Friday, January 4, 2019

Un-Sainted Nicks: Nicky Hopkins

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Can you identify a musician's "signature style" just by hearing them play on a particular track?
For a vocal artist, it's pretty straight forward - their "instrument" is highly unique. But whaddabout a guitar player or a keyboard player? To the knowledgeable, a Fender sounds different from a Gibson. A country picker sounds different from a rocker and so on ... But what is it about their style, their sound that sets them apart?

In the case of Nicky Hopkins - need I say, one of the most sought after session keyboard artists throughout the 70s and 80s - it appears that it was personality more than keyboard fingering that set him apart. Great work, but could you identify him on a track just by hearing it?

I've been to the Keyboard mag site and an article titled "5 Ways to Play Like Nicky Hopkins" in search of an answer. Among other notes, they report one of his signature techniques involved: " a sus2 embellishing the third scale degree". If that tells you more than your ears tell you ... Wow! Their review of his style only gets more technical as it continues (beyond my ability to follow).

His Rolling Stone obituary said  he played "fast, accurate pounding piano lines to flesh out the sound of everything ...", as well as "skill, reliability and cheerful personality ensured he was the sort of session player untutored rockers could relate to". I want to believe that it is this that put him in such demand. When you play with others, how you fit in at the moment is as important as your speed or your technique.

My bad: I hadn't realized that Nicky Hopkins had passed - and it's been 25 years. I knew his name/fame primarily because of his session work with the Stones and the Kinks, but never delved particularly deeper than acknowledging his chops here and there. So ... let's post this under <Nick> but let it lead us into <In Memoriam>, even if he didn't pass this past year. (SMM might have missed him back when he did ... wait: SMM wasn't yet online back then!)

His Wikipedia page reveals so much more: all over the place, he was. The full list is overwhelming:

A taste below:

Art Garfunkel (above)

Jeff Beck (above)

The  Rolling Stones - Sympathy (above)

The Grateful Dead/Quicksilver (Edward the Mad Shirt Grinder)

the Who -the Song is over (above)

John Lennon -Jealous Guy

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Top Posts of 2018

We interrupt the Un-Sainted Nick theme for our fourth annual listing of the most viewed posts of the prior year.

Through our (usually) two-week long themes, our international roster of writers address many different kinds of music, and bring different perspectives to their pieces. In our top 10, we have discussions about musicians who left us in the past year, pioneer independent artists, classic Brazilian music, the Vietnam War, fake Beatles, astronauts, the Mets, and the marriage of punk and reggae.  Our posts throughout the year included folk, rock, prog, power pop, country, comedy and other genres.

So, in case you missed them, here are the most viewed posts from the last calendar year. But they are only a small sampling of what you will find in our archives, which we invite you to explore.  Also, we invite you to like us on Facebook, so that you won't miss anything.

Fittingly, our number one post of the year honored the death of one of the fathers of rock and roll. 

1.  In Memoriam--Chuck Berry
2.  Burn/Fire--Have Love Will Travel
3.  In Memoriam--Dead Guitarists
4.  Burn/Fire--Fire Door
5.  Mar* Songs-- Águas de Março
6.  Aliens--Calling Occupants of Planetary Craft
7.  July-- Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)
8.  Punk--Punky Reggae Party
9.  July--Armstrong
10.  Amaze--We're Gonna Win The Series

Because so many of the most viewed posts are from early in the year, which makes sense, since they were available to view on the site for the longest, below are the top posts for each of our themes not represented in the total top 10:

Sinking & Falling--Fall Back Down
Breakup Songs--Without You
Steps & Stairs--Gimme Three Steps
Jokes, Pranks & Fools--Fooled Around And Fell in Love
May/Might--You Might As Well Pray
Gems & Stones--Neil Diamond
Speak/Talk--Talk Dirty To Me
Remedies--Cure For AIDS
Trio--The Three Stooges
Wine--Killer Queen
Leaves--All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)
Homecoming--A Sort of Homecoming
Trick/Treat--A Trick of the Tail
Arlo--Alice's Restaurant Massacree
Leftovers--Women: At The Purchaser's Option
Extra--Eurotrash Girl
Un-Sainted Nicks (through year-end)--Christmas At The Airport

Thanks so much for reading our work this year.  If you are interested in joining our staff, contact information can be found at the top right of the blog.

And we promise more great music and writing in 2019!!


To nick is to steal in my land. That is, amongst myriad other meanings, including, bizarrely, to arrest someone and put them in THE nick, a prison cell. So St Nick could have been nicked whilst nicking and put in the nick. (You can also nick your finger on something sharp, but I couldn't find a suitable song by this lot, unless you think it's time to make some form of resolution.) This theme initially taxed me a little, I have to say, with only the odd (bad) seed germinating, however high or low(e) I hunted. (I know, it's the way I tell 'em.)

Soooo, the Triffids then. Newcomers to this page and possibly to many ears. Well, apart from the venomous and militant marching plants, they are (were) a great aussie band of the seventies into eighties, usually filed under post-punk and forming part of the then renaissance of cracking guitar bands from the southern hemisphere, all jangle plus plus plus, relentless drums, melodic bass with added organ, fiddle or steel when needed. Did I mention the jangle? Comparisons can be invidious but think other aussie shouldabeens like the Church and the Go-Betweens would be closest. The brainchild of mainstay and multi-instrumentalist David McComb, they came together in Perth during 1978. Prolific as a songwriter, he and the nascent band produced 6 cassettes of material and built up a small local following ahead of a first record deal and a single in 1981. A fairly fluid line-up in those early years saw a parade of members and a variety of instruments come and go, always based about McComb, although his elder brother, Robert, became nearly as constant upon being drawn in.

Did they ever amount to much? Maybe not, other than in the ears of music journos and authors, maybe most in those of feted UK writer David Cavanagh, stalwart of Sounds and Select, latterly the trio of Q, Mojo and Uncut (and who tragically died last week at the age of 54.) Here's his say.

Arriving in London in the early 80s, there they almost remained, stranded possibly, echoing yet another antipodean band in their peer group. The UK and northern europe, scandinavia, proved a more viable market for their brand of guitar based angst. Perhaps the best introduction would be 1986's 'Born Sandy Devotional', from which the featured song comes. Reaching a mid 20s chart position in Britain, for both the album and the featured single, it barely scraped the australian top 70. However, the with the help of the great god hindsight, nearly 25 years later had it ranked number 5 in the 2010 book, The 100 Best Australian Albums, itself a list well worth perusing. (Now revised and updated, last year, as 110 Best Australian Albums.) This recording gave them the credentials to get back into the studio, becoming, as the gated drum and synth sounds of the 80s receded, gradually more folk and country drawn. The lo-fi home recorded 'In The Pines' was followed by two further records, the band now on the inspirational Island label, 'Calenture' and 'The Black Swan'. Calenture is that sickly feeling homesick sailors get on long voyages, a maritime version of cabin fever, and gives body to the mood of the songs. The final and following album was more a mish-mash of styles and ideas, never intended, no pun intended, to be their swan song. But exhaustion and, yes, calenture together combined to enforce a hiatus that just stuck.

1990 had McComb back in London, dogged by crushed vertebrae and, arguably, concomitant escalating substance abuse, the latter contributing to heart failure and a 1996 heart transplant. Despite a prodigious programme of writing, a solo career never quite kicked off and he died, aged 36, in 1999, precipitated by a car accident shortly before. It is ironic that he only found real fame in his homeland thereafter. For more, there's even a book, a compilation of essays and tributes: Vagabond Holes-David McComb and the Triffids.

Buy it, don't nick it!