Julian Dawson’s and on piano… Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock’s Greatest Session Man

imageNicky Hopkins was born in February 1944 in London, England. He died fifty years later in Nashville. In those fifty years he played piano on more hit records than anyone else I can think of. Ray Davies wrote a song called “Session Man” in his honour, although…the session man Davies describes was not like Nicky at all. Hopkins began to play the piano at age three, and by the time he was 16 he was the pianist for Screamin’ Lord Sutch’s Savages.

Nicky later played with the Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, Black and Blue); he was a member of the Jeff Beck Group for a time; joined Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Steve Miller Band; recorded with Graham Parker, Jerry Garcia, and appeared with Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock. Those are credits, for certain. He even played the piano on The Beatles’ hit single, “Revolution”! For that, Dawson tells us, Nicky earned 6 pounds and 10 shillings, a standard session fee in the sixties. He even includes a photo of the paystub.

However, being a band member wasn’t really Nicky’s cup of tea. According to singer-songwriter Julian Dawson, Nicky’s cup of tea was…a cup of tea! Dawson recounts the excesses, the drink and drugs, but also shows us the English gentleman behind the keyboard.

Dawson has interviewed almost everyone who worked with Nicky, and this in-depth research has paid off with an intimate, honest portrayal of the man. As well as being a tremendous piano player who could learn a song by hearing it once and then create a brilliant accompaniment, Nicky was usually a charming and funny fellow. Quiet and unassuming, he would arrive in the studio and sit down to work, but when under the influence of other substances, his personality changed drastically. He turned to Scientology to control his addictions. Dawson covers it all.

Dawson has captured the man, the time, and the milieu very well. The life of a sixties (seventies, eighties, nineties) rock’n’roller is documented perfectly. The book reads easily, and the story is so engaging that time flies by. It is well illustrated too, with photos of albums that Nicky played on as well as studio shots of the bands at work. If you are interested in the early days of British rock, and on piano… Nicky Hopkins is the place to go for a quick and fascinating in-depth look.

(Plus One Press, 2011)

About David Kidney

David Kidney was born in the Marine Hospital on Staten Island in the middle of the last century, when the millenium seemed a very long way off. His family soon moved to Canada, because the air was fresher. He has written songs and stories, played guitar, painted, sculpted, and coached soccer and baseball. He edits and publishes the Rylander, the Ry Cooder Quarterly, which has subscribers around the world. He says life in the Great White North is grand. He lives in Dundas in the province of Ontario, with his wife.