Childhood & Early Life
He was born on February 24, 1944 in Perivale, Middlesex, in a middle class family to Alfred Hopkins and Freda Hopkins. His father was an accountant and a strict disciplinarian.
Hopkins studied at the ‘Wembley County Grammar School’ which is at present a part of ‘Alperton Community School’.
From three years of age he displayed a talent for music and since then started playing the piano. As a child, he developed a habit of collecting, a pursuit he carried on for life.
Though initially he took lessons from a local piano teacher, later he earned a scholarship to the renowned ‘Royal Academy of Music’ in London.
He suffered from ill health from an early age and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in his youth. His poor health and ongoing surgeries almost prevented him from touring and hence he endeavoured as a studio musician.
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In 1960 he left school before to completing his academics to join the ‘Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages’ as a pianist. The group toured occasionally and after a stint of two years, all the backing members of the group including Hopkins, Carlo Little, Bernie Watson and Ricky Fenson were picked up by Cyril Davies, the famous harmonica player who left the ‘Blues Incorporated’ in October 1962, and formed the ‘Cyril Davies R&B All Stars’.
On February 27, 1963, he contributed as a pianist on the first recorded single of the band and Davies’ most admired composition, ‘Country Line Special.
However in May 1963, Hopkins’ ill health resulted in his forced departure from the band. He underwent a series of surgeries that were life-threatening and had to remain bed-ridden for around 19 months.
Following Davies’ death on January 7, 1964, due to endocarditis, the ‘Cyril Davies R&B All Stars’ disbanded.
As his weak health prevented him from touring much, he primarily worked as a session musician and soon became one of the most sought after and busiest pianists of London during that time.
His talent as an ace pianist led him to contribute in many hit recordings of that period, which included a wide range of English bands like Led Zeppelin, the ‘Rolling Stones’, the ‘Kinks’, the ‘Pretty Things’ and the ‘Easybeats’ among others. He also extensively worked with English record producer Andrew Loog and American record producer Shel Talmy.
His real breakthrough came when he accepted the invitation of Shel Talmy and recorded four studio albums with the ‘Kinks’. These are ‘The Kink Kontroversy’ (1965), ‘Face to Face’ (1966), ‘Something Else by the Kinks’ (1967) and ‘The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society’ (1968).
His first single, Mr. Big and first solo album ‘The Revolutionary Piano Of Nicky Hopkins’ were recorded and released in 1966. His second and third solo albums were ‘The Tin Man Was a Dreamer’ (1973) and ‘No More Changes’ (1975) respectively. The fourth one ‘Long Journey Home’, however, remained unreleased.
He joined the ‘Jeff Beck Group’ in 1967 and contributed on two of their albums namely ‘Truth’ and ‘Beck-Ola’. The same year he worked for the ‘Rolling stones’ for their album ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ and single ‘We Love You’ marking an association that saw release of some of the finest classic albums of the band.
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His wide array of works also included playing and recording for many bands from San Francisco like the ‘New Riders of the Purple Sage’, the ‘Jefferson Airplane’ and the ‘Steve Miller Band’.
From 1969 to 1971 he remained a member of the American psychedelic rock band, ‘Quicksilver Messenger Service’ and contributed to albums like ‘Shady Grove’ (1969), ‘Just for Love’ (1970) and ‘What About Me’ (1970).
In 1969, three members of the ‘Rolling Stones’ namely Mick jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts along with Hopkins and Ry Cooder recorded an album titled ‘Jamming with Edward!’ which was later released in 1972. The cover art of the album too had his contribution.
During the early 1970s, he added another credit to his profile by working on many albums of renowned American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson including ‘Son of Schmilsson’ and ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’.
He performed live on stage for some of the concerts of the ‘Rolling Stones’, which included Good-Bye Britain Tour in 1971, North American Tour in 1972 and Winter Tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1973 but failed to participate in the Europe tour of the band in 1973 because of poor health. Again from August 5 to December 31 in 1975 he toured with the ‘Jerry Garcia Band’.
Three soundtrack albums of Hopkins namely ‘Namiki Family’, ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘Patio’ were released in Japan from 1992 to 1993.
Since 1967 through 1981, he played on the studio albums of the ‘Rolling Stones’. Some of the notable ones are ‘Between the Buttons’ (1967), ‘Beggars Banquet’ (1968), ‘Exile on Main St.’ (1972), ‘Emotional Rescue (1980) and ‘Tattoo You’ (1981). Songs such as ‘She's a Rainbow’ (1967), ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ (1968), ‘Sway’ (1971), ‘Angie’ (1973) and ‘Waiting on a Friend’ (1981) included significant piano parts contributed by Hopkins.
He played electric piano for Beatles’ song ‘Revolution’ in 1968. It marked a rare occasion when this famous English rock band inducted him, a non-member for a recording. By this time his reputation as a session keyboardist had grown internationally. After the break-up of the band in 1970, he worked separately with each of the four members namely George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney and contributed to albums like ‘Ringo’, ‘Flowers in the Dirt’, ‘Living in the Material World’ and ‘Imagine’.
Personal Life & Legacy
His first wife was Linda whom he divorced in 1986.
Later he married Moira Buchannan with whom he led the rest of his life.
On September 6, 1994, Hopkins died an untimely death in Nashville, Tennessee, from complications presumably related to his lifelong illness from Crohn's disease.