Julian Dawson’s book on Nicky Hopkins is an exhaustively researched in-depth study of Nicky Hopkins and his life. Dawson also had to have spent thousands of hours arranging and conducting interviews with the multitude of people cited.
But And on Piano is not just Hopkins’s bio. It’s also an in-depth treatise on the London music scene, the London blues resurgence and its beginnings, and an in-depth excavation into the American pop music scene and especially the San Francisco music scene. And all these other areas could not have been brought together in such a comprehensive manner by any other single 1960s musician than the extraordinarily talented Nicky Hopkins. Hopkins was not only the single best pianist on the circuit, he was a non pareil arranger, a master of incredibly accurate timing and a lightning-fast improviser, and most of it was done on the fly. The way that Hopkins brought all these disparate scenes together was due to musical genius. And the way that Dawson brought all these people, places and events together is nothing short of literary genius.
Given a different personality and disposition, Nicky Hopkins would be a name forever indelibly engraved on every music fan’s grey matter. To list the accolades showered on him by such a diverse mix of his fellow musicians, names such as John Lennon, George Harrison, Rod Stewart, Dusty Springfield, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and countless others would take at least one additional volume.
Yet Nicky Hopkins is not a well-known name in music, mainly because he was such a low-key personality, striving to fit in rather than to stand out, very different than the vast majority of musicians. The word “genius” is commonly used to describe him by his fellow musicians, along with a hundred other synonyms used to describe his wizardry and mastery of keyboard instruments.
If you could have your time machine drop you back into the 1960s and 70s, and were dropped into a record shop (remember them?), and if you started fingering through the albums (them, too?), you’d quickly realize just how highly Nicky Hopkins was prized as a keyboard genius and wizard: The Stones, The Who, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jerry Garcia, Jeff Beck, Badfinger, George Harrison, Donovan, The J-Plane, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Rod Stewart, Art Garfunkel, Nilsson, Long John Baldry, Fats Domino, John and Yoko, Marc Bolan, Ringo Starr, Alexis Korner, Joe Cocker, The Kinks, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles, Cat Stevens, The Yardbirds, Joe Walsh, Graham Parker, Harry Nilsson, and many, many others took advantage of Nicky’s truly unique talents. As the joke goes, on a scale of one to ten, Nicky was at least an eleven.
On the other hand, ask a hundred music fans, “Who is Nicky Hopkins,” and if they’re under 30, I don’t think you’d get a hit. Ask a hundred over 50, and you might get a few. Ask a hundred musicians older than 50 and you’d come close to 100. A musician’s musician, he was.
Nicky’s life was fraught with medical problems to the point that after being a part of three of the most famous groundbreaking rock-blues musical groups in England in the 1960s, he was hospitalized for 18 months with an initial prognosis of not expected to live. It was shortly before this hospitalization that he was invited to join the Rolling Stones. This illness followed him all his life, which greatly limited his ability to become part of another musical group and the inherent touring required. His talents, however, insured him continued appearances with groups appearing or recording in England or sometimes in nearby countries. An example is that he was the keyboards man on no fewer than 16 Rolling Stones albums, along with countless others by The Beatles and all four individual members’ albums under their own names, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Who, and many, many more. Nicky’s discography takes up a full 25 pages in this book, the highlights of which you can find at his website,
and also here.
Plug his name into Amazon’s search engine under ‘Books’ and you’ll see 51 hits; under “Music,” 54, which is far short of his contributions.
Laudatory quotes abound in this book. Two of my favorite are:
“… a musical legacy unparalleled by any keyboardist in rock.”
~ Chris Mundy in Rolling Stone
“Nicky was a piano player of extraordinary, indeed, supernatural ability. He was a true innocent.”
~ Paul Kantner, founding member of Jefferson Airplane
Overall, And on Piano … Nicky Hopkins is a highly enjoyable romp mostly through London, England and the West Coast of the United States during the heyday of the sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll era. The highest recommendation!