At just twenty-five one of the most versatile guitarists of his era, ‘Jimmy’ Honeyman-Scott’s meaningless death seems no less of a waste two and a half decades on. He was another prodigy, playing with fully fledged rock musicians as a teenager. Like a lot of young boys, he’d been a fan of Eric Clapton and Hank Marvin, and he had mastered many of their tricks while his friends were still completing their railway layouts.
Progressing to The Beach Boys, Honeyman-Scott found he was able to cope with the intricate fretwork here as well. While a member of Cheeks (alongside former Mott the Hoople keyboardist Verden Allen), Honeyman-Scott befriended local Hereford musicians Pete Farndon (bass) and Martin Chambers (drums), thereby sowing the earliest seeds of The Pretenders. The band was completed with the addition of Ohio-born singer Chrissie Hynde – in the UK pursuing a career as a music journalist.
Any doubts Honeyman-Scott may have had were wiped out when Farndon and Hynde lined up one of his heroes, Nick Lowe, to produce a single for the group. The band, with no name yet, cut a cool version of The Kinks’ "Stop Your Sobbing" (arguably better than the original) at Regent’s Park Studio in July 1978. Issued on the small imprint Real, this record put The Pretenders (as Hynde had now called them) into the Top Forty and on to Top of the Pops in January 1979.
This was followed by the fabulous "Kid", a self-penned item that showed the group’s complete mastery of sixties hooks with sharp, confident newwave leanings. The band – particularly Hynde and HoneymanScott, who had co-written it – were less keen on "Brass In Pocket", but for once, label pressure proved decisive as this third single became the UK’s first new number one of the eighties. The Pretenders were now one of the hottest acts in Britain – emphasized by a charttopping debut album that went platinum around the world.
The depths to which The Pretenders were to plummet in the next eighteen months were truly disturbing. Things began well enough for HoneymanScott, who married Peggy Sue Fender (a US model well-named for a guitarist), but Farndon and Hynde split after a two-year relationship (she took up with The Kinks’ Ray Davies), which caused tensions, and Farndon spent increasing amounts of time and money on hard drugs.
After the critically snubbed "Pretenders II" – a record, in retrospect, dismissed very unfairly – Hynde and Honeyman-Scott both agreed that it was in the best interests of the band that Farndon should leave, setting a deadline of the return from an early 1982 world tour for his dismissal. After well-received shows in the Far East, Honeyman-Scott dashed off to the US with his wife to fulfil the dream of a lifetime by playing a series of shows with The Beach Boys – and returned buoyant, seemingly also having put paid to his own sporadic amphetamine use.
On 14 June, Hynde and Honeyman-Scott broke the news to Farndon that his escalating heroin use was no longer compatible with the band’s plans. Relieved at having told the bassist of the decision, Honeyman-Scott spent the night of the 16th at a friend’s London party, but the following morning, he was unrousable: with terrible irony, it was Honeyman-Scott who was dead from heart failure brought on by snorting cocaine. It seemed that having recently undergone detoxification, his body was no longer tolerant of the drug.
Too devastated to attend Honeyman-Scott’s Hereford funeral, Hynde took herself off to America to be with Davies, while the quietest Pretender, Martin Chambers, was left to contemplate the future. As for Farndon, he was living on borrowed time: he died following excessive drug use just ten months after Honeyman-Scott.
The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars -Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page 145-146
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