During his thirty-year career as one of the music world’s most sought-after sidemen, Nicky Hopkins played piano with an amazing assortment of people in an equally-amazing array of settings. Start naming names – The Kinks, The Who, The Stones, The Airplane, Quicksilver, Lennon, Harrison, Garcia, Beck, Cocker – and it’s easy to get overwhelmed … but it’s the truth. Author Julian Dawson (who crossed paths musically with Hopkins himself) has taken on the monumental task of documenting a life filled with historical musical moments. His newly-released and on piano … Nicky Hopkins is both a great read and a fine tribute.
With all the names, dates, and places that made up Hopkins’ career, Dawson’s book could’ve been nothing more than a brain-pummeling timeline filled with a stream of people, places, and dates. He chose an alternate path to tell the story, however. Once the early history of Hopkins’ life is established (including a horrific 19-month hospitalization and numerous surgeries for a never-remedied digestive disorder that kept him bed-ridden from May of 1963 through Christmas Eve of ‘64), author Dawson divides the story into chapters designated by themes rather than straight chronology, focusing on Hopkins’ work with a particular band or periods spent in various locals. While there is a minor amount of overlap and backtracking, it’s done only to confirm the context of events. The result is an exceptionally readable volume of rock history with Nicky Hopkins being the common denominator connecting Screaming Lord Sutch’s 1963 single “Jack The Ripper” and Zero’s beautiful Chance In A Million album, released in 1994.
In some ways, Hopkins’ death in ‘94 at the age of 50 was not a complete shock to those who knew him – he’d been saddled with poor health his whole life, a condition only exasperated by living the life of a rock and roll musician. The fact remains that he was not known at the time – or remembered since – for his frailty; rather it’s the power of his music and the gentleness of his presence that rise above all else.
Dawson paints a hauntingly-sweet picture of Hopkins with this quote from longtime Stones saxophonist Bobby Keyes: “When everybody around him was engulfed in confusion, he’d be sitting there with his head down – just like Linus, man, in the Peanuts cartoon; he didn’t seem to be affected.”
Read the book and listen to the music – there’s plenty to choose from.