Archive for May, 2013

Led Zeppelin, the Definitive Biography, by Ritchie Yorke

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

LZTDB

LZTDB


Led Zeppelin, the Definitive Biography, by Ritchie Yorke – I’ve read Hammer Of The Gods, which has been attacked by Led Zeppelin camp insiders, while Yorke’s is considered more informed, given Robert Plant’s praise that “Ritchie’s alright… he’s been one of us from the bloody beginning.” Nice plug, worth putting on the cover. Which Yorke has done, of course – something like that is a gift from heaven for an author, man!!

It doesn’t make it an exciting book, though, and like most books about Led Zeppelin there’s only one short mention of backstage debauchery (for that, you’re better off to read the Pamela Des Barres books), with a lot of praise for things that the band did well. It also conveys the sense of denial coming from parts of the rock world that Led Zeppelin was any good at all, when it was clear that they were a smashing success with the fans (hard to believe that they were once looked down upon, but yes… it seems to be true). It took a while for people to catch on, and by the fourth album it was undeniable. Of course, by that time, it was nearly over, and what Yorke remains vague about is the last few albums… weren’t very good. Led Zeppelin had run out of steam somewhere after Physical Graffiti, but that’s sort of glossed over here. Lots of great quotes with people who are long-dead, like Glyn Johns or Peter Grant (who died only two years after the book was published, but who seems very much alive here, and ready to undertake grand new plans – a bit more on that later).

The book starts out, as all good bios and auto-biographies do, with a personal recollection, and this is a good one – it is about Yorke getting to introduce the band to 18,000 fans at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens one night in 1970. “Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest rock and roll band in the world… Led Zeppelin.” He describes the roar of the crowd that hit him at that point before the band split the night open with their music. Must have been quite an experience, and he makes the interesting observation that while many have written about how Led Zeppelin made people feel, not many have written about how people made Led Zeppelin feel, and Yorke gets into this throughout the book. Yorke is Canadian, of course, and one of the first critical supporters of the band, and he even describes Toronto as “one of the earliest North American markets to take the band to heart in 1969.” Weird how they never played there again after that 1970 show (even weirder how on that same tour they also played Kitchener!!!).

Awesome 1969 tour programme to be found here.

Of course we get a lot of bio stuff about the four fellas, and for me it was the sections about John Paul Jones that were the most revealing – I had not known what a brilliant production guy he had been for many years before the band got going. Some stuff on Jimmy’s session years (which I thought Marianne Faithfull covered better in her book than Yorke does here) are here too, like when he recorded “The Worrying Kind” and “Bald-Headed Woman” with Brian Howard and the Silhouettes, or with millions of other bands (and then he also he launched fuzz tone on The Who’s version of “Bald-Headed Woman”). Page also played “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” with Faithfull.

Before Led Zeppelin, Page had only cut four songs under his own name as part of a group, with the Yardbirds. Then comes the first album, which they cut in only 30 hours for £1,700. It was a smash, and so was the follow-up, which was part of some pretty amazing musical times.

By the 27 December chart listing, Led Zeppelin II had knocked Abbey Road off the pinnacle and into the number two sot. Led Zeppelin II spent seen weeks on the top spot before being dislodged by Simon and Garfunkel’s classic folk-rock bestseller, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Wow – those were interesting times!! Weird how Eric Clapton disliked the band in those early years, thinking them too loud.

Interesting anecdote of the band’s only tour of Japan, and hijinx on the bullet train, as well as a visit to Thailand (you can only imagine what they got to in the red light districts there).

In Thailand all the kids followed us around calling out “Billy Boy, Billy Boy” which means queer – all because of our long hair. But it was friendly stuff. When we landed in Bangkok, we saw a sign saying that the band Marmalade were coming to play here soon. Led zeppelin had never even been heard of in Thailand, but here was Marmalade playing there, and then heading off somewhere else exotic. It made us think.

That was probably also the tour of Asia when they were denied entry to Singapore because of their long hair, something that is not mentioned here (The Stones played Singapore in 1966 or so). Interesting to note that “Going To California” was secretly dedicated to Joni Mitchell, whom Robert Plant was in love with. Commenting how on the acoustic feeling on the fourth album, with “Stairway To Heaven”, moved things into another dimension, John Paul Jones is quoted as saying “No one ever compared us to Black Sabbath after this record.”

Weirdly, Houses Of The Holy was badly savaged by the critics:

“This album seems to have less guts than earlier Led Zeppelin material” South Wales Echo; “Awful” PRM; “For the most part, mediocre” Rock; “It would appear that the boys have calmed down” Circus; and “They’ve been going downhill ever since the first perfect outing” Charleston Gazette.

