Nicky Hopkins, the late respected session artist, will be honored with a memorial park bench in his hometown of Perivale, Ealing, London.
The bench, which will be located in Perivale Park, will be unveiled by his widow, Moira Hopkins in a ceremony on September 8th. To make the bench unique to Hopkins, the seat of the bench will look like a large piano keyboard while the backrest will feature display photographs of Nicky, his biography, the top 20 tracks he played on as chosen by his fans, as well as a quote from Bob Harris.
Nicky recorded and performed with many of the top acts in rock from the 1960s to the 1990s, including the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Garfunkel, The Kinks, and The Who among numerous others.
Nicky Hopkins is without question rock’s greatest session musician. His signature contributions are still felt strongly today, 18 years after his passing. I continue being blown away by the breadth and depth of Nicky Hopkins piano contributions to rock.history
My first encounter with Nicky Hopkins’s musicianship was with The Jeff Beck Group and Beck-Ola. I saw Nicky Hopkins play with The Jeff Beck Group at the Fillmore East on July 3, 1969. He is depicted performing with The Jeff Beck Group on the cover of this definitive book by Julian Dawson.
Nicky Hopkins got his recording start with Del Shannon. You can hear his piano virtuoso as a lad of 17 on the 1961 hit, “Runaway”. His frail health (he suffered from Crohn’s disease) forced him into the life of a session musician, where he excelled.
Nicky Hopkins was known as the Sixth Stone. His body of work with the Rolling Stones is immeasurable, ranging from “Ruby Tuesday” to “Waiting On A Friend”.
Nicky moved to Mill Valley, California to improve his health and took up with such San Francisco bands as The Jefferson Airplane and Jerry Garcia Band. He was considered a full-partner in Quicksilver Messenger Service and his touch played a fundamental role in Shady Grove and Just For Love.
The musicians he worked with over the decades were very taken with him.
“It was such a thrill to work for him as well as have him work with me. Every time I hear Joe Cocker’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ I want to cry before Joe’s even come in. People try to emulate that piano piece, but there’s only one person could have played that—Nicky Hopkins.” – Peter Frampton
There is no denying the stunning contributions Jeff Beck has contributed to music over the decades. I was quite taken with his jazz/rock fusion era. It was such a game changer for him and the music being produced in the mid-70s.
Asked to describe the music, Jeff Beck said, “It crosses the gap between white rock and Mahavishnu, or jazz-rock. It bridges a lot of gaps, It’s more digestible, the rhythms are easier are easier to understand than Mahavishnu’s. It’s more on the fringe.” (Source: Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years by Jas Obrecht, 2010)
The instrumental song from Blow by Blow, “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” has become Jeff Beck’s signature classic. Every time I hear it, it stops me in my tracks. I understand perfectly why Stevie Wonder gave Jeff Beck this song. He knew it belonged to his magic fingers alone. There are very few song’s in jazz/rock fusion that epitomize the cry of the heart as “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”. I have seen Jeff Beck do this song live twice and each time it was a moving experience.
Jeff Beck followed Blow by Blow with Wired in 1976. He switched it up by adding Jan Hammer on synthesizer and Narada Michael Walden on drums. They had all jammed together while on tour with the Mahavishnu Orchestra the summer before, which was how the
nucleus was formed. Wired was a tougher album to assimilate but once digested it stick to your ribs. The Charles Mingus track, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” grabbed me first. It has become a staple choice in Jeff Beck’s set lists. Jeff Beck and company execute it with total precision.
The third album in the series of Jeff Beck’s jazz/rock fusion era was titled, Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live, a chronicle of their 100-show tour together. Jan Hammer….
I am not too familiar with this particular recording or the one that follows it, There and Back. I owned and played often Blow by Blow and Wired. Writing this blog post today has helped me to examine and appreciate their live album. Thanks to Spotify I can listen to it in full :).
