inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #0 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 24 May 11 12:08
    
This week we welcome Julian Dawson, to discuss his new book "And on
the Piano, Nicky Hopkins."

Julian Dawson was born in London 4th July 1954, the same day that
Elvis first got together with Scotty and Bill to invent rock’n’roll.
He passed nine misspent years in two Catholic boarding schools and
three good ones at Art College, before deciding to take up music full
time. He spent the next years learning his craft on the road all over
Europe and the UK with various band line-ups, playing his own songs
from day one and eventually landing his first record deal.

He has played, collaborated and recorded with Jaki Liebezeit, Richard
Thompson, Toots Thielemans, E Street Band bass-player Garry Tallent,
Dan Penn, Willie Nile, Nicky Hopkins, Jules Shear and Lucinda
Williams. In 1996 he produced country legend Charlie Louvin’s comeback
album The Longest Train.

Julian's most recent CD, Deep Rain, is currently available on Blue
Rose Records. What spare time he has is spent with his family,
listening to music, collecting vinyl rarities, walking, writing and
simply enjoying life.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #1 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 24 May 11 12:11
    
Interviewing Julian, will be our own Ari Davidow <ari>:

"Ari Davidow spent his final year of high school skipping class every
Wednesday to work on the underground paper in Dallas, Texas. Although
none of his album reviews from that period ever made it into print, it
was there that he first discovered the amazing piano of Nicky Hopkins,
embedded in one of his favorite Quicksilver Messenger Service albums.
That was also the year that Hopkins' first solo effort, "The Tin Man
Was a Dreamer" was released. Both albums featured "Edward, the Mad
Shirt Grinder." Davidow was hooked. Today, when he has time to write
about music, Ari primarily covers klezmer and other Jewish folk
traditions for the KlezmerShack (klezmershack.com) - when he isn't
still listening to Nicky Hopkins."

Welcome Julian and Ari!
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #2 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 24 May 11 12:14
    
Ari's first question:

Julian, for years I have wondered who this cat "Nicky Hopkins" was.
I'm not even sure when I started noticing his name. I do know that, as
a slightly younger person, I only began listening to popular music in
my senior year of high school and then immediately decamped to Israel
where, two years later, after all all-night Risk game some time after
the Yom Kippur War, we were relaxing to the Quicksilver Messenger
Service album, "Shady Grove," still one of my favorites. At that point
an Israeli soldier who had come back from the war somewhat damaged took
umbrage at the music (he preferred "Songs of the Yom Kippur War") and
came at me with a knife and various other furniture. These things
concentrate the mind and have since given "Edward, the Mad Shirt
Grinder" a significance that it might not otherwise have had.

This book is great, not just for telling Nicky's story, but for
telling it in a way that one gets a sense of why it mattered that the
story be told. Indeed, realizing that your connection to Nicky came
first due to your connection to him as a musician makes it even more
interesting - musicians aren't generally known for taking the time to
do this sort of writing.

Tell us first about meeting Nicky and about how you came to write the 
book.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #3 of 61: Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Tue 24 May 11 12:25
    
I met Nicky Hopkins at the South By South West music conference in
Austin, Texas in March 1994. I was due to go in to record a new album
in a studio in Woodstock and the trip was distinguished by my Dad's
passing, 3 days before I flew to New York to start work on  my record.
Nicky's name came up during pre-production (Whatever happened to Nicky
Hopkins?) and 2 days later there he was! He played the next show after
my showcase gig at the Cactus Cafe, with Texas songwriter Jerry
Williams (who had sung on Nicky's best-known solo album 'Tin Man Was A
Dreamer'.
Our meeting led to a song - his music, my words, called 'You're
Listening Now', dedicated to my Dad, which we recorded together live
in
the studio. The strength of the lyric changed when Nicky died as well,
in September '94. It was as if we'd written his epitaph together. The
idea to write his biography followed soon after. Hope this helps
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #4 of 61: Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Tue 24 May 11 12:29
    
Hi Ari,
Thanks for the kind words about the book. This is all a new experience
to me...I'm going to sleep now and will look forward to meeting people
on The Well during the next 7 days.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #5 of 61: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 25 May 11 07:32
    
Sleep well. When you're awake, let's perhaps walk a bit through Nicky's 
life. One of the things that amazed me most when reading the book was his 
start--first in a band that eventually backed one of rock's most favorite 
bad singers, Lord Sutch (for years I assumed he was a British Lord who had 
the money to get his friends back him on a vanity project) and then on to 
London's most sought-out session musician.