The Rolling Stone review approximated what the group had cynically expected: “Beck Bogert and Appice, Black Sabbath, the Groundhogs, Robin Trower – the list is long and they all fare musically better than the Zep because they stick to what they do best. Page and friends should similarly realise their limitations and get back to playing the blues-rock that moves mountains. Until they do, Led Zeppelin will remain a Limp Blimp.” To which Playboy magazine hollered, “The blimp’s a long way from limp.”

They went on opulent tours, they trashed hotel rooms (in a while everyone would be doing this), but they had an extra level of class because they had an extra layer of money – even their groupies chartered planes to follow them from gig to gig. And after a while boring old Robert Plant even begins to believe his own hype. “I like [the audience] to go away feeling the way you do after a good chick, satisfied and exhausted. Some nights I just look out there and I want to fuck the whole front row.” Classy, Robert, classy. Then Jimmy Page took up with Ron Wood’s wife Chrissie Wood, with Ron’s acquiescence. Weird!

A crazy 1980 – Richard Cole fired, arrested in Rome and sentenced to six months in a maximum security jail for drugs, a young boy overdosing in Jimmy Page’s home. But by then the end is near.

After Bonham’s death, the band falls apart, and so does the narrative of this biography. Peter Grant and Jimmy Page go into a dark funk and mourn for several years, lost in a drug haze, Robert Plant keeps his career going (and by now he’s recorded many more solo albums than he had with Led Zeppelin), and John Paul Jones retired to his castle and other eccentricities. Nice. Funny drama around various musical Plant and Page’s pairings over the years, especially that time when Page decided to work with David Coverdale – and now we hear Plant get really catty:

You can’t do it forever, so if it looks good and it sells records for David Geffen, then somebody’s got to do it, you know. A lot of people have done. Coverdale’s the latest, and he’s making a lot of money. Now Page and I get offered everything – women, little boys, money, cocaine, the lot, to just go back and do that again. I passed the vacancy on to Coverdale. He’d spent the last couple of years being Paul Rodgers, so he had to move on. In ten years, he’ll be George Michael.

But I don’t mind what David Coverdale is doing, to be perfectly frank, because he’s never going to get it right.

Not everybody liked Plant’s solo stuff. “How did I react to it? I felt that maybe he’d go on to greater things,” quipped John Paul Jones. Never realised that Frankie Goes To Hollywood had sampled John Bonham’s drums for “Relax.” Weird how the book tries to ground things in the modern day by quoting Jason Newsted of Metallica on the significance of Led Zeppelin, along with the “amiable but acutely intelligent” Def Leppard vocalist Joe Eliot (quoting Def Leppard on Led Zeppelin after they ripped off the name concept!!!). Then Robert Plant is quoted saying “I’ve always got ot sing. Even she I go bald, I’ll go on singing” (hasn’t happened yet, although the mane is looking a bit droopy these days… and the soul patch really isn’t working either. Oh well).

Yorke tries to get journalistic, finally, near the end, reporting on both sides of Peter Grant’s personality – the angel and the demon – and finally lets the reader decide, but pausing still to tell a personal anecdote when the limo partiers raced a police officer through the last parts of Ontario to lose him at the Quebec border… yeah, I know. We’re not always so lucky, though, and the praise sometimes just gushes and gushes: “The fascinating film project – plus [Peter Grant's] plans to also write a book based on his saddlebags of experiences – ensure that we’ll be hearing a lot more from Peter Grant before too long.”

Ultimately, though, the book has become very dated, and too full of long, quaint, lovingly boring quotes by the surviving Led Zeppelin members. It is also badly in need of updating having been published in 1991 (which itself was an update of the 1980 version), and an edit – plenty of typos, and time-stamped words like “recently”, which should have been edited out in the first place anyway…

And on Piano… Nicky Hopkins, the extraordinary life of rock’s greatest session man

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

NH

And on Piano… Nicky Hopkins, the extraordinary life of rock’s greatest session man, by Julian Dawson – I’ve always loved the era that Nicky Hopkins was a part of, and when I realized how many classic Stones albums he had played on, my breath just vanished. Wow! He’s the power behind “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Loving Cup”, and the list of his contributions just goes on and on and on: he played for The Rolling Stones (as a contributor and also as a touring member on the infamous 1972 tour!!!), the Beatles, the ex-Beatles’ solo projects (all four of them, separately, but sometimes even collaboratively with each other), the Kinks, the Who, the Jeff Beck Band (contributor and touring member), the Quicksilver Messenger Service (contributor and touring member) and so many more! So when I saw that someone’s written a biography of the legendary session man I just had to investigate.

