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Hynde Sight

Unemployable, illegal
You’re a whole film by Don Siegel
– Chrissie Hynde

It’s little wonder that Chrissie Hynde defies my general aversion to female singers. She had Ray Davies’ kid and kissed the stage in honor of Neil Young when she opened for him in Pennsylvania. She’s capable of writing lyrics like the above, appealing to both those lacking green cards and Clint Eastwood. And she’s the sole surviving American from an original Pretenders’ lineup that dropped Englishmen at a rate faster than any since the Revolutionary War.

This has always been Chrissie’s band, and she’s taken some hits along the way. While it’s a sure-fire claim to authenticity, premature death can wreak havoc on any ensemble. Shortly after their ascent to fame, Hynde fired original bassist Pete Farndon. Two days later, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott was dead of a cocaine overdose. Less than a year later Farndon OD’ed on heroin. Rock and roll, baby.

I saw the original Pretenders back in ’81, shortly after getting my driver’s license and not long before both of these guys checked out. I went with my neighbor Kirk and took my grandmother’s ’71 Cadillac Coupe DeVille across the Richmond Bridge to Oakland. Had we known that we were among a select group who would get to see Honeyman-Scott and Farndon perform live, or do anything live for that matter, we likely would have saved our ticket stubs. They were fantastic. Not many people realize how LOUD the original group was. Honeyman Scott’s guitar style, as evidenced by this appearance on the short-lived television show “Fridays”, had much to do with their initial sound. It was irreplaceable; nobody could duplicate his and Hynde’s guitar work on “The Wait” from their first album, and I still associate him with the twangy, sad solo on “Kid.”

Chrissie Hynde never really tried to duplicate that sound, and since then has been content to switch personnel at her whim to best suit her own uniquely crunchy rhythm guitar chops and vocal approach. It’s always been a dictatorship with the Pretenders, and the Emperor wears bangs. This hasn’t always produced the best results, but her latest offering “Break Up The Concrete” is as solid as anything she’s done in a long while. She even dropped the only other surviving original member, drummer Martin Chambers, from the studio sessions. Chambers, best known for having some of the most finely-cultivated sideburns in rock, sits in with the band on tour.

Hynde’s voice has lost nothing over the years and at 57 she alternates between singing sweet ballads and generating enough attitude to put her male contemporaries to shame. The Pretenders, like the young Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers, first broke in England before returning to triumph in the States. And that’s where I’ve always imagined Chrissie’s select vocal tone as residing – somewhere between London and her home in Akron, Ohio.

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  1. Paul Tognotti wrote:

    Hey, new format! Looks like you’ve put some time into this. Keep up the good work!

    Monday, October 27, 2008 at 8:07 pm | Permalink
  2. mark wrote:

    I TOO WAS LUCKY TO SEE THE ORIGINAL BAND in 1982! I still followed her through the years, through the ups and downs (Packed! was really pretty good and Viva El Amor as well!). In retrospect her work has aged really well and she is doing what she always does by staying true to her muse. She bucks the trends because she did not believe in them. These days I venture out to see bands like The Rosebuds, The National, Joan as Police Woman, New Pornographers and Midlake and old favorites like the Mekons, Yo La Tengo and Tindersticks. I still will always find a place for Chrissie. She is truely an original who has withstood the test of time and she’s sounds more brilliant than ever. Nice article!

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

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