It was his health, though, that kept him in the studio through '68, and 
not part of a touring band. He suffered what was eventually diagnosed as 
Chrohn's Disease, which nearly killed him in the early 1960s and caused 
him to spend a year in hospital and then recouping.

Can you talk about his beginnings? In particular, I wondered how much he 
missed being in a band vs. the regularity of being a session musician and 
why he kept it up for so long?
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #6 of 61: Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Wed 25 May 11 08:54
    
Back again having caught up on a bit of sleep and made my first
adjustment back to UK time. So Hi Ari and hi everybody...

Nicky Hopkins life started out complicated from the get-go. He was
born February 24th, 1944 in the middle of a heavy air-raid. He is
family background was comfortably middle class - not rich but not poor
either - He was anything but a model pupil in school, but showed his
amazing talents at the piano even at age three. His Mum remembered him
picking out tunes before he could reach the keyboard properly. 

As you mentioned, Ari, Nicky had health problems that dogged him all
his life and only much later was he diagnosed as suffering from Crohn's
disease. In the 60s it was unknown. Nicky initially studied classical
piano at the Royal Academy Of Music then stepped radically away from
that path when, age 16 he cofounded the Savages who became the back-up
band for Screaming Lord Sutch (an entirely self conceived title, by the
way). They toured as one of the UKs pioneering rock 'n' roll bands and
all four backing musicicians then left Sutch in 1962 to back Cyril
Davies, an equally pioneering figure in the nascent blues / R & B
movement. They were selling out the Marquee Club (with a young upstart
band named the Rollin' Stones occasionally playing a 20 minute interval
set) when Nicky had his first serious bout of illness and went into
hospital for an incredible 19 months! While he was in there, his
employer Cyril Davies died of leukaemia, so when Nicky emerged, 14
operations later, it was clear he couldn't be out touring any more.

That's when he got his first studio session and realised that was what
he needed to be doing. Within a month he was recording with both the
Who and the Kinks and between 1965 and 1968 he played on literally
hundreds of records by the pop stars and groups of the day. He had a
self-announced ambition to be the 'busiest piano player in London' and
quickly achieved that. Highlights would include 'Revolution' with the
Beatles and all the classic Stones albums from '67 onwards.

He flirted with one or two band projects and was asked to tour (with
the Kinks for example). After 3 years of the '3 sessions a day' routine
in the studios he developed a hankering to get out of the repetition
and randomness of the studio musician's life and get back out in front
of an audience - like lots of Brits he dreamed of going to the USA.
After turning down a place in Jimmy Page's new line-up the New
Yardbirds (later rather successful with a name change to Led Zeppelin)
he fulfilled his wish by joining the Jeff Beck Group. His first show
was at the Fillmore East in New York. 
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #7 of 61: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 25 May 11 13:52
    
Right! I forgot that he toured with Jeff Beck before moving out to 
California. But that also sounded like the tour from hell.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #8 of 61: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 25 May 11 13:56
    
But, here's the thing. Surely there were other piano players available for 
session work? Granted, Hopkins was in the Cyril Davies' All Stars before 
hospital, but how did he graduate to playing with =everyone= during those 
first years out of bed? I mean, Kinks, the Who, the Stones, the Beatles, 
.... weren't there other great piano players competing for those gigs?
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #9 of 61: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Wed 25 May 11 14:47
    
Being able to play is one thing.   Being able to come up with cool parts on
command is something even farther up the food chain.  IMHO.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #10 of 61: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 25 May 11 15:27
    
Hello Julian! I'm enjoying the book very much. 

It might be interesting for this topic if you made note briefly, in
list format, of several of Nicky's most recognizable moments on
recordings many of us know (without knowing that it was Nicky playing
those amazing parts--"cool parts on command," as <rik> puts it.