Turns out, the guy who wrote the book, Julian Dawson, is a musician himself, who may have been present at Nicky Hopkins’ last session. The level of personal involvement is amazing, especially when you understand that this guy is not a professional writer – he’s a musician, with a music career to look after – who took on this labor of love, who chased down the legendary musicians that Nicky Hopkins was involved with, and got this to press. Amazing! Bravo, Julian, for this labour of love!!

The story of Nicky Hopkins is of a frail, somewhat cynical middle class British fellow with a strange (maybe you could even say warped) sense of humor, who lived constantly with the pain of a ruined digestive tract, who was also a musical genius, but who was not focused enough to become a star in his own right, who could blow the roof off someone else’s recording, but who could not necessarily it for himself. Hopkins had plenty of opportunities to record his own material, but for many reasons it never took off. Sad, frustrating, typical.

The book is structured in a very complex manner – not quite chronological, Dawson considers chronology for the main part, but also breaks out themes: anything about the Stones over the years from the first session up to Hopkins’ death (part one, part two), anything about the Beatles (one song – “Revolution”) and its solo members (many with John, George and Ringo, just one with Paul), a Harry Nilsson chapter, a chapter just about his solo work, etc. Nice!

The book starts out with the requisite family history stuff, and we learn a lot about Hopkins’ parents and grand parents, and also about his siblings and the chilly middle-house that they grew up in. Nicky, sickly as a youth but a brilliant pianist, eventually gets out and discovers the world of music, falling in with the earliest Screaming Lord Sutch sets, through a group called The Savages. Encounters in the early 1960s with Charlie Watts and Ritchie Blackmore.

Here’s the first Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages single, “Till The Following Night”. Nicky Hopkins doesn’t actually play on it, but he had been a part of the Savages as they toured with this song, “Till The End Of The Night” and it’s brilliant B-Side, “Good Golly Miss Molly”:

Nicky’s first recording came later, with “Jack The Ripper” and “Don’t You Just Know It”.

It’s around this time on tour in England that Hopkins met his idol, Jerry Lee Lewis, at which time Lewis noted “Goddammit, that boy can really pound that keyboard!

Hopkins also played great opening piano (and a very cool solo!!) on Casey Jones & The Engineers’ “One Way Ticket”. According to some sources a young Eric Clapton was also on the track:

There’s a great picture on P. 38 of Nicky Hopkins playing guitar for Cyril Davies at the Marquee Club with a very young Jimmy Page looking on (nice tie and tweed jacket, Jimmy); Page later ripped Hopkins off for songwriting credits.

While Cyril Davies was to die young, he did record some songs, with Nicky playing some wild electric piano on the A-side and acoustic piano on the B-side; Dawson calls it “possibly the first credible recorded blues played by white people at all,” and it probably is!

The line-up included three South African women. According to Long John Baldry: “There was Peggy Phango, Mumsie Tobeni and Patience Gwabe. She had a connection to Dr Stephen Ward and all that Christine Keeler thing, and because of Patience’s involvement with whatever she was moonlighting on, we were getting visits from MI5 and MI6 down at the Marquee.” The Kinks’ Ray Davies called the A-side “the unsung British R&B classic. To me it said this can be done in Britain; we don’t need to go to America to get players.” Just as the Cyril Davies All Stars started going places, Nicky was hospitalized for a serious stomach disorder that nearly killed him, taking him out of commission for almost two years, during which time rock and roll moved on. But it was worse for Davies – dropping dead one day in late 1963, friends were surprised to discover that Davies was only 32 years old!!

Hopkins later played on The Who’s “My Generation” on every track except “I Can’t Explain”, even getting a partial songwriting credit for the instrumental “The Ox” (alongside Townsend, Entwistle and Moon). Jimmy Page was also in those sessions, playing lead guitar on “Bald Headed Woman”, rhythm guitar on “I Can’t Explain”.

The book gets into battles that Nicky had with some musicians, including the Kinks, who at least wrote a song about people like Nicky, a song that Nicky played harpsicord on.

Great playing on The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon”!

Hopkins played on “Who’s Next”, principally on “The Song Is Over”, called by Dawson “without doubt a high point both in Nicky’s work as a session man and the Who’s recorded output.” It’s also a song that the band’s keyboard player of more then 25 years, John “Rabbit” Bundrick”, dreads to play live.

Hopkins also played in “Getting In Tune”, and unreleased songs from the same sessions “Too Much Of Anything” and “Let’s See Action.” Apparently, Pete Townsend also invited Hopkins to join as a full member of The Who at this point (just as the Stones had made the offer at various points, Jimmy Page did for his New Yardbirds, and the Plastic Ono Band as well, all to be turned down).

Hopkins also played on “Getting In Tune” and unreleased tracks from the same session – “Too Much Of Anything” and “Let’s See Action”.

