Nicky Hopkins was certainly a session man, playing piano and keyboards on some of the best tracks and albums of the 60s and 70s. In part due to health problems, Hopkins never joined a band (some say he turned down the opportunity to join Led Zeppelin when they first formed) but you have definitely heard his music. Ray Davies wrote the song “Session Man” for Hopkins and you can find it on one of the Kinks best records.
Nicky Hopkins can be heard on the single version of “Revolution” by the Beatles, great albums by the Who (My Generation, Who’s Next), as well as many tracks with Jeff Beck, Steve Miller and the Move. This is a good list of the many songs that you can hear that feature Hopkins’ outstanding playing.
But Hopkins is rightly best known for his work with the Rolling Stones. He played on some of their best tracks during their best period. Here is one of his first appearances on a Stones record:
You can also hear Hopkins on one of rock’s best ever songs:
And Hopkins is all over the seminal Exile on Main Street album (Ian Stewart also plays keyboards on several Exile tracks but he is a Joe for another day) and his great playing is prominent here:
That’s what Cornell Dupree told an interviewer years ago. But here at Rock and Roll Joe we do read the back of albums and an awful lot of them featured Cornell Dupree’s name next to “guitarist.” He played with the best of the best – Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Paul Simon, Ringo Starr and Miles Davis all featured Dupree on their records.
One of Cornell Dupree’s signature riffs can be heard on Brook Benton’s version of Rainy Night in Georgia – a truly great song.
But Dupree’s best work may have been with Aretha Franklin. He played on some of her biggest studio hits like Spanish Harlem
And Dupree was also part of her touring band (he started out with the King Curtis band) and can be heard on her seminal live recordings like the amazing Live at the Fillmore West.
Cornell Dupree went on to work on his own projects, including a stint with the jazz funk band Stuff in the 1970s.
We had hoped to post about Cornell Dupree sometime in the coming year but we had move it up because he passed away last week at the age of 68. But his music lives on and he will always be a true Rock and Roll Joe.
With dreams of making it big, Baker moved to LA in 1958, hoping to get his songs recorded, secure a recording contract or become a movie star. For several years he struggled with little success in any of these endeavors.
A chance meeting with Ricky Nelson provided the songwriting break he needed.
Nelson decided to record two of Baker’s songs which helped establish him as a songwriter. The two songs Nelson recorded were Lonesome Town which reached #6 on the Billboard charts and I Got A Feeling which reached #11. Ricky Nelson recorded many more Baker Knight songs as did Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frank Sinatra and Mickey Gilley.
[This was the Academy of Country Music Song of the Year in 1975]
Throughout his life Baker continued to write, record and release his own recordings but found little solo success.
He returned to Birmingham Alabama in 1985 where he unfortunately developed and struggled with some serious health problems. He died in 2005.
Lonesome Town in my opinion is one of the greatest rock n roll ballads ever written. It certainly may be one of the saddest.
Baker has yet to be recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the Songwriter Hall of Fame.
“Give the drummer some” grunted James Brown on one of his signature hits, Cold Sweat. That drummer, who was crucial in helping Brown create a whole new genre (funk) in the late 60s, was Clyde Stubblefield – a true Rock and Roll Joe. One of the most influential drummers in rock history, and probably the most-sampled, is largely unknown so Rock and Roll Joe wants to give the drummer some.
Stubblefield was in James Brown’s band for only about 5 years but he played on many iconic hits at a time when Brown was changing the face of rhythm and blues. In addition to Cold Sweat, Stubblefield played on monster hits like Mother Popcorn, Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud and arguably the most famous drum break of all, Funky Drummer.
His rhythms were innovative and have become timeless as hip-hop artists have gone back to the Stubblefield well over and over again. Despite this amazing legacy, Clyde Stubblefield is not a well known name. Read this recent article in the New York Times for an interesting update on Stubblefield’s story. And then put on some of his music and try not to get up and dance.
Richard Bell first came to my attention in 1970 when I heard Janis Joplin singing”Me and Bobby McGee”. The record was released not long after she passed away and I really liked the sound of her singing and I loved the band that was playing and especially the piano player.
Forward to 1984, and I was playing on what some people might call the chitlin circuit in Alabama, Georgia and my home state of Mississippi. I became friends with some musicians in a band called “The Convertibles” based in Atlanta. I noticed on an equipment case the name Valerie Carter who was, and still is, one of my favorite singers and I asked who the case belonged to. The keyboard player said it was his and he had been her band leader. His name was Richard Bell.
Then I heard Richard play and I knew right away I was in the presence of someone very special. We hit it off right away and not long after that first meeting I was at a party at the place Richard was living with some other musicians and I saw a gold record for the album “Pearl” by Janis Joplin. I asked him where he got it and he said he’d played on it. I found out right away that this guy was not only a “sho nuff” bad ass musician but he was also very humble. We became great friends and played a lot together.
