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 rocknroll. 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 Louvins 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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 25 May 11 16:10
(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?
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.
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...
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?
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org -- please include "Nicky Hopkins" in the subject line.)
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?
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