I find it odd that Hopkins turned down these gigs, but accepted offers to join the Quicksilver Messenger Service and Night, but hey – that’s just the way it is.

Dawson gives two chapters to Hopkins’ history with the Rolling Stones, which started just before “Between The Buttons” (where he probably played the intro to “Ruby Tuesday”, and most other songs, alongside Jack Nietzche), with the trippy honky tonk piano-fuelled “We Love You” single (although Keith pretends to be playing keyboards in the video), and then moved on to “Their Satanic Majesties Request” of 1967, when the band was plagued with legal hassles, and Hopkins is one of a few musicians (along with Charlie Watts, Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane) on Bill Wyman’s strange “In Another Land”. He is also, of course, all over “She’s A Rainbow” with his harpsichord, probably the first Stones song (of many) that should have had a songwriting credit.

Hopkins’ contribution to these songs was significant, and yet he never got royalties. Bobby Keys, also a session man for the Stones in the studio and on tour, explains: “Of course, in order for Jagger to accept anything that anybody else thought of, you’d have to make him believe that it was his idea to begin with. I’d say, ‘Mick are you gonna put some horns on this track?’ ‘Oh no, we don’t need horns on this.’ We’d listen and then say ‘Hey man, you remember that idea you had about horns? Man, that was a great idea.’ Nick would do the same,” to which he requests “If you are going to put this in print, wait till this next tour is over will you (laughs), Jagger’s a vengeful sonofabitch.” (Dawson printed it all!!) Bill Wyman concurs: “The Stones never gave directions to any musician. They just came up with an idea or riff and everybody just added their bits and messed about with it and after a while it would come to fruition and become a song. Nicky had a lot of input in the studio, as we all did, but the songs always ended up Jagger/Richards of course.”

In 1968, Hopkins played on the “Jumping Jack Flash” single, before kicking out the jams on “Beggars Banquet”, largely to replace an incoherent Brian Jones. “Brian Jones was in very bad shape,” said Hopkins. “He was okay on the sessions for Satanic Majesties but on Beggars Banquet, he’d come in with his guitar and half an hour later he’d keel over and be out cold. There’s a lot of very prominent piano on that album, and that’s the reason – essentially they were short one guitarist.”

The band also worked with a new producer, having parted ways with Andrew Oldham, in the form of the superb Jimmy Miller. “The Stones wouldn’t have made those albums without Jimmy Miller, [engineer] Glyn Johns and Nicky being there,” said later guitarist Mick Taylor, “being patient enough to sit there all those hours, until they made up their minds whether they’d got a decent take. Sometimes, by the time you’d done fifteen takes, you’d have to go right back to the beginning to reconstruct the song you were trying to record. Jimmy would say “take a break,’ and it needed somebody like that.”

Hopkins worked with Jeff Beck on his early singles and his first two albums, even touring with him at one point. John Paul Jones sat in on those sessions too and they were both asked to join Jimmy Page’s “New Yardbirds”. “John Paul Jones wisely accepted the invitation. Nicky had declined the offer, convinced that, with that monicker, no good could possible come of it. In a Nashville café, Robert Plant recalled Nicky being asked to joint he new band on two separate occasions. One of those followed the ‘Beck’s Bolero’ session, when someone suggested taking the impromptu line-up on tour. That prompted Keith Moon’s much-reported comment that they would go down ‘like a lead zeppelin.’”

That’s okay, because he still got good gigs, such as playing with Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock. “[Jefferson Airplane] asked if I could come and do an open-air festival in the east and said it would be about three days; I sort of liked the idea so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come along.’ I went with them and it turned out to e Woodstock.’”

If you watch the film Woodstock, Grace Slick comes out and Nicky Hopkins is the first person that you see before she breaks into “Won’t You Try,” introducing “The Regular Guys… and Nicky Hopkins!!”

In “Uncle Sam Blues”, Grace Slick is leaning up against Nicky Hopkins’ piano, as guitarist Jorma Kaukoknen launches into some cool blues, and we hear some great Hopkins tinkling, and watch him puff away on a cigarette. In “3/5th of a Mile in 10 Seconds”, which is in the extra material, there are several shots of Hopkins, although his piano is not to be heard.

Hopkins had, after all, made a strange detour away from the London session scene and into San Francisco, where he became a member of the Qucksilver Messenger Service, when founding member Gary Duncan had dropped out, and infamous svengali Dinao Velenti was in jail.

One of the musicians Hopkins was closely tied to was the Steve Miller Band, and he played on several early Miller recordings. For songs like “Baby’s House”, Hopkins even got a song credit, and credit for anticipating the structure of Eric Clapton’s “Layla” by a year.

