Nicholas Christian Hopkins was born in Perivale, Middlesex, England, on 24 February 1944. He began playing piano at age three. He attended Wembley County Grammar School, which now forms part of Alperton Community School, and was initially tutored by a local piano teacher; in his teens he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. He suffered from Crohn's disease from his youth.
His poor health and repeated surgery would later make it difficult for him to tour, and he worked primarily as a session musician for most of his career.
Hopkins' studies were interrupted in 1960 when he left school at 16 to become the pianist with Screaming Lord Sutch's Savages until, two years later, he and fellow Savages Bernie Watson, Rick Brown (aka Ricky Fenson) and Carlo Little, joined the renowned blues harmonica player Cyril Davies, who had just left Blues Incorporated, and became the Cyril Davies (R&B) All-Stars. Hopkins played piano on their first single, Davies' much-admired theme tune "Country Line Special". However he was forced to leave the All Stars in May 1963 for a series of operations that almost cost him his life and was bed-ridden for nineteen months in his late teenage years. During his convalescence Davies died of leukaemia and the All Stars disbanded.
Hopkins' frail health led him to concentrate on working as a session musician instead of joining bands, although he left his mark performing with a wide variety of famous bands. He quickly became one of London's most in-demand session pianists and performed on many hit recordings from this period. He worked extensively for leading UK independent producers Shel Talmy and Andrew Loog Oldham and performed on albums and singles by the Easybeats, the Kinks, the Pretty Things, the Move and The Who.
In 1967 he joined the Jeff Beck Group, formed by former Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck with vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ronnie Wood and drummer Micky Waller, playing on the LPs Truth and Beck-Ola.
The following year, Hopkins recorded Beggars Banquet with the Rolling Stones, having previously worked for them on their 1967 single "We Love You" and the album Their Satanic Majesties Request. He also recorded for several San Franciscan groups, playing on albums by Jefferson Airplane (with whom he performed at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969), the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Steve Miller Band. He briefly joined Quicksilver Messenger Service and also appeared with the Jerry Garcia Band.
By this point Hopkins was one of Britain's best-known session players, particularly through his work with the Rolling Stones and after playing electric piano on the Beatles' "Revolution" – a rare occasion when an outside rock musician appeared on a Beatles recording. Further raising his profile, he contributed to several Harry Nilsson albums in the early 1970s, including Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson, and recordings by Donovan.
Hopkins played with the Rolling Stones on their studio albums from Between the Buttons in 1967 through Emotional Rescue in 1980 and Tattoo You in 1981. Among his contributions, he supplied the prominent piano parts on "We Love You" and "She's a Rainbow" (both 1967), "Sympathy for the Devil" (1968), "Monkey Man" (1969), "Sway" (1971), "Loving Cup" and "Ventilator Blues" (1972), "Angie" (1973), "Time Waits for No One" (1974) and "Waiting on a Friend" (1981). When working with the band during their critical and commercial zenith in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hopkins tended to be employed on a wide range of slower ballads, uptempo rockers and acoustic material; conversely, longtime de facto Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart only played on traditional major key blues rock numbers of his choice, while Billy Preston often featured on soul- and funk-influenced tunes. Hopkins' work with the Rolling Stones is perhaps most prominent on their 1972 studio album, Exile on Main St., where he contributed in a variety of musical styles.
Along with Ry Cooder, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, Hopkins released the 1972 album Jamming with Edward! It was recorded in 1969, during the Stones' Let It Bleed sessions, when guitarist Keith Richards was not present in the studio. The eponymous "Edward" was an alias of Nicky Hopkins derived from studio banter with Brian Jones. It became the title for an outstanding Hopkins performance – "Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder" – a song released on the Quicksilver Messenger Service album Shady Grove in December 1969. Hopkins also contributed to the Jamming With Edward! cover art.
Hopkins was added to the Rolling Stones live line-up for the 1971 Good-Bye Britain Tour, as well as the notorious 1972 North American Tour and the early 1973 Winter Tour of Australia and New Zealand. He started to form his own band around this time but decided against it after the Stones tour. He had planned on using Prairie Prince on drums and Pete Sears on bass. Hopkins failed to make the Rolling Stones' 1973 tour of Europe due to ill health and, aside from a guest appearance in 1978, did not play again with the Stones live on stage. He did manage to go on tour with the Jerry Garcia Band, from 5 August to 31 December 1975.