Like, for instance, "Jealous Guy," surely one of the most beautiful
piano parts ever.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #11 of 61: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Wed 25 May 11 15:49
    
What rik said was probably the most important factor, but I bet there was
also a generational and cultural component, at least initially.  Nicky was
the same generation and of the same culture as all of those english bands
recording in the wake of the beatles.  I bet all those bands found it easier
to communicate with Nicky than other players that were even just a few years
older--there was such a large divide between the pre-beatles musicians and
everyone recording after they hit.  At least early-on, i bet he was one of
the few session piano players that was the same age and background as most
of those groups--i bet they all found it easier to communicate with one of
their own.  By the time other young keyboard players were around, nicky had
already made connections with all of the most important english pop groups
of the day.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #12 of 61: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 25 May 11 15:58
    
Anybody maybe know where to find a few links to songs featuring Nicky
that are online so we can refresh our memories with a little sample of
his work?
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #13 of 61: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 25 May 11 16:10
    
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=nicky+hopkins&aq=f
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #14 of 61: (tm)whatshername, the elderly freak lady from Washington State (crow) Wed 25 May 11 21:03
    
The Wikipedia page for him has a list of some performances:
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicky_Hopkins>

I'm enjoying the book very much. As a long time fan of the Rolling Stones
his name was familiar to me, but like everybody else I didn't know much
about him. I'm really amazed that even with his health problems he was able
to do so much work, even without touring much.

I'm curious about his relationship with his first wife, Dolly, who everybody
seems to have detested and who sounds like quite a pain. Did he resent her
bossiness too or was it one of those situations in which he gets the benefit
of her running interference for him? Or maybe they had some other connection
that wasn't obvious?
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #15 of 61: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 26 May 11 02:10
    
<pdl>'s point about a slightly younger generation of studio musicians
also applies to Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, both of whom crop up
all over the place -- Page on "Sunshine Superman," for instance. 
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #16 of 61: Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Thu 26 May 11 02:14
    
Hi everybody, I'm only just getting the idea of how things work here
on The Well. Hope I haven't disappointed by being late with my replies
and wonderful to have so many responses on Nicky Hopkins. I'll go
through one at a time:

7. Nicky and the other musicians certainly had plenty to beef about on
the Jeff Beck tours, since the management insisted they were
second-class citizens and only Beck was the star. Nicky's falling out
with Beck (he said he was never paid for his work with Beck) was never
fixed and Beck declined to be interviewed for the book.

PS Ed's point was covered in the previous posting. Hi Ed!

8. Of course there were other piano players on the scene - Arthur
Greenslade for instance, but the fact is that Nicky could offer that
deadly combination of sight-reading, a fantastic ability to improvise
and to rock out like the Americans when required. 

9. Exactly!

10. Here's a short list of Nicky Hopkins highlights...

Beatles: Revolution
Stones: We Love You, She's A Rainbow, Angie, Sympathy For The devil
Kinks: Sunny Afternoon, Mr. Pleasant, Autumn Almanac, Days
Who: Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, The Song Is Over
John Lennon: Jealous Guy, Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
George Harrison: Give Me Love
Ringo Starr: Photograph, You're Sixteen
Dusty Springfield: I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten
Jefferson Airplane: Volunteers
Joe Cocker: You Are So Beautiful

This is only scratching the surface. the discography in the book runs
to 20 pages!

11. Absolutely right. The older generation of players (from jazz or
orchestra backgrounds played rock and pop music very grudgingly and
often not very well. The 'young guns' like Nicky, Jimmy Page and John
Paul Jones had the chops and the enthusiasm.

12. Nicky has his own tribute website (www.nickyhopkins.com) put up
with the cooperation of his widow, Moira Hopkins, where you can see a
more extensive list of albums and singles he recorded on. There are
quite a few performances on YouTube and of course you can download the
tracks individually on i-tunes etc. (See post Number 13.) 

14. I'm so glad you are enjoying the book. It's been very rewarding
(after 12 years) to see how it seems to find the people that need it. I
think Nicky's extraordinary output shows his endurance and fortitude,
given his lifelong problems. His relationship with Dolly was complex,
probably like any marriage in the rock and roll world. He depended on
her for companionship and attention while touring, she had  far more
ambition for him than he had for himself and, as time went on their
relationship seems to have descended into a fairly classic
co-dependency that eventually led to their break-up. I tried to to
present a balanced view. On one hand, all Nicky's friends repeatedly
said how quiet, sweet-natured and funny he was, on the other hand he
was no saint either. Very few human beings are. 