Bobby Keys recalls meeting Hopkins in 1969. “We were both pretty young back then and he was very, very English – not your usual rock ‘n’ roll type. Back then everybody was taking acid every day and smoking joints, and Nicky didn’t do any of that; he drank tea – no booze or nothing. I thought, ‘How does this guy exist in this culture?’ When everybody around him was engulfed in confusion, he’d be sitting there with his head down – just like Linus, man, in the Peanuts cartoon; he didn’t seem to be affected.” Sadly, that self-control/disinterest just didn’t last.

Hopkins joined the Let It Bleed sessions for the Stones, and recorded all sorts of great classics, like “You’ve Got The Silver”, “Sway” and “Monkey Man”, with its great piano intro:

There are great anecdotes from the Exile On Main Street Era, and Nicky’s wife of the time, Dolly, offers a charming quote: “Keith would be downstairs with Marlon and the baby would be peeing and shitting everywhere on the floor. When I suggested that taking him to the toilet might be a good idea, Keith replied, ‘He’ll find it eventually when he’s old enough.’” Hopkins later noted that the Exile On Main Street session in Nellcote in the south of France “took four months and was enormously boring!”

Robin Millar, the young engineer on the sessions who was also the brother-in-law of guitarist Mick Taylor, had a tough assessment of the Stones:

Nicky was obviously a more advanced musician, and the Stones lapped up that extra layer of musical adventure. They really did go through a very productive and inventive period, but I don’t think that the band, what with one thing and a lot of the other, were in a position to value anything at all; I don’t think they valued Nicky Hopkins, I don’t think they valued money, I don’t think they valued success, I don’t think they valued their own bodies, I don’t think they valued each other; I don’t think they were in a position to appreciate their wives, girlfriends, their own children – nothing. I think if you asked them all now, they do value one another and they value what’s left of their bodies desperately; they cherish their simple rock ‘n’ roll roots and would be happy to acknowledge the extra musical dimension that Nicky, Mick Taylor Bobby Keys and Jim Price did give their work.

Dawson points out an instrumental that came out of the waiting around that has Hopkins fingerprints all over it, a beautiful number called “Separately”.

And now, finally, touring with the Stones, it seems that drugs did enter his lifestyle, eventually nearly overtaking his frail form and snuffing it out. Dawson attributes this to “on-tour boredom”, and it sounds pretty scary. Hopkins himself admitted “the actual playing at night made it all worth it, although especially towards the end, I did sometimes find myself on automatic, playing the same leads and the same runs. I started smoking grass and hash, then used heroin and cocaine. I also did a lot of tranquilizers, sleeping pills, some uppers, LDS – and of course a lot of drinking.”

Life on the road seems to have been pretty tough. Marshal Chess describes how bad the nutrition situation could get: “finding something to eat has been a problem. We usually get up too late for lunch and too early for dinner and when we return from the studio, it’s too early for breakfast.”

As had happened earlier with Brian Jones’ fade-out Keith Richards was fading out by the time of Goats Head Soup, when Hopkins played on half of the tracks, the big one being “Angie”.

Later on Hopkins worked with John Lennon on many of his classic albums. Interestingly, Nicky was supposed to play piano on “Imagine”, but Yoko said NO! So it’s credited to being played by John (or rather a John who is playing very much like Nicky Hopkins would); Nicky plays on all the rest of the album. Explaining the politics of the scene, it seems that John could override the domineering Yoko on the things that were important to him, but not everything. “Whether anyone likes to hear it or not, John ran Yoko,” says Dolly Hopkins. Bobby Keys noted some interesting scenes: “Yoko was not fun to be around, but John loved Nicky – this part I know! He really respected his musicianship; the things he did on Imagine, man, I mean that’s pure Nicky Hopkins.”

Then it was off to a session for a Ringo Starr album that was a quasi-reunion of the Fab Four, with all four playing on the album – just not at the same time. Nicky played on the two number one songs, “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen”. Great ABBA-esque production on this one.

Nicky’s even mentioned specifically in “Me And You (Babe)”, as the second of a long list of collaborators who helped him on “this wonderful record”

Later on he played for Paul McCartney on a song called “Same Love”, which became a B-side ten years after it was recorded, and the song “That Day Is Done”, for which McCartney enlisted Hopkins rather than have Elvis Costello’s keyboard player do it

Another song, “The Confessed”, stayed on the cutting room floor, hopefully it will be released some day. Hopkins nearly became part of McCartney’s touring band in 1987, but was seen eventually as not current enough in his synthesizer skills (!!!).

Interestingly, McCartney lent his studio, singing and bass to a Hopkins composition for the 1988 BBC Children In Need appeal, called “Spirit Of Play.”

