February 13 – Bassist Butler Put Little Scotland On Map In Big Way

It’s a big day for a Big Country guy ! Happy 65th birthday to Tony Butler, the longtime bassist for that Scottish band. Curiously, although the band was based in Scotland and were as Scottish-sounding as pretty much any ’80s band, none of the four members on their first record were actually born in the land of bagpipes and kilts.

Butler’s music career seems to have begun around the end of the ’70s when he played bass for a band called On The Air. They didn’t do much, career-wise, but did open for the Skids on tour. There Tony (and drummer Mark Brzezicki) met Stuart Adamson, so when he started his own band – Big Country – they both were in. Butler’s reputation might have also been helped out by another famous music family – the Townshends. On The Air also included Simon Townshend, brother of The Who’s Pete. When Pete decided to do some solo work, Tony was the go-to guy for playing the bass. Butler appeared on Pete’s solo records Empty Glass and All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. And when Pete Farndon died, Chrissie Hynde asked Tony to join The Pretenders. He didn’t, on a full-time basis, but did do a few shows with them and appeared on (as well as co-wrote) their singles “My City Was Gone” and “Back on the Chain Gang.”

Butler kept on as an integral part of Big Country through 2012, although the band went on hiatus for some time after the suicide of singer Adamson. Briefly he took over the reins as lead singer, but the band brought in Mike Peters of the Alarm to do so when they decided to make another record, which turned into The Journey. At that point, Butler quit after co-writing one song for it, “Home of the Brave.” He said that “losing Stuart was a seismic ordeal that I don’t think any of us knew how to deal with.” And that their new album, to his ears wasn’t going to live up to the band’s past standards. “”I didn’t want to be involved in something that…was not creative, or forward-thinking,” he told Loudersound. He then put out his third solo album; although the Big Country record got good reviews, neither it nor Butler’s sold in significant numbers.

Butler perhaps is now helping others be musically creative and forward-thinking; at last report he was teaching music in England.

January 19 – People Didn’t Have To Pretend; They Liked Hynde’s Band

A great way to kick off a new decade is with a fresh new sound, and a pan-Atlantic band did just that for us 42 years ago. The Pretenders self-titled debut album came out this day in 1980 on this side of the pond, a couple of weeks after it had appeared on British shelves.

The Pretenders were a trio of English guys – guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Peter Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers – with a feisty American gal singing, and playing some guitar herself, Chrissie Hynde. She’d moved from Ohio to London in the ’70s to take part in the punk scene and write about music for the NME. The band had formed in 1978 and quickly took to the post-punk “power pop” sound that was sweeping the nation with the likes of Joe Jackson, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, who actually produced their first single, “Stop Your Sobbing.” Although it is on the debut album, it was actually put out as a 7” about a year earlier and made it to #34 in their homeland, the first of a dozen top 40s they’d score there. Lowe however, didn’t think that much of them and didn’t want to return to do their album, so they turned their sights upward and brought in Chris Thomas instead to produce. It worked! And why not – Thomas had gotten his start in music helping George Martin in the studio with The Beatles and then had gone on to produce records for the likes of Procul Harum, Roxy Music and, oddly, the Sex Pistols.

The 12 songs on The Pretenders bristle with energy and as often as not, anger more reminiscent of the Pistols than the Beatles. Hynde wrote the majority of them, though Honeyman-Scott helped out extensively on the signature tune, “Brass in Pocket”. The hit that many women took as an anthem of empowerment was the one song Chrissie didn’t like on it, and she was mortified that Sire Records chose it as the single to introduce them to North America. “I was embarrassed by it,” she later admitted, “I hated it so much that if I was in Woolworths and they started playing it, I’d have to run out.” She perhaps would’ve preferred the much-commented on “Tattooed Love Boys” with its lines like “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for” as the lead single.

The public seemed to agree with Sire though. “Brass in Pocket” became their biggest hit, being a #1 in the UK and #2 in New Zealand as well as being a top 10 hit in Canada (surprisingly, it only peaked at #14 in the U.S. despite now being a staple of oldies radio.) The album itself debuted at #1 in Britain and sat there for four weeks; it’s their only chart-topper there.

Reviews were good when it came out, and remain strong. Village Voice gave it an “A-” and Rolling Stone initially gave it a 5-star rating and would later rank it both in the top 20 of the decade and the top 200 albums of all-time, calling it “one of those rare albums on which every move turns out to be the right one.” Allmusic approve as well saying the band “straddled punk’s rawness and the ear candy of new wave.”

