Archive for the ‘The Rolling Stones’ Category

I’m With The Band: Confessions of a groupie, by Pamela Des Barres

Monday, May 12th, 2014


I’m With The Band: Confessions of a groupie, by Pamela Des Barres – A great coming-of-age story of a young groupie-musician-actor, who witnessed the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and eventually hung out with, bedded, and married some of the most influential musicians of this incredible era. The first half of the book is (as always) the most interesting, and she describes the arousal of her teenage passions – in particular her early encounters with the Rolling Stones – with great color and enthusiasm. The middle of the book chronicles her adventures in her own pioneering girl band, GTO, and her affairs with rock stars, before slowing down a bit and becoming all about the hunt for a long-term relationship and marriage (around page 188 of this 300-page book she says “I am sweet, delicious, and a juicy 21! Somebody claim me!!”). She even starts to get discreet, hiding the names of the stars she was shagging! But among the people she sleeps with are members of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Byrds, Michael Des Barres, Lane Caudell, a pre-fame Don Johnson and Woody Allen. Crazy! But nothing is as nutty as the bizarre Marlon Brando obsession that emerges in the last pages of the book, as she goes off to see Last Tango In Paris, has butter fantasies, and calls Brando’s personal line repeatedly (and you have to wonder if Brando – or McCartney, or any of these people who didn’t really know her all that well – dug her book and all her freaky groupie fantasies, or were simply freaked out).

This is the updated edition, with an afterword, an after-afterword, as well as a little foreword by Dave Navarro, who was born in 1967, right around the time that events in the book are taking place. Navarro’s intro is okay, but he never loses his fanboy approach.

Now there are always lots of hot women around rock stars, and there always have been, historically speaking (I pray every night tat there always will be). What makes Pamela so special and intriguing? I would say her mind – she is fucking brilliant (as I typed that, I actually felt myself become aroused – that’s how brilliant she is!).

Pamela also adds a new intro, which is funny:

I was unprepared, however, for the reaction to I’m With The Band when it was initially published. When uptight women on talk shows chided me for being too free-spirited and sexually open, I told them I was sorry they missed out on the good times and didn’t get to sleep with Mick Jagger. It caused an outrage, but I had a ball shaking things up once more.

(Nice pun, by the way Pam.)

The book gets into the young Miss Pamela’s journeys through life, starting with her family background, her parents, her middle-class upbringing, her school life, her extreme Beatlemania, her first adventures with boy crushes, her protection of her virginity (!!!), her first experience shaving her legs (her finally relented and let her shave them below the knees), and extensive experience giving blowjobs. We get excerpts of diary entries, letters, and poems that she had written over the years, some good and some not-so-great. Bad boys in school, first boyfriends, and the eventual onset of massive horniness.  Beatlemania was the big passion for her early on: the young Miss Pamela was a Paulgirl (for whom early girlfriend Jane Asher was a “creepy freckle-faced bow-wow”), in a Beatle girl-gang with three others.

Even here she demonstrated her randiness:

I collected Beatle bubble-gum cards, and one of them was a shot of Paul playing his bass, sitting on a bed in a hotel with his legs apart. You could actually see the shape of his balls being crushed by the tightness of his trousers, and I carried that card around with me in a little gold box with cotton covering it like it was a precious jewel. I peeked at it reverently once a day, and lifted the cotton gently, holding my breath as I stared between his legs at the eighth wonder of the world.

Years later, she met Paul when he was with his second wife Heather, and she had to contextualise for him that they actually hadn’t slept together.

She “wrote with a Beatle pen, slept on a Beatle pillowcase, and breathed with Beatle lungs,” composing plays “in which Jane Asher dies many grisly, horrifying deaths. The Pam Miller character was always around to pick up Paul’s pieces.” Pamela includes one of her poems to him in the book, it’s actually pretty good. She even describes the obsessive rituals that she would go through every day, such as writing Paul’s name down every time she farted (!!!).

Later, when the young Miss Pamela broadens her vision to allow admiration of the Rolling Stones in addition to the Beatles, her friends are aghast, and write her a hilariously petty letter!! “You had better watch out before you become completely friendless. Why on earth could you even start to like Mick over Paul?” She leaves her friends in the dust, and starts a new approach to life. “My brief sexual encounters with [my boyfriend] had opened up new vistas of turgid, twisting thoughts, and Mick Jagger personified a penis. I took my new records and my glossy steaming photographs into my rock and roll room, where I scaled new heights of tortuous teen abandon, wriggling in my seat with newfound throbbing ecstasy.” Wow!! This is all, of course, personified by the Rolling Stones song “I’m A King Bee”.

Miss Pamela’s friend Victor had a cousin in the business, named Don Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, this launched her in rock ‘n’ roll, and before too long she was hanging out with Frank Zappa and stalking Jim Morrison. But things really got crazy when the Rolling Stones came to play Los Angeles in 1965:

The month of waiting for the Stones’ arrival increased my wanton desire to feel those gigantic lips on mine. I started writing porno things in my diary for the first time: ‘Someday I will touch and feel him, I know it. Mick, my dear, dear PENIS!’ I brazenly created in pink and red oil colors my concept of what his balls might look like. I turned it in to (my high school art teacher) as a modern-art project and got an A.

