Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 27 May 11 08:57
Thanks, Ed. Looking forward to listening to the SXSW panel that was.
Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 27 May 11 10:29
How did that first move to the States come about? I am trying to remember back to the book - he'd gone on tour with Jeff Beck (two tours?) which ended badly thanks to Beck. Then, there he is onstage with the Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock and tootling off to Marin where he joins Quicksilver Messenger Service. Was it just a desire to get out of the rut of the previous years' session work? A desire to be elsewhere from Jeff Beck? It sounds like session work in the US was less lucrative than in the UK, but it seems like he was a band member more over here? Is that a relevant observation, even?
David Freiberg (freemountain) Fri 27 May 11 10:33
Nicky saved our butt in Quicksilver!! I can't imagine what "Shady Grove" would have been without HIM!!
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Fri 27 May 11 11:02
First off a big Hi to David. I just came back from San Francisco and my last 2 events were a show in Santa Rosa with Richard Thompson and a book event in Book Passage in Corte Madera. The whole landscape around Marin and Mill Valley is so redolent of those times when Nicky arrived on the West Coast. I love being there and wish I could have given David a book in person. I did visit Julia Brigden who Nicky immortalised as 'Girl From Mill Valley' - which brings us to the Jeff Beck Group... Nicky joined Beck because he was fed up with the grind of session work and wanted to get to America. Though the touring with Beck was anything but easy, he did get to travel all over the States with the band and when he hit California he fell in love with it. For someone with his medical conditions, it's not hard to imagine how the sunshine must have appealed after growing up in foggy London. It was Glyn Johns who gave him his 'ticket', by booking him for one track on Steve Miller's 'Brave New World' album in London. Miller liked Nicky's playing so much he invited him back to California right away to join him on his next album, 'Your Saving Grace'. (Nicky left the Beck group less than a week before his departure). Once there he was invited to play on Jefferson Airplane's 'Volunteers' (which led to the onstage appearance with them at Woodstock), but it was Quicksilver Messenger Service who made it possible for him to stay. They had recently lost a founder member, Gary Duncan, and needed some instrumental muscle to go back into the studio for a follow-up to 'Happy Trails'. No one exactly seemed to remember whose idea it was, but Nicky definitely hit it off with guitarist John Cipollina and moved into his house on King Street in Mill Valley. He cut enough tracks for 3 albums before his membership of the band came to an end and marrying Lynda (aka Dolly), his first wife, gave him the necessary Green Card that allowed him to stay in the USA for (more or less) the next 20 years.
(tm)whatshername, the elderly freak lady from Washington State (crow) Fri 27 May 11 11:09
Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 27 May 11 12:03
I have never been able to stand Dino Valenti's voice, which makes it difficult for me to evaluate Nicky's work on the two post-Shady Grove albums, but my, Shady Grove is just wonderful. In fact, one an early mix tape I used to go from Fairport singing "Matty Groves," to some Library of Congress or Folkways recording of a folk version of "Shady Grove" to the QMS version. (I also miss the version of QMS prior to those sessions. I wouldn't have wished the band stay stuck into "channeling Bo Diddley" mode forever, but I wish I had more recordings from that time, anyway). The chemistry seemed to click, as well - or, at any rate, exceptionally great music seemed to result. Having said that, I don't think I've ever heard any live recordings featuring Hopkins without Vanelli. Did QMS simply not perform live during the period that Shady Grove was coming together?
Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 27 May 11 12:05
I have to add that, as much as I enjoy the keyboards on "Baby's Home," in the end I like Steve Miller's singing not a whole lot more than Dino Vanelli's. I dunno why. But the recording raises the question in my head of why Hopkins didn't continue playing with Miller, or does it just come down to happenstance and chance and the recordings we hear are what happened to get put together at the time without any metameaning or narrative?
