Norman Rossington is the only actor who can claim to have been in a Carry On film, a Beatles film and an Elvis film. Sadly he is no longer with us. Neither is Nicky Hopkins, a piano playing legend, who puts Norman’s acting achievements in the shade with his countless collaborations with the very best in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.
From the sublime to the ridiculous Nicky Hopkins, a prodigious ivory tickler from the age of 3, has played with them all. Julian Dawson’s excellent biography on a man he only came to know personally in the last months of his life covers the chronology of Nicky’s life, sharing tales of good times, battles with ill-health, personal demons and good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll hedonism with such luminaries as The Beatles (together and apart), The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, David Bowie, Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart amongst many, many others as well as some contributions to the jazzy Scientology-sponsored “Battlefield Earth” soundtrack. Although usually used as a piano player for hire he did have a few permanent jobs during his nomadic musical career, most notably with Quicksilver Messenger Service from 1969 to 1971.
Ten years of research and interviews with those who knew or worked with Nicky has brought a respectful tribute by Dawson – a singer-songwriter in his own right – to one of the great unsung heroes of rock ‘n’ roll music. To say that Nicky was just a piano player would suggest that Hal Blaine was just a drummer. He was no bit part player and contributed greatly to a number of records rightly regarded as classics; The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, Exile on Main Street and My Generation.
Nicky’s struggle with Crohn’s Disease clashed with the temptations his lifestyle brought and he eventually succumbed to a premature death at the age of 50 in 1994. This insightful well-researched tome avoids the sycophancy of some rock biographies and deals candidly with the issues and personalities Nicky endured throughout his colourful personal and professional life.
“And On Piano…Nicky Hopkins” pays homage to one of the great session men of our lifetime and yet the term “session man” doesn’t seem to do justice to a well-respected and unassuming musician who fought manfully against illness to become the professionals’ professional.
“And On Piano…Nicky Hopkins – The Extraordinary Life of Rock’s Greatest Session Man” by Julian Dawson (Desert Hearts hardback 2011)