Looking forward to more questions and comments...
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #17 of 61: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 26 May 11 12:19
    
i enjoyed the book, too.  I knew of nicky through his work with the Stones
and other English bands but had no idea that he had connections with the san
francisco area groups as well.

I'm curious about Nicky's daily routines as a piano player.  Do you know
what, if anything, he did to warm up before a studio gig--did he have some
sort of warm-up routine of scales and exercises?  Have you come across any
information about how he practiced?  Did he have specific technical
excercises he worked on, any sort of regular practice routine?
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #18 of 61: Searchlight Casting (jstrahl) Thu 26 May 11 12:48
    
My list of highlights would also include
Let It Rock, the Jerry Garcia Band at the Keystone in Berkeley,
11/17,18/75, especially Sitting in Limbo (absolutely lovely) and Edward
the Mad Hatter. 
Shady Grove album mentioned above. 
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #19 of 61: (tm)whatshername, the elderly freak lady from Washington State (crow) Thu 26 May 11 13:00
    
Thanks. Don't worry about taking your time to respond; we're used to
conversations going at a different pace than face to face.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #20 of 61: Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Thu 26 May 11 15:20
    
Back again...

To pdl (No. 17): I believe that anyone, expert or not, will find that
picking up the Nicky Hopkins book will reveal stuff he played on that
is a surprise. There is so much...He was the 'go-to guy' for 30 years.
That being said, I don't believe that after his formative years Nicky
practiced formally that much. Perhaps towards the end of his life when
he was successfully composing and playing on soundtracks for film & TV.
But during his busy years, I guess his chops were kept constantly up
by his professional engagements.

18. I agree about the Garcia tracks (It's Mad Shirt Grinder rather
than Mad Hatter) but I tried to give a sample of the most famous and
impressive tracks he played on. My personal favourite Nicky Hopkins
performance is actually on a song called 'Baby's House' on Steve
Miller's 'Your Saving Grace' album (for which Nicky got a rare
composing credit) - 8 minutes of unadulterated beauty. Whenever I lost
my way during the writing and research, I'd go down and listen to that
track again to find the thread again. No doubt other people have
personal favourites too. I'd love to hear some of them...

I appreciate the patient reception. I'm checking in constantly during
this week to keep an eye on postings. I just put up a nice link on
facebook to a podcast from the book launch at South By South West in
Austin in March, with Chuck Leavell, Ian MacLagan, veteran journo Dave
Marsh and Nicky's publisher  Richard Perna among the panel guests.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #21 of 61: Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Thu 26 May 11 15:23
    
BTW if any American members here (or their friends) look for the book
on Amazon, don't be put off if it says 'temporarily unavailable' or
some such. There are apparently tensions between Amazon and the book's
distributor. You just have to click one further to the Plus One Press
link where you can order the book.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #22 of 61: David Dodd (ddodd) Thu 26 May 11 16:06
    
Okay--I'll give my faves:
1. Mission in the Rain, on Refelctions, by Garcia. 
2. I'll Take a Melody, ditto.
in fact--everything he played on on that album is utterly spectacular.
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #23 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Thu 26 May 11 18:17
    
(Note: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added
  to this conversation by emailing them to inkwell@well.com -- please
  include "Nicky Hopkins" in the subject line.)
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #24 of 61: Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Fri 27 May 11 00:55
    
Hi David,
Thanks for starting the ball rolling as a confirmed Garcia-ophile. I
think Nicky's stint in the Jerry Garcia Band is a fine example of the
fact that, even when three sheets to the wind (which he certainly was a
lot of the time with the JCB),his playing was never less than
exemplary. I know that feelings were mixed among Deadheads as to that
line-up. I was given 13 shows on CD that somebody taped and both Nicky
and Garcia had plenty of time to show their instrumental prowess,
though for my taste 14 minute improvisations on a succession of
mid-tempo C & W covers don't always hold the attention. Any more Nicky
faves out there?  
  
inkwell.vue.408 : Julian Dawson, "And on Piano, Nicky Hopkins" May 25-June 1
permalink #25 of 61: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 27 May 11 02:57
    
Since not everyone here is on Facebook, here's the SXSW panel:

<http://schedule.sxsw.com/events/event_MP990200>
  

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