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Fri 27 May 11 12:33
Well, Liking or not liking a singing voice is about as subjective as life gets. Some people can't stand Neil Young's singing - I've always found it emotive and expressive, though clearly not 'good' in the normal sense. Likewise Bob Dylan. If I hear Phil Collins or Neil Diamond I have to reach for the off button, though logically I can see that the music is well-made and the songs well-written. I love the first 5 Steve Miller and will continue to do so. Why Nicky didn't continue to work with Miller is probably down to spur-of-the-moment decisions made at the time. It's certainly true that when Dino and Gary rejoined QMS, Dino's aggressive and domineering ways put paid to Nicky's involvement. I believe I do have a couple of live recordings of the 4-piece line-up. They certainly played some shows. Interesting to link QMS and Fairport...definite connections, now you mention it.
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Sat 28 May 11 07:51
Oh and its Dino Valenti...his son Joli came and sang with me at the Book Passage book event I mentioned earlier.
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Sat 28 May 11 23:35
Well we seem to have hit a slight pause here. I guess everyone is out having a barbecue or something. I'll throw out the concept that Nicky Hopkins should be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ASAP - next year would be good.
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 29 May 11 01:28
But are there any other studio musicians/sidemen in there? Come to think of it, is Quicksilver even in there? I mean, Carol Kaye should also be in the "Hall of Fame," but the voting population is pretty entirely ignorant of rock history.
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Sun 29 May 11 04:25
Hi Ed, A precedent was set last year when Spooner Oldham was inducted (I don't know if he is the first sideman in there. I know Spooner through my Dan Penn connection and though he has done incredible work in his career (all the Muscle Shoals and Memphis stuff plus stints with Neil Young & Bob Dylan), I still think that Nicky Hopkins pips him at the post for sheer breadth of sessions and for his 'A List' clients. Just the big 4: Beatles, Stones, Who and Kinks, quite apart from the other 300 major and minor artists he worked with justify a Hall Of Fame nomination. There has been a petition going round the internet, and I'm hopeful that the book might help focus some attention on him for 2012. I thoroughly agree about Carol Kaye...
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Sun 29 May 11 04:26
PS I don't know if Quicksilver have made it yet. Let's ask David Freiberg.
Ari Davidow (ari) Sun 29 May 11 09:34
I would happily join any campaign to elect Nicky Hopkins to the rock 'n' roll hall of fame. One of the things I think I gathered from your book, Julian, is that he was pretty straight until moving to California, where he eventually got more and more heavily into drugs to the point where he ultimately checked into rehab. Okay, so up to that point, a familiar story. But post rehab, he seems to have almost started anew--new bands, experimenting, finally, with keyboards and synthesizers, something he had once avoided. It's like the same creative drive that made him great in the '60s and '70s overwrote the equally strong preference to stick with his big accoustic pianos. Can you speak a bit to that period and to his newer work, including, as near as I can tell, a plethora of film scores?
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Sun 29 May 11 11:00
The 70s was a difficult time for many musicians and Nicky didn't escape either. It is a tribute to his strength that he recovered from his addictions, but he pushed the drugs and alcohol lifestyle almost to the ultimate limit. After being given two weeks to live, he went through rehab in 1979/80 and that new phase in his life involved re-making old acquaintances, establishing new ones and passing on the message that he was sober and back on top form. I don't think he ever lost his love for his grand piano, but in the 80s, just being rock's greatest piano-player was no longer enough. The world had moved on and in the era of sequencing, drum machines and digital technology, a move towards synthesisers was almost a must. Nicky actually embraced new keyboard innovations with open arms and great skill, witnessed by his brilliant and very successful film and TV soundtracks, which he sometimes composed and arranged and conducted himself (or played everything himself on a sampler). I think his real allegiance still lay with his grand piano - the love of his life!
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Sun 29 May 11 12:17
I've been loving this topic. For a guy whose era WAS the 70s, I'm amazed at how much I'm learning.
David Freiberg (freemountain) Sun 29 May 11 13:19
No ... Quicksilver is NOT in the H of F (and I'm not holding my breath)- but I surely think Nicky should be ... Geeez!!!