Although the follow-up wasn’t as strong and soon after both Honeyman-Scott and Farndon would succumb permanently to drug addictions, the Pretenders proved they were anything but “pretenders” and have soldiered on with 10 more studio albums to this point, the latest being 2020’s Hate For Sale

May 31 – By Now That ‘Brass’ Is Probably Gold

A good day for an American singer with a British band in the States. The Pretenders topped out at #14 on Billboard this day in 1980 with their first North American hit, “Brass In Pocket

The band’s signature song had already topped the UK charts (in fact it was the first #1 hit of the whole decade there) and would be their only top 5 there. It also got to #5 in Canada, and #2 in Australia, and while in the U.S. They’d eventually get a higher-charting single in “Back on the Chain Gang”, it remains their most-enduring and recognized work to this day. It helped get the band noticed and let their debut album go platinum in Chrissie Hynde’s U.S. and gold in the band’s UK.

Steve Huey notes that the song “meshes very nicely with Hynde’s unshakeable confidence.” Nevertheless, even though she co-wrote it with bandmate James Honeyman-Scott, she hated the song. As for the title, “brass” is Brit slang for cash and she has said at various times that she overheard someone in a dry cleaners ask if the pants had “brass in pocket”, and that it was inspired when sharing a dressing room with another band. There was a pair of leftover pants in the room and the other singer said he’d take them “if there was brass in the pockets.” Either way, it certainly put some “brass” in Chrissie’s pockets!

January 19 – They Didn’t Have To ‘Pretend’ To Be Good

A great way to kick off a new decade is with a fresh new sound, and a pan-Atlantic band did just that for us 41 years ago. The Pretenders self-titled debut album came out this day in 1980 on this side of the pond, a couple of weeks after it had appeared on British shelves.

The Pretenders were a trio of English guys – guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Peter Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers – with a feisty American gal singing, and playing some guitar herself, Chrissie Hynde. She’d moved from Ohio to London in the ’70s to take part in the punk scene and write about music for the NME. The band had formed in 1978 and quickly took to the post-punk “power pop” sound that was sweeping the nation with the likes of Joe Jackson, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, who actually produced their first single, “Stop Your Sobbing.” Although it is on the debut album, it was actually put out as a 7” about a year earlier and made it to #34 in their homeland, the first of a dozen top 40s they’d score there.

Lowe however, didn’t think that much of them and didn’t want to return to do their album, so they turned their sights upward and brought in Chris Thomas instead to produce. It worked! And why not – Thomas had gotten his start in music helping George Martin in the studio with The Beatles and then had gone on to produce records for the likes of Procul Harum, Roxy Music and, oddly enough, the Sex Pistols.

The 12 songs on The Pretenders bristle with energy and as often as not, anger more reminiscent of the Pistols than the Beatles. Hynde wrote the majority of them, though Honeyman-Scott helped out extensively on the signature tune, “Brass in Pocket”. The hit that many women took as an anthem of empowerment was the one song Chrissie didn’t like on it, and she was mortified that Sire Records chose it as the single to introduce them to North America. “I was embarrassed by it,” she later admitted, “I hated it so much that if I was in Woolworths and they started playing it, I’d have to run out.” She perhaps would’ve preferred the much-commented on “Tattooed Love Boys” with its lines like “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for” as the lead single.

The public seemed to agree with Sire though. “Brass in Pocket” became their biggest hit, being a #1 in the UK and #2 in New Zealand as well as being a top 10 hit in Canada (surprisingly, it only peaked at #14 in the U.S. despite now being a staple of oldies radio.) The album itself debuted at #1 in Britain and sat there for 4 weeks; it’s their only chart-topper there.

Reviews were good when it came out, and remain strong. Village Voice gave it an “A-” and Rolling Stone initially gave it a 5-star rating and would later rank it both in the top 20 of the decade and the top 200 albums of all-time, calling it “one of those rare albums on which every move turns out to be the right one.” Allmusic approve as well saying the band “straddled punk’s rawness and the ear candy of new wave.”

Although the follow-up wasn’t as strong and soon after both Honeyman-Scott and Farndon would succumb permanently to drug addictions, the Pretenders proved they were anything but “pretenders” and have soldiered on with 10 more studio albums to this point.

September 7 – Chief Pretender No Pretender When It Comes To Rock

A few days back was the birthday for the second-most constant member of The Pretenders, Martin Chambers. Today we wish a happy 69th to the most constant, the face of the band – Chrissie Hynde.