One of the later chapters deals with Nicky Hopkins’ problematic solo albums, such as The Tin Man Was A Dreamer, and Hopkins’ difficulty in carving out a musical personality for himself. One commentator “described Nicky as ‘an almost invisible figure, lurking just on the edge of the spotlight’ with the orchestrations and the virtuoso performances of his star guests threatening to drown out his “endearingly fragile voice.” His vocals were later also called “charmingly vulnerable” and “alarmingly frail” in reviews of his live shows. A follow-up album that he made for CBS, The Long Journey Home, with star guest musicians and his wife Dolly singing on it; the record was canned, to Hopkins’ disappointment – in fact, it’s never been released until today! More cutting room floor…

Hopkins went on a short solo tour in 1975, and there’s a great newspaper clipping of an August 18th New York club announcement (The Bottom Line) that lists Hopkins and opening act Nils Lofgren, and in the same ad a young Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band! Hopkins fell and sprained his wrist and the rest of the tour was cancelled, probably to his relief. Dave Tedstone notes that the Stones would show up, and all sorts of chaos would ensue: “I was chatting with Mick Jagger, when I was unceremoniously dragged off by Dolly to have sex in a toile cubicle. Dolly said that Mick was terrified of her!”

Funnily enough, Hopkins plays piano alongside an all-star cast on Cheech and Chong’s “Basketball Jones”. Other amazing musicians who appeared on the record included George Harrison, Carole King, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, Billy Preston, Tom Scott, Michelle Phillips and Ronnie Spector!!!

This video’s got everything – “that basketball was like a basketball to me!” Sister Mary Elephant, Richard Nixon, a humping couple, Nazis, Howard Kosell, an elderly couple toking, the Beatles, “I can do a hook shot with my eyebrow”, hijackers, Cheech and Chong, Viet Kong, King Kong, Himalayan lama, everything!

Around that time, Pamela Polland also managed to capture a jam on “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”, the tune Hopkins enjoyed playing as a tension breaker when tempers flared and egos clashed in the studio:

As the Seventies wore on, Hopkins’ life spiraled out of control, and pretty crazy – here Dawson allows the re-telling of what seems like a pretty fake tale regarding the set-up of some session in LA, including this one by poet Pete Brown, talking about some incident in the summer of 1976:

When we arrived, we were met by a group of people at the airport, and they said, ‘There’s a problem. Nicky Hopkins has been kidnapped by these rivals of ours and he’s trapped in a studio and is being forced to play music for some black magic ceremony.’ I said ‘What can we do?’ ‘ Well, we’ll have to get the guns and go and liberate him’ and I thought, ‘Oh, fuck, I’ve walked straight into a bloody gang war!’

Somehow Nicky got out and we were staying and rehearsing in Sly Stone’s old house, which he had recently vacated. He had panthers and a crocodile, which he used to let loose to deter trespassers. The animals had gone, but there was a very strange vibe about the place.

Hey, it was the Seventies – what if it was true!!

A chapter on Joe Cocker gets into Hopkins’ involvement with “You Are So Beautiful”, a song that revived Cocker’s career. Hopkins also called it one of his favorite performances, although ironically he and Cocker never met during its production.

Here Joe also talks about the time that Bobby Keys and Nicky got booted off an Air New Zealand flight from LA, and were deposited in Fiji. Keys includes this in his own book as well, and the tales are simliar, although accounts about how they left Fiji vary slightly – Bobby hammed it up, saying that they were stranded there for ages, while Dawson reports it as not much more than a 24-hour slowdown in their schedule. They had, of course, been doing filthy Derek and Clive impressions:

When times were a bit worse, Hopkins joined a start-up band called Night, which had a hit, but eventually disappeared without a trace. Does anyone actually remember “If You Remember Me”? How about “Hot Summer Night”?

According to Chris Thompson, a solo performer as well as a member of night, “[Hopkins] wasn’t a well man. The first time he took off his shirt in the dressing room everybody took a sharp intake of breath.” On the Night tour he was seen “taking a lot of pills, [and he] did a lot of coke.”

As the Seventies wore on, and Hopkins got fewer and fewer star treatments, and is relationship with his wife deteriorated, he hit the tequila heavily, as well as all the other drugs and painkillers he was on, to the extent that they had to strap him to his piano bench so that he wouldn’t fall off of it! Perpetually skinny, he actually even acquired a heavy look from the water retention his drinking brought him! He was about two weeks from drinking to himself to death, at rock bottom, when he discovered Dianetics and Scientology’s approach to curing drug and alcohol addiction. This saved his life.

Preposterously, Hopkins became part of Scientology’s “Space Jazz” project with Chick Corea, and “the only original soundtrack ever produced for a book before it becomes a movie” (doesn’t seem like something anyone should be proud about, if you ask me). In the book, Dawson notes from the release the claim that “L Ron Hubbard does not follow trends, he makes them.” Hopkins joined on songs called “The Banker” and “The Mining Song”.