The fourth album in the Jeff Beck jazz/rock fusion series, There and Back is the most obscure recording to my ears. This album was released in June, 1980. It caps off the five-year investment Jeff Beck made in jazz/rock fusion admirably.
Asked how he worked out the material for the album, Beck said, “I ripped myself apart, and I ripped Tony Hymas apart. I tried to get him to understand where I was at because Tony came in as an emergency player back in’78 when we had a tour of Japan lined up and had a problem with another keyboard player. And Tony picked up so quickly and had such a good ear and his musical training and understanding was so superb, I couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a good idea to start schooling him in my ways. Sounds insulting to say ‘school him’ when he knows more about music than I do, but that doesn’t mean what I’m doing is not valid. In the first two weeks he had already begun to see what I wanted without me saying anything. So most of the music on There and Back evolved through our playing together. Tony writes everything down. He just scribbles on the backs of pieces of paper. And then when we run through it, I say, ‘Well, here I can’t get along with this framework that I’ve got to solo over. Let’s change that – take this chord out of there and put it somewhere else.’ It’s just custom-building music between us. Of course, if it’s his song to start with, whatever happens to it, it’s still his song. I’ve reached the point where I need to be led somewhere – on a melody level, not so much on the technique or guitar trickery level. The stuff pours out of me when I’ve got the right tune. I can’t help it – it just pours out! But if the tune isn’t right, then I’ve got to push it a bit. If it’s totally wrong, I’ve got to drag it.” (Source: Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years by Jas Obrecht, 2010)
I want to personally thank Jas Obrecht for his Web column, “Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years“. It kept me grounded and focused on this blog post. He is a very competent music journalist and I learned a great deal from his Jeff Beck piece. Should you want more details than my blog post accomplishes here I urge you to browse over and read Jas’s article.
It was the first and only time I ever attended a rock concert at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East. It’s a fantastic memory in the annals of my 42 years of attending concerts.
The concert was held on the eve of the Newport Jazz Festival going Rock. Jethro Tull and The Jeff Beck Group were scheduled to change jazz festival history by being on that lineup in Newport, Rhode Island.
The Jeff Beck Group headlined The Fillmore East concert. I recall vividly 42 years ago watching Jeff Beck guitar slinging against the Lights by Pablo light show extravaganza. Rod Stewart was the vocalist extraordinaire. He was the dandy with a long scarf that he threw about his neck as he strutted the stage like a peacock.
The Jeff Beck Group that night also featured Ron Wood on bass guitar, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Tony Newman on drums. They tore the roof off The Fillmore East venue that night. Here is a vintage YouTube video from that evening.
The concert left a lasting impression on my psyche. I recall that on the way to the subway station we stopped at The Gramophone Record Store and I bought The Jeff Beck Group album Beck-Ola. I wore the needle down on my hi-fi system playing that record that summer.
The Jeff Beck Group broke up the following month just before Woodstock which they were scheduled to play.
A lot can happen in 42 years. Jeff Beck had a fantastic 2nd comeback year in 2010 with his recording, Emotion & Commotionwhich is nominated for five Grammy awards to be announced on Sunday, February 13th. Rod Stewart has being having great success with his Great American Songbook recordings. Ron Wood is the bassist for The Rolling Stones and a highly successful painter in his own right.
I was elated to learn that Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart decided over dinner in late December of 2010 to reunite and record an album together. To pick right up where they left off 42 years ago. Never say never in this life. 😉 For more specifics about this future collaboration please refer to the February 1st Rolling Stone Magazine article, Exclusive: Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck Getting Closer to Recording Together Again.
As it stands now Jeff Beck has sent Rod Stewart some tapes of the new album and Rod Stewart is adding the vocals. Should be real sweet when this recording is complete later this year.
This YouTube video will give you a taste for Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart live. Rod Stewart made a surprise appearance at Jeff Beck’s 2009 concert in Los Angeles at the El Ray, watch Jeff Beck’s reaction 🙂