After a While and Flies Right". Los Angeles Times. 2 March 1993. Retrieved 6 May 2022.
  22. ^ Strauss, Neil (10 September 1994). "Nicky Hopkins, 50, Studio Keyboardist In Rock Recording". The New York Times. p. 26. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  23. ^ "Musical memorial unveiled for keyboard star Nicky Hopkins". Ealing News Extra. 12 September 2018. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  24. ^ Richards, Sam (7 September 2018). "Memorial unveiled to rock pianist Nicky Hopkins". Uncut Magazine. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  25. ^ Miller, Frederica (23 May 2018). "This brilliant but forgotten Ealing rocker played with The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and David Bowie". Get West London. p. 26. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  26. ^ Cann, Ged (24 September 2019). "We bet you can't name the Ealing pianist who played with The Beatles". My London. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  27. ^ "Green Plaque Unveiled For Ealing Musician". London: 21 October 2019. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  28. ^ "New Recognition For Memorial Plaque To Session Maestro Nicky Hopkins". London: uDiscoverMusic. 13 December 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  29. ^ "Prolific actor, writer and voice coach Valentine Palmer dies aged 86". London: Archant. 27 January 2022. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  30. ^ "Nicky Hopkins Documentary, 'The Session Man,' Getting World Premiere". Best Classic Bands. 2 October 2023. Retrieved 29 October 2023.
  31. ^ Doc'n Roll Jury Award for Documentary of the Year 2023
  32. ^ "BIFF 2024 REVIEW: THE SESSION MAN". Film and TV Now. 16 February 2024.
  33. ^ "MILESAGO – The Easybeats". Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  34. ^ Drakoulias, George (2011). Hollywood Town Hall (booklet). The Jayhawks. American Recordings. pp. 9–11. 88697 72731 2.
  35. ^ The Four Sides of Buzzy Linhart at AllMusic. Retrieved 17 May 2022.

External links[edit]