Later chapters deal with Hopkins’ new wife, his new life, his new life as a messenger of Dianetica, and his decline into ill health, his move to Nashville, and his death in relative obscurity at age 50.

Dawson seems to have had some level of co-operation with Hopkins’ associates, and hints at interviews with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Ray and Dave Davies, and others, and he seems to have also had access to Hopkins’ surviving family, and Nicky’s personal diary, but it’s hard to tell how thoroughly he knows the story in the end. There are only occasional quotes from Hopkins himself, most likely from the very few interviews he did, and longer sequences from Dolly Hopkins, his first wife.

Dawson also, inexplicably, adds a great Keith Richards quote “When I finally meet my maker, Marty, I’m afraid I’m in for a bit of a spanking.” He also indulges other delicious quotes that have nothing to do with Nicky Hopkins, such as Bobby Keys’ “Keith and I got to be very good friends [during the Exile On Main Street sessions] – we were both born same day, same month, same year, within a few minutes of each other – and we entertained ourselves (laughs) in the downtime, so to speak. You’re either Keith’s friend of Mick’s and I started out being Mick’s friend, but found it was a hell of a lot more fun being Keith’s. And Keith is a lot better friend. Jagger’s kind of phony!”

The book is amazing, but it’s also frustrating to see this great man’s great potential not actualise. How could this brilliant musician give so much to other musicians, and really not have anything to show for himself at the time of his death in 1994 (he was living hand-to-mouth at the end of his live, despite his past glories), after a ruinous marriage, and deep bouts of drug and alcohol abuse which he reckoned had cost him a million British pounds. His health setbacks were horrendous, and in 1970, “recurrent pains in his back led to a doctor’s examination, X-rays and an emergency hospitalization in San Francisco, where a combination of kidney infection, jaundice and  a blood clot led to the removal of one of his kidneys and a stretch in intensive care, when doctors once again almost gave up hope of his survival.” Wow!!

The book is also full of great pictures, lovingly assembled by Dawson and scattered throughout the book. Among these are great shots, like Nicky and Jerry Lee Lewis, Nicky onstage at Woodstock (playing with the Jefferson Airplane) smoking a cigarette, surrounded by hippies, and getting older and older and older.

There’s also a great discography of album appearances, single appearances, tour appearances, film and video appearances, a bibliography running five pages that cites about 120 books and publications, photo credits, an 11-page essay on his “piano style, influences and legacy”, and a long index (not every biography or autobiography has one)!!!

Just reading through the discography of LPs and singles is a stunning exercise, for all the names you see, known or obscure. His first full-length LP was in 1965 with Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds (who?), for whom he played a few more times, and then moves on to the Kinks Kontroversy (!!!) and the Who’s My Generation (!!!!!). Among the artists not mentioned specifically in the book, he was also on Cat Stevens’ first release Matthew And Son, which produced two singles that Hopkins also played on (the title track, and “I Love My Dog”), before moving on to the Yardbirds, Donovan, and so many more; Badfinger, Carly Simon, Bobby Keys’ solo album, Martha Reeves, Peter Frampton, Bill Wyman’s solo recording, Jennifer Warnes, Pointer Sisters, Ron Wood’s solo album, Dusty Springfield, The Tubes, Julio Iglesias (“To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”), Rick Springfield, Belinda Carlisle, Dpgs D’Amour, Gary Moore (“Still Got The Blues”), David Bowie, Spinal Tap, the Killer Dwarfs (a Canadian hair metal band!!), Joe Satriani, Faster Pussycat, Izzy Stradlin and the Juju Hounds, Bang Tango… He was even on the Girls Together Outrageously album, “Permanent Damage”!!

A pity they’re not mentioned in the book, but then again I don’t think that Hopkins was mentioned in GTO member Miss Pamela’s infamous memoir I’m With The Band.

His singles pre-dated his LP sessions by two years, and in 1963 he played on five. And from there it went onwards and upwards, including David Bowie and the Lower Third with a 1966 single called “Can’t Help Thinking About Me/ I Say To Myself”. Here’s a cool Madeline Bell single he played on in 1968.

And with re-releases of music that he played on coming out again all throughout the decades after his death, his piano is still being heard on fresh record company product!