Music has many great women pop stars but Chrissie stands out for being one of a relatively few real female rock stars. Hynde is not only a powerful voice but a strong guitarist that drives the band. As Madonna recalls, “I saw her play in Central Park (1980) -she was amazing. It gave me courage,inspiration, to see a woman with that kind of confidence in a man’s world.”

Hynde’s life has never been dull. Growing up in Akron, Ohio, her main enjoyment as a teen was going to rock concerts in Cleveland. She briefly attended university, made friends with Mark Mothersbaugh (who’d later form Devo) and got caught in the Kent State Massacre, with one of her friends being among the dead. Perhaps fittingly, when The Pretenders got into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland no less, it was Neil Young who inducted her in. Young of course wrote the scathing protest song “Ohio” about that massacre.

By 1973 she’d relocated to London to be a part of the music scene. A gig at the NME, working in Malcolm McLaren’s Sex shop hanging out with future Sex Pistols, being a guitarist for a band which turned into the Damned later on, being married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, having a child with Ray Davies of the Kinks, living briefly in Brazil, Canada and France, running a vegan restaurant in Ohio, recording duets with artists ranging from UB40 to Frank Sinatra (no, unfortunately it wasn’t “Middle of the Road”), portraying a detached angry rocker on sitcoms Friends and Younger, …oh and leading a band the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame called “one of the seminal bands of the second British invasion.” They also note “Pretenders music is simultaneously melodic and bristling with rebellion.”

Somebody should write a book- and they did! Her autobiography Reckless came out in 2015. Hynde is showing only a little sign of slowing down all the while. The Pretenders put out their 11th studio album, Hate for Sale, earlier this year and were slated to do a major multi-national tour with Journey this year until Covid scuttled just about everyone’s plans.

March 19 – Back On The Radio Too

An optimist looks for the silver lining to a rain cloud, a pessimist sees a clear sky and worries about drought. It’s hard to know which category Chrissie Hynde falls into, but it was a good day during a bad time for her back in 1983. What would turn out to be her band, The Pretenders biggest North American hit, “Back on the Chain Gang” peaked at #5 on Billboard.

The song which had been recorded the previous fall came about four years after the band formed in London, where Ohio native Chrissie Hynde had lived for several years. Their debut, self-titled album had been a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and gave them a British #1 song,“Brass in Pocket.” Their follow-up, Pretenders II had done alright, being a top 10 in the UK, U.S. and Canada, but had failed to match the success of their first. Still, things seemed pretty good for them then. Hynde recalls, “everything was going well…it seemed too easy. I was with someone (Ray Davies of the Kinks) I was in love with” and they were doing well on sales charts. Clouds quickly filled that sky though.

Drug use in the band was spiraling out of control, and in summer 1982, she fired their bassist Pete Farndon because of it. Two days later, their guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, died of an OD. Farndon himself would die from drugs months afterwards. “I was traumatized at the loss of my two best friends,” Hynde says.

However, she and drummer Martin Chambers decided to carry on, but having to find new members and facing pressure from Sire Records to record material, they went back to the studio in fall ’82, with producer Chris Thomas, to record this single and the B-side, (the band’s best song in this site’s opinion) “My City Was Gone.” They brought in bassist Tony Butler (who’d soon join Big Country) and guitarists Billy Bremner of Rockpile and Robbie McIntosh to play the song she’d written as a memorial for Honeyman-Scott. The line about the “photo of you” was written about Davies, she says but the song took a more sombre, downbeat turn as her bandmates died and she changed its focus more to Honeyman-Scott. The new members also played on “My City Was Gone.” That b-side also became a popular radio hit and was inspired, as the lyrics suggest, by Hynde’s disappointment to changes she saw in her hometown of Akron upon returning to it after years in England.

Back on the Chain Gang” was helped along by its use in the movie King of Comedy, and rose to #5 in Canada as well as the States. In the UK it got to #17. Both songs were included later on Learning to Crawl, the third Pretenders album.

The Pretenders are still active, although they’ve only put out two studio albums (their ninth and tenth) in the past ten years. However, it looks like their going to give us a brand new one later this spring, good news indeed for fans who’ve stood by them for four decades now!

January 19 – No Pretending, This Was A Good First Try

A great way to kick off a new decade is with a fresh new sound, and a pan-Atlantic band did just that for us 40 years ago. The Pretenders self-titled debut album came out this day in 1980 on this side of the pond, a couple of weeks after it had appeared on British shelves.

The Pretenders were a trio of English guys – guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Peter Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers – with a feisty American gal singing, and playing some guitar herself, Chrissie Hynde. She’d moved from Ohio to London in the ’70s to take part in the punk scene and write about music for the NME.

