Nicky Hopkins

If you pick up a major rock album from the late '60s through the early '80s by any act without a regular keyboardist, you'd most likely find that Nicky Hopkins — the most in-demand session pianist of the period — played piano for the work.

Hopkins was born Feb. 24, 1944, in London. He began playing piano when he was 3 and started working professionally when he was 16, with rock-horror singer Screaming Lord Sutch and later with bluesman Cyril Davies. Hopkins left Davies' R&B All-Stars in 1963, when he was hospitalized for stomach ailments.

Hopkins played keyboards on albums by the Kinks and the Who in the first half of the '60s, following a suggestion by record producer Shel Talmy. Kinks' leader Ray Davies wrote the band's "Session Man" about Hopkins.

In 1967, the Rolling Stones tapped Hopkins to play on Their Satanic Majesties Request. This led to an unofficial spot as the Stones' keyboardist on many of their classic albums, including the following year's Beggar's Banquet, featuring Hopkins on "Sympathy for the Devil" (RealAudio excerpt). Hopkins toured with the Stones in 1972 and recorded with them until 1980. He also worked with Steve Miller, the Beatles (1968's The Beatles, a.k.a. the White Album) and the Small Faces.

Hopkins played in the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, in the late '60s. Around the same time, Hopkins led his own short-lived band, Sweet Thursday, which included guitarist Alun Davies. Hopkins also joined acid-rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service for a year and played on their Shady Grove (1969). That same year, he appeared with Jefferson Airplane at the epochal Woodstock festival.

He released three solo LPs: Revolutionary Piano (1966), the critically acclaimed The Tin Man Was a Dreamer (1973) and No More Changes (1975).

In the '70s, in addition to appearing on landmark Stones albums such as Exile on Main Street, Hopkins played with the Jerry Garcia Band, Donovan, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, George Harrison, Peter Frampton, Harry Nilsson, Carly Simon, Martha Reeves, Joe Cocker, Eddie Money and Graham Parker, among others. In the '80s, Hopkins appeared on albums by Meat Loaf, Julio Iglesias, Rick Springfield and Belinda Carlisle.

Hopkins briefly joined the band Night in 1979, the year they had a hit with "Hot Summer Nights." Among the last artists he worked with were Paul McCartney, the Jayhawks, Joe Satriani, Izzy Stradlin and Matthew Sweet (on 1993's Altered Beast).

Suffering from chronic stomach problems most of his life, Hopkins gradually retreated from the music business in his later years. He died in Nashville, of complications arising from prior intestinal surgeries, on Sept. 6, 1994.

Other birthdays on Thursday: Paul Jones (Manfred Mann), 58; Rupert Holmes, 53; Lonnie Turner (Steve Miller Band), 53; Colin Farley (Cutting Crew), 41; Michelle Shocked, 38; Brandon Brown (Mista), 17.