The Filmography starts with the film the Rolling Stones did with Jean-Luc Goddard about the filming of “Sympathy For The Devil”, right up to a 1982 video of Terry and the Pirates playing Rockpalast. Most interestingly, he was in the John Lennon documentary Gimme Some Truth about the making of John Lennon’s Imagine:

He’s listed among 23 touring bands, including Screaming Lord Such and the Savages(1960, 1961-1062), Jeff Beck Group (1968-1969), Terry and The Pirates (multiple years from 1970 onwards), the Stones (1971-1977), the Jerry Garcia Band (1975), Leo Sayer’s touring bnad (1976), Joe Cocker’s touring band (1977), and Art Garfunkel’s touring band (1978-1979). Interestingly, he was also in a band called Tumbling Dice in 1992 with Mick Taylor and Bobby Keys! Of course, he also toured with now-unknown bands like The Saxons (1960), Poet and the One Man Band (1968), Sweet Thursday (1969), Sky, CRY/CHRY, Zero, and others. Wait, what’s this – the last band he toured with, in 1993, which is called The Flew, included Joe Walsh and Terry Reid. What?!?!

In an appreciation essay, which I suppose had no place in the book, Dawson assembles all sorts of random stuff about him, such as talk about who he admired as a pianist, description of the pianos he’d played, strange studio anecdotes, and more praise from musicians about his playing, his character, and his uniqueness, one of the best being “that guy saved a lot of people’s records from sounding mediocre.”

Yeah!

And here’s a video of Nicky playing, from 1991.

And here are a few photos of Nicky from Woodstock!

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MegalomaniA live

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Okay, there are some new videos of MegalomaniA playing live, check them out:

Our legendary Actors Music Bar gig. Probably our best ever:

The songs “War Pigs” and “Paranoid” from our Platinum Music World. Wicked crowd response!!!

The song “Children Of The Grave” from our Platinum Music World. Awesome LASER LIGHT SHOW!!!!

The Pinholes, Youth Of Gold EP

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

PYOG

PYOG


The Pinholes, Youth Of Gold EP – The Pinholes are icons in Singapore, where they’re one of the country’s best bands performing original music. Their music is happy music that revels in the legacy of cool old Sixties Singapore bands. Together since 2002, gigging since 2004, this is their first proper studio recording that I know of (the earlier “Acoustic Sessions” seemed to be a bit of a warm-up, if anything).

The opening song “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a cool fun guitar pop song with a great driving beat and a cheerful chorus (which, of course, can be said about all of their songs). There’s also a cool and funky guitar solo. Yay! “Preferably” is even more upbeat and faster and popper than the previous song, its “my life has been so wonderful and miracle” keeping things bopping along quite fancifully. “Sunshine” is sweet and very simple, with simple chords ringing out, and weird falsetto “la-la-la” backing vocals, it sparkles and shines like it should, given that title. The “Youth Of Gold” song is dominated by a very catchy riff and is a bit faster and edgier than the other songs, the only one that I would say doesn’t quite sparkle with that Pinholes usual joie de vivre, but a great song nonetheless. The Pinholes apparently wrote it for the Youth Olympic Games, and there’s a bit of a child choir coming in at the end. Very nice.

The day I bought the CD EP I found out that they had a free gig planned the following day, a Saturday (yesterday, actually, ha ha ha…), so I tricked my wife and son into going; I played the CD for them in the morning, they liked it, then I got them to the right place at the right time, had dinner, and then after dinner strolled past the concert location and said – “hey, check it out, it’s The Pinholes! They’re playing tonight!! What a coincidence!!!” The band was playing three sets, we only caught the first one, an “acoustic” set (this meant that at least one of the guitarist played an acoustic guitar during the set). They played it in street clothes and went through two songs from the EP, as well as covers such as a slowed-down version of the Shangri-Las’ “Be My Baby”, The Beatles “If I Fell”, and a totally unrecognizable cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium”.

The songs were good fun, and Famie’s inter-song banter was very charming, introducing the band between nearly every song, over-using the word “actually”, and all sorts of other fun nuttiness.

The other two sets were electric sets, and for one of them the band was joined onstage by a full horn section! Wish I could have seen that. I wonder what songs they played, originals or covers, throughout the sets.

Check out the Pinholes’ cool videos below:


MEGALOMANIA!!!!

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

It was a very MegalomaniA week. We played concerts on April 25th, April 27th and April 30th, at Platinum Music World Disco Bar in Lucky Plaza on Orchard Road, in the Yew Tee Community Club for BandSG, and at Actors Jam Bar. This is great for us! It was also encouraging that we kept getting better with each performance – our show last night may have been the best we’ve ever done!!

Here are some cool pics from the days. The first ones have been a bit touched up, I think they look cool this way. The others are from our live video.

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

Phasors on stun!!

These pictures are courtesy of Zulkiflie Zaid at Ultradark88 Photography. I’ve applied some effect to them.

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA at BandSG, dark effect

MegalomaniA plays BandSG

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

We played Band SG in Yew Ti Community Centre, here are some cool pics from the day.

Best MegalomaniA picture yet

Best MegalomaniA picture yet

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG

MegalomaniA live at Band SG