Of course, she eventually gets her wish, and Mick’s lips (and other things) all over her, but that would take a couple of years. They search for the band at a recording studio, and then actually bump into them – they look the girls over, ask them for directions to their hotel… but don’t invite them inside. But the girls linger and instead of meeting the Stones, they meet “a wiry black girl with a switchblade prominently displayed on a leather cord around her neck [who] told us that Keith had given it to her so she could keep the fans from bothering him. She led us to believe that she was one of the chosen who did have access to the pink rooms by proudly telling us that the Stones called her ‘the Grand Canyon.’ She did a bump and grind to make sure we didn’t miss the point.”

At one point, Miss Pamela observes Brian Jones “cavorting with two scantily clad ladies of Spanish descent. While I watched, some teenybops banged on the front door, begging him to come out and give them an autograph. He threw open the door in his underwear, holding a broom as some kind of weapon, and shouted, ‘IF YOU DON’T GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, I’LL DRAG YOU IN HERE AND FUCK YOU!!!’ They ran squealing into the moonlight.” Miss Pamela eventually spends a few hours with Captain Beefheart, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts listening to Muddy Waters. Wow… how cool is that?

At the concert, “Mick was so sexy. I had never seen anybody move like that; it was downright skuzzy, driving the girls in the audience to poke and prod at their private parts. The music was hot and raunchy, my heart was beating below my waist, and my hands were itching to hold something warm. I was a sticky, sweaty teenage girl, squirming my way into womanhood. They only played for about half an hour in those days, so the lights came on much too soon and we were herded out into the night, clutching our Rolling Stones programs and damp, wrinkled ticket stubs, wanting more more more!!” Kind of makes you understand the girls who swarmed and screamed at those early Stones shows in the UK that were so insane.

Eventually we find her auditioning for Terry Southern’s “Candy” – she got the role, but funding fell through – and getting ogled by Tony Curtis and Dennis Hopper, who scared her “with his devilish demeanor and those pop-eyes that seemed to poke at me”.  Next come strange flirtations with the hippies, who were much too earthy for her, and parties with wacky friends Vito and Szou. She also ran into a sad hippy poet called Bummer Bob, who was the first hippy to panhandle in Haight Ashbury, and he bought donuts for Miss Pamela and read her his “scary and beautiful” poetry that he “read from a tattered book by candlelight with such ferocity, I thought he might cry. He read it like I were a huge audience, and seemed surprised when I was the only one applauding.” Turns out Bummer Bob was actually Bobby Beausoleil, the actor (he was to be in a Kenneth Anger film before falling out with the director) and musician who eventually ran with the Manson family and tortured and killed people! Yes, the Sixties weren’t all fun and games, maaaan…  When she saw him on TV being interviewed by Truman Capote about the murders she said:

He had no remorse at all, and even said he would do it again. His eyes had turned into hard, flat, matte  black buttons, like somebody had thrown darts into them, and I tried to remember what his poetry had been about. I could only recall a beautiful, strange boy who was all alone with his poems and an elegant top hat and I wondered what happened to (his dog) Snowfox, the best friend a man ever had.

(incidentally, fellow GTO member Miss Mercy is described as living in the same neighborhood as Charles Manson).

Eventually, she gets very serious about her groupie-ness:

The girls and I spent a lot of time locked up in the vault, making lists of all the gorgeous boys in bands that we wouldn’t kick out of bed. Lucy and Sandra wrote their lists on the wall and crossed them off one by one as they encountered the lucky lads. I kept my list in a little gold loose-leaf notebook in my purse: none of the names had been crossed off yet, and Mick Jagger was number one, written in flaming red.

She had cool friends that she’d run into all the time. “Oh yes, I met Gram Parsons last night and I told him I rolled for him and asked him why he quit the Byrds, and he said ‘to do my own thing.’ I can’t wait to see what that is.” She saw him a lot, and described him well. “When he sang about the agonies of love, his heart breaking, tears rolled down his cheeks without his knowledge. The Whiskey-A-Go-Go was unfamiliar with sobbing men in Nudie suits, but I wallowed in his tortured Southern soul, swaying back and forth on the dance floor like a weeping-0willow tree.” They also got to hang out with Pink Floyd, who came over one day…