(fom) Sun 29 May 11 15:22
(Quicksilver should be in the HOF too.) re the JG band at the Keystone in 1975 -- I think I actually was there one night. Must listen to the recording.
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Sun 29 May 11 16:30
Amazing to read all these varied and interesting postings - When you see some of the cr-p that has made it into the Hall Of Fame, I'm shocked that QMS is still languishing outside - not that it matters cosmically...but Nicky? What has a man got to do to qualify? Come on H o F people... Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, Steve Miller, QMS, Airplane, Joe Cocker, Peter Frampton, Fats Domino, Ella Fitzgerald, Meatloaf, Rod Stewart, Donovan, Jeff Beck, Lennon, Harrison, McCartney, Ringo, Cat Stevens, Yardbirds, Dusty Springfield, The Move, The Hollies, The Easybeats, Nilsson, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Garcia, Lowell George, Jack Bruce, Gary Moore, Spinal Tap!!! Need I say more? And that is just scratching the surface with Nicky Hopkins...
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Mon 30 May 11 16:17
this is a bit of a non-sequitor but one of the things i liked about the book was the perspective it gave on Keith Richards and the Stones. Nicky's perspective is both as an outsider, he never became an actual band member, but also as an insider--imo, he is pretty resposible for a lot of great things on some of their best work. I read the keith autobio recently, which I liked, but thought that Nicky's take on the band and some of the famous episodes gave a richer and more complex context, a better background, in which to look at KR's version of events.
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Tue 31 May 11 02:37
I'm glad you felt the book gave a different viewpoint. I think that being a musician myself led me to ask questions a journalist might not have. Considering that Nicky appears on 14 (!!) Stones albums, the fact that Keith only mentions him twice in his autobiography, is amazing really. I interviewed Keith for the book and at one point asked him if Nicky's chronic illnesses ever meant he was absent or had to leave a session early. He replied that that was the reason the Stones never took Nicky out on tour. Since Nicky played on some of the most celebrated Stones tours of all time (the legendary '72 tour of the USA, for instance), this shows how little Keith, bless him, can actually remember. I liked Keith's book, but it was mostly a patchwork of stories and anecdotes that have been around for some time. There were precious few real insights into the life and work of the Stones. Still a good read though. Whether Nicky was ever formally asked to join the Stones remained one of the unanswered questions in my book. Opinions within the band differed wildly.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 31 May 11 07:32
Well, Keith was deeply loyal to Ian Stewart. "Life" seemed to be him reminiscing about old friends, and even Darryl Johnson, who updated their sound in a major way, gets very little mention.
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Tue 31 May 11 10:37
Hi rik, I wasn't meaning to diss Keith's book in any way. I thought it had a great vibe and sounded authentic, which is already 2 good things. Curiously, the Nicky / Ian Stewart relationship was completely without any rancour or sour grapes. Stu loved his 3 chord blues and boogie and if any minor chords were called for, he was the first to say, 'Get Nicky Hopkins in!' There's a lovely story in the book from Stu's wife Cynthia who remembered the two of them playing beautifully on 2 pianos at home and the contrast between Stu's big 'workman's hands' and Nicky's thin spidery digits. I don't think Mick and Keith have ever been too focused on the people around them, even when they were making major contributions to the Stones' music. Strangely I knew Darryl years before he joined the Stones when he was playing sessions in Berlin (for some reason).
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 31 May 11 13:01
Didn't take it as a diss, and am very much enjoying this. And yeah, the Glimmer Twins did tend towards self-centeredness.
Julian Dawson (juliandawson) Tue 31 May 11 14:33
Maybe you can't keep a machine like the Stones rolling all those years without having the ability to use who and what you need and then move on regardless. There are certainly a few notable casualties left in their wake. Is it a coincidence that when they stopped recording with Nicky and the 2 horns (and Mick Taylor) the quality of the songwriting and the albums took a dive (with certain occasional and honourable exceptions)?
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