Nicholas Christian Hopkins was born in Perivale, Middlesex, England on 24 February 1944. His musical talent emerged early and he began playing piano at age three. He attended Wembley County Grammar School which now forms part of Alperton Community School and was initially tutored by a local piano teacher and in his teens he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London.He suffered from Crohn's disease from his youth. Poor health and ongoing surgery made it difficult for him to tour. This resulted in his working primarily as a studio player for most of his career.
Hopkins' studies were interrupted in 1960 when he left school at 16 to become the pianist with Screaming Lord Sutch's Savages until, two years later, he and fellow Savages Bernie Watson, Rick Brown (aka Ricky Fenson) and Carlo Little, joined the renowned blues harmonica player Cyril Davies, who had just left Blues Incorporated, and became the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars. Hopkins played piano on their first single, Davies' much-admired theme tune "Country Line Special". However he was forced to leave the All Stars in May 1963 for a series of operations that almost cost him his life and was bed-ridden for nineteen months in his late teenage years. During his convalescence Davies died of leukaemia and The All Stars disbanded.
Hopkins' frail health led him to concentrate on working as a session musician instead of joining bands, although he left his mark performing with a wide variety of famous bands, including the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. He quickly became one of London's most in-demand session pianists and performed on many hit recordings from this period. He worked extensively for leading UK independent producers Shel Talmy and Andrew Loog Oldham and performed on albums and singles by the Easybeats, the Kinks, the Pretty Things, the Move and the Who.
In 1967 he joined the Jeff Beck Group, formed by former Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck with vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ronnie Wood and drummer Micky Waller, playing on the LPs Truth and Beck-Ola.
The following year, Hopkins recorded Beggars Banquet with the Rolling Stones, having previously worked for them on their 1967 single "We Love You" and the album Their Satanic Majesties Request. He also recorded for several San Franciscan groups, playing on albums by Jefferson Airplane (with whom he performed at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969), the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Steve Miller Band. He briefly joined Quicksilver Messenger Service and also appeared with the Jerry Garcia Band.
By this point Hopkins was one of Britain's best-known session players, particularly through his work with the Rolling Stones and after playing electric piano on the Beatles' "Revolution" – a rare occasion when an outside rock musician appeared on a Beatles recording. Further raising his profile, he contributed to several Harry Nilsson albums in the early 1970s, including Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson, a