Hopkins was invited in 1965 by producer Shel Talmy to record with the Kinks. He recorded 4 studio albums: The Kink Kontroversy (1965), Face to Face (1966), Something Else by The Kinks (1967) and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968).
The relationship between Hopkins and the Kinks deteriorated after the release of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, however. Hopkins maintained that "about seventy percent" of the keyboard work on the album was his, and was incensed when Ray Davies apparently credited himself for the majority of the keyboard playing.
Despite Hopkins' ensuing grudge against him, Davies spoke positively of his contributions in a New York Times interview in 1995:
Nicky, unlike lesser musicians, didn't try to show off; he would only play when necessary. But he had the ability to turn an ordinary track into a gem – slotting in the right chord at the right time or dropping a set of triplets around the back beat, just enough to make you want to dance. On a ballad, he could sense which notes to wrap around the song without being obtrusive. He managed to give "Days," for instance, a mysterious religious quality without being sentimental or pious.
Nicky and I were hardly bosom buddies. We socialized only on coffee breaks and in between takes. In many ways, I was still in awe of the man who in 1963 had played with the Cyril Davies All Stars on the classic British R & B record, "Country Line Special." I was surprised to learn that Nicky came from Wembley, just outside of London. With his style, he should have been from New Orleans, or Memphis.Face to Face.
In addition to appearing on Shady Grove, Hopkins played on Quicksilver Messenger Service's albums Just for Love and What About Me, both released in 1970. He also contributed to the band's 1975 reunion album.
Also in 1969, Hopkins was a member of the short-lived Sweet Thursday line-up, a quintet comprising Hopkins, Alun Davies (Cat Stevens), Jon Mark, Harvey Burns and Brian Odgers. The band completed their eponymous debut album; however, the project was doomed from the start. Their American record label, Tetragrammaton Records, abruptly declared bankruptcy (by legend, the same day the album was released) with promotion and a possible tour never happening.
He released his second solo album in 1973 entitled The Tin Man Was a Dreamer. Other musicians appearing on the album include George Harrison (credited as "George O'Hara"), Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, and Prairie Prince, who was later the drummer for the Tubes. Re-released on Columbia in 2004, the album is a rare opportunity to hear Hopkins sing.
In 1974-1975, he joined the Jerry Garcia Band for several shows at the Keystone in Berkeley, most notably a surprise appearance on New Year's Eve 1975 during the mid-seventies hiatus of the Grateful Dead.
His third solo album, entitled No More Changes, was released in 1975. Appearing on the album are Hopkins (lead vocals and all keyboards), David Tedstone (guitars), Michael Kennedy (guitars), Rick Wills (bass), and Eric Dillon (drums and percussion), with back-up vocals from Kathi McDonald, Lea Santo-Robertie, Doug Duffey and Dolly. A fourth album, Long Journey Home, has remained unreleased. He also released three soundtrack albums in Japan between 1992 and 1993, The Fugitive, Patio and Namiki Family.
During 1979-1989, he was playing and touring with Los Angeles-based Night, who had a hit with a cover of Walter Egan's Hot Summer Nights
Hopkins, given his long association with The Who, was a key instrumentalist on the soundtrack for the 1975 Ken Russell film, Tommy. Hopkins played piano on most of the tracks, and is acknowledged in the album's liner notes for his work on the arrangements for most of the songs.
In addition to recording with the Beatles in 1968, Hopkins worked with each of the four when they went solo. Between 1970 and 1975, he appeared on many projects by John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, making key contributions to the critically acclaimed solo albums Imagine, Living in the Material World and Ringo. He worked only once with Paul McCartney, on the latter's 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt.
Hopkins lived in Mill Valley, California, for several years. During this time he worked with several local bands and continued to record in San Francisco. One of his complaints throughout his career was that he did not receive royalties from any of his recording sessions, because of his status at the time as merely a "hired hand", as opposed to pop stars with agents. He received songwriting credit for his work with the Jeff Beck Group, including an instrumental, "Girl From Mill Valley", on the 1969 album Beck-Ola. Only Quicksilver Messenger Service, through its manager Ron Polte and its members, gave Hopkins an ownership stake. Towards the end of his life he worked as a composer and orchestrator of film scores, with considerable success in Japan.