A couple of years later I moved to Nashville and tried to get him to do the same thing but I think he’d been wandering a long time and wanted to get back to his hometown of Toronto. We stayed in touch and over the years we still did quite a few sessions and gigs together thanks to our dear friend, the great guitarist, writer, producer Colin Linden. I found out over all those years what an important part Richard played in lots of musical situations that he never really talked about. He played with people like The Band, Ronnie Hawkins, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Cockburn and tons of other folks. he always made everyone feel important. He didn’t care if you were famous or just getting started in the business. He was the best musician I’ve ever known and also one of my dearest friends.
Richard got sick about a couple of years ago and passed away June 15,2007. After he passed, Colin and I were talking and Colin put together a list of the records Richard had played on that he knew about. It looks like it’s over 400 albums. He was an influence not only as a musician but as a person too. It just doesn’t get any better than Richard Bell. He was a real Rock n Roll Joe.
I grew up in Houston, Texas, in the the sixties and seventies. The Houston music scene at the time was healthy, albeit somewhat undefined. Lightning Hopkins, Houston’s most famous bluesman, was feeling his oats. The Thirteenth Floor Elevators had a national hit. And when you turned on your radio and heard “This is Archie Bell and the Drells from Houston, Texas, y’all. Put that hamburger down and let’s all do the Tighten Up!” Well…you had to do what the man said, and get to dancin’.
Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt were writing songs there in the late sixties. Their presence gave way to a new and vibrant group of singer-songwriter folkies who emerged in the early to mid-seventies. Houston became a small haven for these young song slingers. Pool halls and beer joints abandoned their hardcore, country shuffle bands and started holding open mike nights. Don Sanders, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, Shake Russell, Eric Taylor, and Lyle Lovett were among this throng of troubadours who played for tips and beer in the neon coated Gulf Coast nightlife.
I loved them all. However, my favorite was the bearded blues rocker, John Vandiver. Short and squatty with round wire rim specs perched on a happy red nose, John looked to all the world like the son of Santa. He played big fat hollow body electric guitars that bounced on his jolly girth and shook the rafters when he broke into “Key to the Highway” by Big Bill Broonzy. He had a gentle speaking voice that turned into a golden megaphone when he belted out “Send Me to the Electric Chair” or “Saint James Infirmary”. His timing was atomic and the solos he played were melodic and rocking and unimaginable to me given that he played solo. John was equally magnetic when he fronted a band or was called up to lead a finale, but the magic was seeing one man make so much sound.
Vandiver was humble and gracious to other performers, whether he was giving a short history on the song he was about to perform or sharing the bill with national touring acts, he was more than generous. I remember seeing him open for Willis Alan Ramsey to a packed house. John started his set by explaining that he was the opening act and we could talk and scream to our hearts content while he was on stage. Then he paused and said, “Willis is the greatest thing going and you guys need to listen when he sings.” Of course as you can guess, John wound up doing three encores. So in the end it wasn’t just the music, it was the man and warmth and courage you could feel every time he took the stage.
John Vandiver was murdered in 1985 by some drug dealers who mistakenly thought he was the involved in a high level cocaine operation. When they realized their error and wound up empty handed, the dealers shot John and slayed his girlfriend.
Shortly after the tragedy, John’s friend, guitar maker Bill Collings packed up his one man shop and dedicated his life to helping the police find John’s killers. Collings could not stand to see the case go dark. He worked tirelessly with the Houston detectives until eventually the assailants were apprehended and sent to prison. Bill reopened his guitar shop and within a few years was making some of the finest guitars in the world. He still makes them today. You would have to ask Bill, but I believe Bill found his calling and his muse in the musical life and tragic death of his dear friend, John Vandiver.
Paul Griffin – session piano player in New York in the ‘60s
I was a huge fan of the soulful blues/ country playing of Nashville’s Floyd Cramer. When I was first getting my songs published in the early 60s, I searched for somebody in New York who could play from the heart like that to play on my demos. Paul was a huge find for me. He had that same sweet touch as Floyd and could play warm R&B sounds with the best of them.
Although we only saw each other at sessions, I considered Paul a true friend. His wife at the time, Valerie (Simpson), sang background vocals on many of my productions. She later became half of the pop/R&B duo Ashford & Simpson. It was a sad day for me when I found out that Paul & Valerie were divorcing (she would marry Nick Ashford).
Another not well known fact – told to me by Rock & Roll Joe, John Platania – Don McLean tried many times to record “American Pie”. He never hooked it until he hired Paul Griffin. For me, the magic of that track is all about PAUL GRIFFIN’S PIANO PLAYING! It’s time this guy got some of the credit he deserves.
At the age of 62, Paul Griffin died of a heart attack at his New York home on June 26, 2000