The band had formed in 1978 and quickly took to the post-punk “power pop” sound that was sweeping the nation with the likes of Joe Jackson, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, who actually produced their first single, “Stop Your Sobbing.” Although it is on the debut album, it was actually put out as a 7” about a year earlier and made it to #34 in their homeland, the first of a dozen top 40s they’d score there. Lowe however, didn’t think that much of them and didn’t want to return to do their album, so they turned their sights upward and brought in Chris Thomas instead to produce. It worked! And why not – Thomas had gotten his start in music helping George Martin in the studio with The Beatles and then had gone on to produce records for the likes of Procul Harum, Roxy Music and, oddly, the Sex Pistols.

The 12 songs on The Pretenders bristle with energy and as often as not, anger more reminiscent of the Pistols than the Beatles. Hynde wrote the majority of them, though Honeyman-Scott helped out extensively on the signature tune, “Brass in Pocket”. The hit that many women took as an anthem of empowerment was the one song Chrissie didn’t like on it, and she was mortified that Sire Records chose it as the single to introduce them to North America. “I was embarrassed by it,” she later admitted, “I hated it so much that if I was in Woolworths and they started playing it, I’d have to run out.” She perhaps would’ve preferred the much-commented on “Tattooed Love Boys” with its lines like “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for” as the lead single.

The public seemed to agree with Sire though. “Brass in Pocket” became their biggest hit, being a #1 in the UK and #2 in New Zealand as well as being a top 10 hit in Canada (surprisingly, it only peaked at #14 in the U.S. despite now being a staple of oldies radio.) The album itself debuted at #1 in Britain and sat there for 4 weeks; it’s their only chart-topper there.

Reviews were good when it came out, and remain strong. Village Voice gave it an “A-” and Rolling Stone initially gave it a 5-star rating and would later rank it both in the top 20 of the decade and the top 200 albums of all-time, calling it “one of those rare albums on which every move turns out to be the right one.” Allmusic approve as well saying the band “straddled punk’s rawness and the ear candy of new wave.”

Although the follow-up wasn’t as strong and soon after both Honeyman-Scott and Farndon would succumb permanently to drug addictions, the Pretenders proved they were anything but “pretenders” and have soldiered on with 10 studio albums to this point.

March 19 – Pretenders Took Two Hits, Then Had A Hit (Record)

An optimist looks for the silver lining to a rain cloud, a pessimist sees a clear sky and worries about drought. It’s hard to know which category Chrissie Hynde falls into, but it was a good day during a bad time for her back in 1983. What would turn out to be  her band, The Pretenders, biggest North American hit, “Back on the Chain Gang” peaked at #5 on Billboard.

The song which had been recorded the previous fall came about four years after the band formed in London, where Ohio-native Chrissie Hynde had lived for several years. Their debut, self-titled album had been a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and gave them a British #1 song, “Brass in Pocket.” Their follow-up, Pretenders II had done alright, being a top 10 in the UK, U.S. and Canada, but had failed to match the success of their first. Still, things seemed pretty good for them then. Hynde recalls, “everything was going well…it seemed too easy. I was with someone (Ray Davies of the Kinks) I was in love with” and they were doing well on sales charts. Clouds quickly filled that sky though.

Drug use in the band was spiraling out of control, and in summer 1982, she fired their bassist Pete Farndon because of it. Two days later, their guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, died of an OD. Farndon himself would die from drugs months afterwards. “I was traumatized at the loss of my two best friends,” Hynde says.

However, she and drummer Martin Chambers decided to carry on, but having to find new members and facing pressure from Sire Records to record material, they went back to the studio in fall ’82, with producer Chris Thomas, to record this single and the B-side, “My City Was Gone.” They brought in bassist Tony Butler (who’d soon join Big Country) and guitarists Billy Bremner and Robbie McIntosh to play the song she’d written as a memorial for Honeyman-Scott, as well as “My City Was Gone.” That b-side also became a popular radio hit and was inspired, as the lyrics suggest, by Hynde’s disappointment to changes she saw in her hometown of Akron upon returning to it after years in England.

Back on the Chain Gang” was helped along by its use in the movie King of Comedy, and rose to #5 in Canada as well as the States. In the UK it got to #17. Both songs were included later on Learning to Crawl, the third Pretenders album.

The Pretenders are still active, although they’ve only put out two studio albums (their ninth and tenth) in the past ten years.

