Hopkins was born in Perivale, Middlesex, England. His musical talent emerged early and he began playing piano at age three. He attended Wembley County Grammar School 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. 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
Hopkins' studies were interrupted in 1960 when he left school at 16 to became 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. Hopkins played piano on their first single, Davies' much-admired theme tune "Country Line Special". 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.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. 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, 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, playing on the LPs Truth
.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.At this point he was one of Britain's best-known session players, recording with British acts of the Sixties, including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and on the solo albums of all four members, on several Nilsson albums in the early 70s, including Nilsson Schmilsson
and Son of Schmilsson
, and with Donovan.
With the Rolling Stones
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 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. He continued to record with the Stones through the sessions for 1980's Emotional Rescue
Other groups and solo albums
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
.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 (by legend, the same day the album was released) with promotion and a possible tour never happening.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
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 but only working with Paul once; on his 1989 album Flowers In The Dirt
Nicky also played with the first lineup of The Jerry Garcia Band (from Aug. 1975-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.
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. 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. Ray Davies wrote a memorial piece that appeared in the New York Times
after Hopkins' death.
Hopkins died on September 6, 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. 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).
- The Kinks, The Kink Kontroversy (1965), Sunny Afternoon (1966), Face to Face (1966), "Mister Pleasant" (1967), "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society" (1968)
- The Who, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" (1965), 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), "How Many Friends" (1975)
- The Rolling Stones, "In Another Land" (1967), She's a Rainbow" (1967) on the Their Satanic Majesties Request album ,"We Love You" (1967), "Sympathy for the Devil" (1968), "Street Fighting Man" (1968), "Gimme Shelter" (1969), "Monkey Man" (1969), "Sway" (1971), "Tumbling Dice" and many others on the Exile on Main St. album (1972), "Angie" (1973), "Time Waits for No One" (1974), "Fool to Cry" (1976), "Waiting on a Friend" (recorded 1972, released 1981)
- The Beatles, "Revolution" (single version) (1968)
- John Lennon, "Jealous Guy" (1971), "How Do You Sleep?" (1971), "Oh My Love" (1971), "Oh Yoko!" (1971), "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (1971), Walls and Bridges album (1974)
- Paul McCartney, "That Day Is Done" from Flowers in the Dirt (1989)
- Ringo Starr, "Photograph" (1973), "You're Sixteen" (1973), "Step Lightly" (1973), "You and Me (Babe)" (1973), "No No Song" (1974)
- George Harrison, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)" (1973), Living in the Material World album (1973)
- Joe Cocker, "You Are So Beautiful" (1974)
- Jeff Beck, "Blues De Luxe", "Morning Dew" (1967), Truth (1967), and Hopkins's own self-penned "Girl From Mill Valley", on Beck-Ola. (1969)
- Cat Stevens, "Matthew and Son" (1967), Matthew and Son (1967)
- Marc Bolan, "Jasper C. Debussy" (1966-7, released 1974)
- Donovan, "Barabajagal" (1969)
- 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), "Wooden Ships" (1969), "Eskimo Blue Day" (1969), "Hey Fredrick" (1969), whole Woodstock set
- Steve Miller Band "Kow Kow", "Baby's House (which Hopkins co-wrote with Miller)".
- Carly Simon (1972), No Secrets
- Peter Frampton, "Waterfall" and "Sail Away" (1974)
- Jackie Lomax, "Sour Milk Sea" (1968)
- The Move, "Hey Grandma", "Mist on a Monday Morning", "Wild Tiger Woman" (all 1968)
- The Easybeats, "Heaven & Hell", and an un-released album titled "Good Times" (1967)
- Jerry Garcia Band, Let It Rock: The Jerry Garcia Collection, Vol. 2 (1975)
- 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, "Two Angels" and "Martin's Song" on the Hollywood Town Hall album (1992)
- Joe Walsh, "Guilty of the Crime" from the A Future To This Life album (1994), the soundtrack from the Robocop television series
- Gene Clark (various recordings)
- Brewer & Shipley
- P.J. Proby, Reflections of Your Face (Amory Kane) from "Three Week Hero" (1969)
- Additional Amory Kane works