Eventually, she gets it on with Mick Jagger, who puts her in a limo and whisks her to a show, where she has another Stones concert experience quite unlike the first one. “I was put ON STAGE for the concert, and I got to see the audience FREAK OUT from the Stones’ perspective. Everyone came together: surging like a sea to the stage, thousands of eyes never leaving MJ’s magical being. Such power with a capital ‘P’. How would it feel to have thousands of kids ‘under your thumb,’ ha!” Amazing how things come around eventually, and she gets another one of her wishes (and a name crossed off of her list). “He gave new meaning to giving head, which did not surprise me in the slightest; those lips!!! Please!! But looking down and seeing Mick Jagger between my legs kept me from surrendering with the wild-animal abandon I had anticipated. We made love for hours, but I kept flashing back to squatting in front of my hi-fi, touching myself for the first time while Mick groaned about being a King Bee coming inside, and here he was, right on top of me, doing  just that.” Miss Pamela paints a beautiful picture of being with Mr Jagger; of course, this picture is quite different from the one that Marianne Faithfull paints, or what Keith Richards or Bobby Keys would add, but this is what she had to say about it, and God bless her for that. Later on, when Mick wants a three-way with Michelle Phillips, she’s against it. “I didn’t want to share him, and I didn’t want to share her either.” Rrrrrrrrawrrrr!!!

Funnily enough, she didn’t like Keith much in the end. “Keith scares me, he’s like a foreign object.” She also saw Gram moving too much into Keith’s influence.

Rivalry! Lori Lightning steals Jimmy Page from her one night, and then she gets taunts from other legendary groupies! “The most hideous of these tartlets was Sable Starr. She thought she invented nipples and pubic hair. At an Elton John party on the lot at Universal, she shouted out to me, ‘give it up, you old bag.’ I flipped her the bird right in front of the newest piano-playing wunderkind.”

Eventually, she starts to get a bit crazy with her Marlon Brando obsessions:

I went to see Last Tango In Paris by myself. Me and a bottle of Kahlua. It was better than any of my wet dreams ever were and I massaged my pubic area while Marlon unwrapped the butter. I ached to have it melt in my underpants and puddle under my thighs while he pulled his polyester pants down just far enough so I could feel the crack of his ass. His thin graying hair and slight sexy paunch incited me to a private riot in the theater.

Eventually, she gets together with the already-married Michael Des Barres. “He came back to my hotel that night and gave me head for two hours, but couldn’t consummate anything because his dick was about to fall off form some unutterable thing he had caught in Japan.” Wow!!

Miss Pamela reports a weird conversation with Ringo Starr: “He kept flipping out, saying, ‘Where are the new groups to take our place?’ I agree. Not much happening in rock and roll except the oldie-moldies. It was a drag to see how zongoed they all got.” And yet, the early Seventies produced or was the heyday of so many more of the bands we all adore – Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Big Star, and many many many more.

One of the great mysteries of the book is Miss Pamela’s band, the GTOs, and what happened to them. Despite the fact that great session players like Nicky Hopkins played on their only album, Permanent Damage, along with Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder and Rod Stewart, the album is out of print and the band is near-forgotten! “We saw the films of our Whiskey show, and they made m realize we’re going to make it!” Sorry, not gonna happen! There was so much hope that this was going to be something, and the project lingered and lingered, and then Zappa let it linger some more when he found some of the girls had become junkies (out of boredom? Or was it something else?). Miss Pamela describes jamming with the Jeff Beck Group, and it must have been a lot of fun! Later on, she describes what a nutty GTO show was like, with the inclusion of “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” (an old Nicky Hopkins favorite), and all sorts of hippy granola fun.

With the new edition, Miss Pamela provides an afterword (or aftermath), talking about all of those good souls who are gone, including Bryan MacLean, the guitarist form the band Love, who was the reason she first smoked marijuana. He took the bible literally, and died in 1998 of a brain aneurism. And Daryl DeLoach, Iron Butterfly’s frontman, who died of liver cancer in 2002. Arbitrarily, she reprints stuff from her letters to Cynthia Plaster Caster, which Cynthia shared with her more recently, including things like “I saw Deep Purple last night and can’t dig them in the slightest. They think they’re all Jimi Hendrixes. Miss Cynderella (of the GTOs) was sitting with her legs slightly ajar and Jimi #2 said ‘Will you please close your legs, you’re offending me.’” And later in a letter to her good friend/rival Cynthia Plastercaster “… I’m so glad you threw up all over Deep Purple’s room. I find them so yucky, I don’t even consider them a group. (But I’m so sorry you were sick).”

Funnily enough, it’s on the last page that we learn that Miss Pamela sings backup on a Flying Burrito Brothers song on Gilded Palace Of Sin, “Hippie Boy”:

And, just for fun, here are a few GTO songs:

Of course, the back cover has great endorsements by Robert Plant (“I couldn’t have done it better myself. I will always love you Miss Pamela, and again a thousand apologies for the premature ejaculation.”), and Gene Simmons (“She knows a thing or two about rock stars… a thing or two. Thank God for Miss Pamela!”), even though he’s not mentioned in the book itself (Plant is).

Some pictures of the stunning Pamela Des Barres (nee Pamela Miller).

PDB 01

PDB 03

PDB 02

The GTOs’ only album, Permanent Damage.



Girls Together Outrageously!!

GTO 01

GTO 02

GTO 03

GTO 04

GTO 05

GTO 06

GTO 07

GTO 08

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

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013


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.”


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

And here are a few photos of Nicky from Woodstock!