Nicky Hopkins is not a name that's too familiar to people outside the music business although the chances are that you have heard him play many times without realising it! Hopkins was a renowned session piano player from the 60s until his premature death from intestinal problems in 1994; the list of bands that he worked with and the songs he played on make for impressive reading and not surprisingly that also makes for a good book. From The Kinks and the Who to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and sharing the stage at Woodstock with Jefferson Airplane, Hopkins was a man in demand throughout his life.

Author Julian Dawson recorded the last session Hopkins ever did and being aware of his illustrious past took on the task of documenting his life and work. This has resulted in an extremely readable book ('And on Piano...') that whilst full of plaudits from contributors and the author retains an honest air and doesn't shy away from documenting those that had bad experiences with Hopkins, although there aren't too many of them (Jeff Beck being the prime example). Hopkins comes across as a likeable, quiet and unassuming individual and a consummate professional. Plagued with health problems throughout his life (and that ultimately caused his death) it is quite remarkable that he managed to achieve so much; the records that he played on and the live appearances listed at the end of the book is remarkable.

Piecing together exactly what sessions Hopkins worked on has proved to be a near impossible task as back in the 60s he would often record at three different sessions each day, his natural ability to pick up a song from just one listen making him constantly in demand from record companies. This period of his life is a fascinating insight into the life of the session musician and when you hear the names of the other musicians (Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones etc) it's little wonder why so many of the records from that era sound so great! Hopkins was a key player in establishing better pay/royalties and writing credits for session musicians and it's amazing to read people cite what a difference his playing made to certain songs and then discovering that he got little or no credit on the actual record (and often no money!).

For many readers it will be his association with The Who, The Stones and The Beatles (and in particular on John Lennon's 'Imagine' album) that will be of most interest and those times are covered in some depth. Mindful of this fact Dawson has catalogued his time with these bands in separate paragraphs rather than chronologically so that the reader can skip to whatever chapter they are interested in. In each chapter there are some intriguing insights into the relationship between the musicians involved and in nearly every instance Hopkins makes a defining contribution.

Like many musicians that came out of the 60s and 70s Hopkins had his problems with drink and drugs, estimating that he had spent $1million on drugs alone! He spent ten years on a slow decline and at one point he was diagnosed as only having two weeks left to live before finally going into re-hab and discovering scientology (which led to him recording a couple of songs with Scientology founder L.Ron Hubbard). There are some amusing and at the same time tragic stories from this period, during which time his reputation took something of a nosedive due to his increasingly erratic behaviour and unreliability. Fortunately he got clean and moved into writing songs and soundtracks for movies, as well as picking up session work again and it seemed he was firmly back on track before his untimely death in 1994.

Dawson has interviewed pretty much everyone he could get hold of from all periods of Hopkins life and such personal accounts mean that by the end you feel in some small way like you were there or that you knew Hopkins personally. The ability to draw you into the book in this way is one element that makes it work so well. Hopkins influence on so many well known records is pretty staggering and in many ways it is criminal that his contribution to music has not had wider publicity already. Hopefully Dawson's book will go some way to redressing that, along with a current petition to get Hopkins inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame. In summary 'And On Piano...' is an honest appraisal and at times a celebration of the life and work of Nicky Hopkins, warts and all. It's an interesting and enjoyable read whether you are a fan of any of the bands he worked with or not, well worth a look.