Nicholas Christian Hopkins was one of the most important keyboard players of all time. Without his input, many of the greatest performers and bands of our time would have lacked a magical part of their music.
We all know and love the iconic seminal bands that we grew up with, or that influenced the music we listen to today if we are too young to have caught the bands first time round. Are all these bands, however, that they seem? Do the people taking the credit deserve it? Is there more to these bands and the production of their music than meets the eye? These questions are important if you are a music lover. Maybe that electrically charged piano solo in the middle of your favourite record that makes the hairs on your arms stand up has nothing to do with the band you have followed and loved.
The often hidden backbone of many recordings and the often unsung heroes of the piece are the session musicians. Nicky Hopkins was one of the industry's biggest and best hidden secrets, and one of the best session men who ever lived. He played with some of the best bands and appeared on many of the best known recordings of all time. Acts such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, Art Garfunkel, David Bowie and the Beatles, to touch just on the surface of the many, many people he worked, all benefitted from his work, and he turned down offers to join countless bands including Led Zeppelin.
We see in our mind's eye the regular members of the band being very prominent, and never think to look a bit deeper into the recordings or during a live performance the chap just off to the side, arms and fingers dancing along a piano or keyboard, adding the backbone or the the 'glue' to the set.
Session musicians are such unsung heroes in many recordings and so vital that it is criminal to overlook or forget about them. Julian Dawson's well researched and written book, 'And...On Piano, Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock's Greatest Man', does a lot to restore that balance.
Nicky Hopkins was born on the 24th February 1944, and passed away suddenly on the 6th September 1994. Even taking into account his delicate health, this still shocked many of his friends.
He suffered from Crohn's Disease from an early age. When he was a child, he was never included in physical activities and sports at school because of his ill health and frailty, so to keep himself occupied and also because he seemed naturally drawn to it he started to play the piano and keyboards.
In his late teens he spent a total of nineteen months in hospital and underwent several major operations. The brutality of his operations were so severe that his family were convinced he would not make it into full adulthood. Whilst he was in hospital recuperating, he would close his eyes and dream of his thin, slender fingers running up and down the keyboard, playing mainly classical music. After coming out of hospital, Nicky wasn’t strong enough to tour so he entered the world of the session musician thinking it would be a more gentle existence. In reality, it was a pretty brutal journey, and one which he only survived by the pure magical talent that he possessed.
Throughout the book Julian Dawson draws his reader in with some excellent research. He hammers home the truth of the dog eat dog world of rock and roll and its day to day politics, which Nicky was able to protect himself from through his phenomenal skills.
As Nicky's health improved, he started to travel and gig with all the main bands of the time. He was a very modest and unimposing character, who was quite comfortable being placed at the side of the stage and hidden away from fans and bands alike whilst he performed his important and crucial work. Often when not playing, he was to be found sitting at his piano, reading 'The Silver Surfer' another comic book of the era.
The book covers every aspect of Nicky's life, moving past his untimely demise and shining some light on events afterwards. It includes a list of the main recordings and the tours and concerts that Nicky was involved in. I enjoyed reading and definitely had my eyes opened to the ins and outs of the music profession in which, as with everything in life, you either have got to be very tough or very talented to keep afloat.
Julian Dawson said this to Pennyblackmusic about the book and why he chose to write it.
"Quite apart from his own life narrative, which contains all the highs and lows, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll familiar from other rock biographies, I think the most important aspect of Nicky Hopkins' story is that he represents the legions of players who worked in the shadows, contributing the magic ingredients that made songs into the hits that gave other bands and artists careers and often millionaire lifestyles."
As Klaus Voormann eloquently put it about Nicky, he was "a classical pianist with rock 'n' roll fingers."
You feel as though you have been placed deep into ‘the mix’ of the music industry with this book.