Hopkins died on 6 September 1994, at the age of 50, in Nashville, Tennessee, from complications resulting from intestinal surgery presumably related to his lifelong battle with Crohn's disease. At the time of his death, he was working on his autobiography with Ray Coleman. He is survived by his wife, Moira. Songwriter and musician Julian Dawson collaborated with Hopkins on one recording, the pianist's last, in spring 1994, a few months before his death. After Ray Coleman's death, the connection led to Dawson working on a definitive biography of Nicky Hopkins, first published by Random House in German in 2010, followed in 2011 by the English-language version with the title And on Piano … Nicky Hopkins (a hardback in the UK via Desert Hearts, and a paperback in North America via Backstage Books/Plus One Press).The Kinks, The Kink Kontroversy (1965), Sunny Afternoon (1966), Face to Face (1966), The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
The Who, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" and "The Ox" (1965), My Generation album (1965), "The Song Is Over" (1971), "Getting in Tune" (1971), "We're Not Gonna Take It [movie remix]" (1975), "They Are All in Love" (1975), "Slip Kid" (1975), "How Many Friends" (1975)
The Rolling Stones, "In Another Land" (1967), She's a Rainbow" (1967) on the Their Satanic Majesties Request album, "We Love You" (1967), "Sympathy for the Devil" (1968), "Street Fighting Man" (1968), "Gimme Shelter" (1969), "Monkey Man" (1969), "Sway" (1971), "Tumbling Dice" and many others on Exile on Main St. (1972), "Angie" (1973), "Time Waits for No One" (1974), "Fool to Cry" (1976), "Waiting on a Friend" (recorded 1972, released 1981)
Jeff Beck, "Blues De Luxe", "Morning Dew" (1967), Truth (1967), and Hopkins's own self-penned "Girl From Mill Valley", on Beck-Ola (1969)
Cat Stevens, "Matthew and Son" (1967), Matthew and Son (1967)
The Easybeats, "Heaven & Hell", and an unreleased album titled Good Times (1967)
The Beatles, "Revolution" (single version) (1968)
Jackie Lomax, "Sour Milk Sea" (1968)
The Move, "Hey Grandma", "Mist on a Monday Morning", "Wild Tiger Woman" (all 1968)
Jefferson Airplane, "Volunteers" (1969), "Wooden Ships" (1969), "Eskimo Blue Day" (1969), "Hey Fredrick" (1969), whole Woodstock set
Steve Miller Band, "Kow Kow", "Baby's House" (which Hopkins co-wrote with Miller) (1969)
Donovan, "Barabajagal" (1969)
Quicksilver Messenger Service, Shady Grove (composer of "Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder") (1969), Just for Love (1970) and What About Me (composer of "Spindrifter") (1970)
P. J. Proby, Reflections of Your Face (Amory Kane) from "Three Week Hero" (1969)
John Lennon, "Jealous Guy" (1971), "How Do You Sleep?" (1971), "Oh Yoko!" (1971), "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (1971), Walls and Bridges album (1974)
New Riders of the Purple Sage, Powerglide (1972)
Carly Simon, No Secrets (1972)
Jamming with Edward (jam session with Ry Cooder, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts (recorded 1969, released 1972)
Harry Nilsson, Son of Schmilsson (1972)
George Harrison, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" (1973), Living in the Material World album (1973)
Ringo Starr, "Photograph" (1973), "You're Sixteen" (1973), "No No Song" (1974)
Joe Cocker, "You Are So Beautiful" (1974)
Marc Bolan, "Jasper C. Debussy" (recorded 1966–67, released 1974)
Peter Frampton, "Waterfall" and "Sail Away" (1974)
Jerry Garcia Band, Let It Rock: The Jerry Garcia Collection, Vol. 2 (1975), Garcia Live Volume Five (1975)
Jerry Garcia, Reflections (1976)
Art Garfunkel, Breakaway (1975)
Rod Stewart, "You're in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)" (1977)
L. Ron Hubbard, "The Mining Song" (1982), "The Banker" (1982)
Joe Walsh, "Guilty of the Crime" from the album A Future to This Life: Robocop – The Series Soundtrack (1994)
Paul McCartney, "That Day Is Done" (1989)
The Dogs D'Amour, "Hurricane", "Trail of Tears", and "Princes Valium" from the Errol Flynn/King of the Thieves album (1989)
The Jayhawks, "Two Angels" and "Martin's Song" on the Hollywood Town Hall album (1992)
Graham Parker, Another Grey Area (1982)
Gene Clark (various recordings)
Brewer & Shipley
Additional Amory Kane works