Obituary: Nicky Hopkins

Nicky Hopkins, pianist: born London 24 February 1944; married; died California September 1994.

'OH FOR Nicky Hopkins]' That was the cry from a desperate Pete Townshend as he struggled to play the piano while recording the Who's epic Tommy back in 1969. Hopkins, the pale-faced, long- haired pianist, wasn't available that day, but it was a rare occasion. His ability to deliver fast, accurate pounding piano lines to flesh out the sound of everything from hit singles to concept albums, meant he was in huge demand.

During the Sixties and Seventies, Hopkins was to be found hard at work in the studios, regularly backing up some of the biggest names in rock. Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones called him 'the greatest rock 'n' roll piano player in the world', and the Kinks even dedicated a song to him, called 'Session Man' on their 1966 Face to Face album. Ray Davies sang in affectionate tribute, 'He's a session man, a pop music-ian]'

Hopkins could be heard adding piano to John Lennon's Imagine album, to the Who's My Generation and the Stones' Let It Bleed and Exile On Mainstreet.

Despite his prolific output, the public rarely saw Hopkins on stage. Early in his career he succumbed to ill-health which prevented him from going on the road. His life would be spent in the studios, where his skill, reliability and cheerful personality ensured he was the sort of session player untutored rockers could relate to.

He was sometimes mistaken for an American. Allan McDougal, the record producer and former Kinks publicist, says: 'Nicky could play rock 'n' roll piano like the Americans. He was raised on Fats Domino and Little Richard and he could play any tune that was put in front of him. He played on lots of the Kinks' early records and with the Hollies, but never appeared on stage with them. He was often desperately ill and pitifully thin but always had a happy smile on his face.'

He was born and raised in London, and studied classical music as a child. But he soon discovered rock 'n' roll and particularly admired the piano-playing on Chuck Berry's records. He developed his own driving boogie technique with a strong left hand and amazed seasoned rock musicians with his ability to emulate the hottest solos on classic rock records. He served an apprenticeship playing with Screaming Lord Sutch & the Savages during 1961-62 and the Cyril Davies R&B All-Stars in 1963. Ill-health forced Hopkins to leave the All Stars and he was hospitalised from May 1963 to December 1964. When he was discharged he found that the group had broken up following Cyril Davies's death.

Hopkins began his session career working with the Who, the Kinks, Creation, and the Easybeats. He was closely involved with the American Shel Talmy, who produced the Who and the Kinks. Talmy wanted to encourage the young pianist and produced Hopkins's debut solo album, The Revolutionary Piano of Nicky Hopkins, released in 1966.

Despite several attempts at his own records, he never managed to score a hit, and was destined to live in the shadow of his mega-star compatriots.

In 1969 he played briefly with the Jeff Beck Group before moving to live in San Francisco, where he played with the Steve Miller Band and joined Quick Silver Messenger Service as a full member.

He returned to Europe to record with the Rolling Stones in the early Seventies, and also cut an album with guest musicians for CBS called Sweet Thursday. He made a second solo album, Tin Man was a Dreamer, and worked with the Who again in 1971. He contributed to their Who's Next album and 1975 he played on The Who By Numbers.

For many years the studios resounded to his attacking piano style, as Hopkins was invited to play with John Lennon, Art Garfunkel, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Carly Simon, Donovan, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, McGuinness Flint, Bill Wyman and Peter Frampton.

He tried another solo album in 1975 called No More Changes, but his career firmly set and he was destined to remain a side man. However, as the US critic Dave Marsh stated: 'Nicky Hopkins was THE most important rock 'n' roll session musician - ever.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas