Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer
Nicky Hopkins' Memories by Julian Dawson.
Born July 4, 1954, Julian Dawson grew up in London and then in Kent. After studying Fine Art and Printmaking at Exeter Art College he decided to direct his attention and talent to a life in music. Please check out his website for a complete treatment of Julian's impressive career.
Recently, Julian has been researching and writing a biography of piano legend Nicky Hopkins. He has also been working on a number of other recording projects. What spare time he has is spent with his family, collecting vinyl rarities, listening to music, walking, writing and simply enjoying life.
I would like to thank Julian for his kind consideration as he took the time from his busy writing schedule to contribute to our site…Cheers Julian - we're certainly looking forward to the book! - Todd 3/15/2007
Nicholas Christian Hopkins was born, the youngest of four children, to Alfred and Freda Hopkins in Park Royal Hospital 24th. February 1944. He arrived in the middle of an air raid.
Alfred worked for Arthur Guinness as an accountant and the family lived first in Perivale and then Harrow. Nicky started playing piano aged three (!!) reaching for the keys and making tunes and went on to piano lessons locally before winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy Of Music in 1956. He was otherwise undistinguished in school and left aged sixteen already infected by the rock'n'roll bug. He was a founder member of Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages one of the rockingest and most influential early bands on the UK circuit.
After stints with the Saxons and Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers and recurrent stretches with Sutch, with the other three Savages he joined Cyril Davies and became his 'All Stars' in November 1962, remaining with him until hospitalised in May 1963. Nicky suffered all his life with a variety of internal illnesses, later diagnosed as Crohn's disease. He spent nineteen months in hospital, during which time Cyril died tragically.
When Nicky finally left hospital at Christmas 1964 after reputedly fourteen operations, touring was no longer an option and he entered the session world in London, rapidly becoming the most in-demand keyboard player of the sixties era. His client list includes the Beatles, both together and individually, the Rolling Stones (fourteen albums!), the Who, The Kinks, The Easybeats, Dusty Springfield, Donovan and countless others.
In 1968, burnt out by his endless schedule Nicky joined the Jeff Beck Group with whom he toured in N. America and the UK. He left the band in June '69 and went right away to California to work with the Steve Miller Band, but also guesting with Jefferson Airplane (on record and at Woodstock) before becoming a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service for a year (and three albums).
He recorded three solo albums in his career but really shone as a sideman to others, appearing on iconic records like 'Beggar's Banquet', 'Exile On Main Street', 'Let It Bleed', 'Imagine', 'Who's Next' and 'Volunteers'.
He spent many years based in the USA either in Los Angeles or San Francisco, returning a number of times to England for further recording commitments right up until his much too early passing in Nashville on September 6th. 1994, where he had recently moved with his second wife Moira.
He worked up to the very end of his life with a variety of well-known and lesser known clients, (including in his last year Don Henley, Joe Walsh and this writer) and his discography runs to several hundred albums and singles with rock's aristocracy.
When he died many of his most famous clients contributed obituaries and tributes to his brilliance, Ray Davies of the Kinks drawing particular attention to 'Country Line Special' as a milestone in his own development and that of UK music generally.
Nicky combined classical training with an incredible instinct for the American music styles of such as Johnnie Johnson, Albert Ammons, Jerry Lee Lewis, Otis Spann, Floyd Cramer and Fats Domino. In the All Stars he famously wrote out Big Maceo's 'Chicago Breakdown' note for note and learned it, causing great envy in colleagues such as Ian Maclagen and Ian Stewart and admiration in young up and coming players like the fledgling Rolling Stones and Jimmy Page.
[Ed. - In July 1965 Page produced the following recordings with former members of Cyril Davies' R&B All-Stars (Nicky Hopkins- piano; Cliff Barton- bass; Carlo Little- drums), along with Jeff Beck on guitar; the recordings have since been released on dozens of compilations (i.e. "WHITE BOY BLUES," etc.]: Down In The Boots, L.A. Breakdown, Steelin' , Piano Shuffle , Chuckles.
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