October 31 – No Trick – ‘Johnny Guitar’ is 55

Happy birthday John Maher! Doubtless some people had trouble pronouncing the last name correctly, so early on he decided to make it easier for people and go by Johnny Marr. The great Brit guitarist turns 55 today.

While we tend to quickly think of British ’80s new wave being all about the synthesizers, that’s an exaggeration by far – even real “synth pop” bands like A Flock of Seagulls tended to have some guitar in there. Then there was the critically-adored The Smiths, one of the pre-eminent and most influential of that whole bunch, which was more or less a conventional ’60s-style rock band with a fresh sound based on guitar– Johnny Marr’s Rickenbacker to be precise.

The red-letter day for Marr (and fans since then) was in summer 1978, when he met Stephen Morrissey in Manchester at a Patti Smith concert. They seemed to get along, but nothing much came of it for four years. Then, on a whim one day, Marr went to Morrissey’s house, “no advance call or anything”,knocked on the door and suggested they start a band. Morrissey says “we got along absolutely famously” (that would not last long) and the next day, The Smiths took shape.

As we said though, that didn’t last long. The two opinionated and talented musicians soon got on each other’s nerves and were despising each other after about five years and four or five (depending on whether you consider Hatful of Hollow a proper album or just a compilation) albums. They ended long before the ’80s did, but shaped a lot of the Britpop to come in the ’90s, particularly Oasis. “There’s nothing he cannot do with a guitar,” said Noel Gallagher, “the man’s a … wizard!” No surprise Noel got Johnny to do guitar on his post-Oasis band High flying Birds single “The Ballad of The Mighty I.” then.

Marr’s guitar wizardry and apparently pleasant demeanor (except to Morrissey!) make him a much in-demand player. Even during the Smiths years, he was doing session work for the likes of Bryan Ferry. Within days of quitting The Smiths, he joined The Pretenders briefly, and later formed the band Electronic with Bernard Sumner of New Order. Along the way, he’s put out some solo records, played with and produced records for Modest Mouse. He’s also friends with another well-regarded guitarist who likes Rickenbackers and came to prominence in the ’80s – Peter Buck. The two played together in some of R.E.M.’s 2008 tour shows.

His skill and work ethic haven’t gone unnoticed. Rolling Stone recently ranked him as the 51st best guitarist of all-time, labeling him “a guitar genius for the post-punk era” who’s “a technician who could sound like a whole band”. The UK’s Radio X went one (or 43) better, ranking him the 8th greatest ever, behind mainly classic rock heroes like Brian May and Jimi Hendrix.

Besides fame, did he take anything from his time in The Smiths? Yep- he became a vegetarian, and now a health-conscious vegan. As he put it, “it’s not a good idea to have a #1 album called Meat is Murder and be seen eating a bacon sammie!”

Sep. 7 – Not Pretending To Be Young…Chrissie’s A Survivor

A few days back was the 67th birthday of the second-most constant member of The Pretenders, drummer  Martin Chambers. Today we wish a happy 67th to the most constant, the face of the band- Chrissie Hynde.

Music has many great women pop stars but Chrissie stands out for being one of a relatively few real female rock stars. Hynde is not only a powerful voice but a strong guitarist that drives the band. As Madonna recalls, “I saw her play in Central Park (1980) -she was amazing. It gave me courage,inspiration, to see a woman with that kind of confidence in a man’s world.” Perhaps that’s appropriate since Chrissie led what many would think of as a “man’s” kind of rock star life, which has never been dull. Growing up in Akron, Ohio, her main enjoyment as a teen was going to rock concerts in Cleveland and by 1973 she’d relocated to London to be a part of the music scene. A gig at the NME, working in Malcolm McLaren’s Sex shop hanging out with future Sex Pistols, being a guitarist for a band which turned into The Damned later on, being married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, having a child with Ray Davies of the Kinks, living briefly in Brazil, Canada and France, running a vegan restaurant in Ohio…oh and leading a band the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame called “one of the seminal bands of the second British invasion” when they got inducted in 2005.

Although obviously best known for The Pretenders, she’s had success with another band as well. In fact on her 34th birthday, what would go on to be her second #1 single in the UK hit the US top 40: “I Got You Babe” with UB40. The song which had been a #1 for Sonny & Cher  almost exactly 20 years before that (in 1965) was also the second chart-topper at home for UB40, with whom she’d collaborate again with “Breakfast In Bed.” That song didn’t make much of a dent over here but was another top 10 in Britain.

That’s a lot of music and a lot of living – somebody should write a book. And they did! Her autobiography Reckless came out in 2015.