July and August Reading

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The lonely existence of the rock and roll piano player.

You’ve already heard about most of what I read this summer.  July was all about Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, which I wrote about at length in the Summer Of Jest entries.  After that came Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol, which I reread for the first time since my undergrad days.

The only other book I have read since then was And on Piano… Nicky Hopkins, by Julian Dawson.  Nicky Hopkins was a great rock and roll piano player and session man and one of my personal heroes.  If you’ve ever listened to classic rock radio, then you’ve certainly heard his astounding piano playing on songs such as “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Revolution,”  and “The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society.”  If there is a Rolling Stones song you like between the years of 1966 and 1974, there’s a good chance that that is him behind the keys (check the liner notes)  He played with Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, and you can hear (though not see!) him tearing up the keyboard on their performance of “Volunteers” from that day, which is perhaps the only song the Airplane ever did that doesn’t make me drowsy.  He plays on “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and “Jealous Guy,” by John Lennon.   He backed up Spinal Tap for “Rainy Day Sun.”  He’s on “You Are So Beautiful” (yes, that one) by Joe Cocker and played synth on “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before,” by Julio Iglesias.  Those last two aren’t such great songs.  One of his last projects was working with The Jayhawks, and I think it is a sign of respect that they let him play the first note of the album on the fantastic “Waiting for the Sun.”

Nicky Hopkins was coveted by musicians during his short life (he died in 1994 after a lifetime of medical problems), but he rarely got the credit he deserved.  He was cut out of band photos, omitted from liner notes of albums, and even had his piano credits given to others (c.f. Ray Davies.)  As a piano player, I can say that his treatment was not unusual.  Piano players are often given such unfair treatment.

See the album cover below. Hmm.  Does this band have six members, or only five?  It appears one of them got cut out of the picture on the front of the album.  Guess what instrument he plays.

(For his sake, his name is Eddie Harsch, and he did a pretty damn good job on that record.)

I have included below four of my favorite performances by Nicky Hopkins for your pleasure.

1. “Angie” by The Rolling Stones
(Note Mick Taylor sitting behind the piano in place of Nicky.  How rude!)

2. “Good Luck Charm” by the Kinks

3. “Oh, Yoko!” by John Lennon

4. “Loving Cup” by the Rolling Stones

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