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Chrissie Hynde

It's all but impossible to separate Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. From the beginning, Hynde was the band's undisputed leader and public face -- she was their lead singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist, not to mention their heart, soul, and dominant personality. Over the course of their four-decade run, Hynde would also become their only constant member, and her bold yet catchy melodies, authoritative vocal style, and lyrics that balanced confidence and introspection as she pondered her public and private lives defined the band as well as herself. It was 30 years after the Pretenders released their debut album that Hynde began her solo career, and her work outside of the band has seen her pursue collaborations and material that wouldn't work within the context of her band. 2010's Fidelity! was a loose, lively collaboration with JP Jones and his group the Fairground Boys, 2014's Stockholm was dominated by songs written in tandem with Björn Yttling, 2019's Valve Bone Woe was an offbeat detour into jazz, and 2021's Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan was her tribute to a friend and a lasting influence. A native of Akron, Ohio, Chrissie Hynde was born on September 7, 1951, and she fell in love with rock & roll during the British Invasion of 1964 and 1965. She first dabbled in performing as an art student at Kent State, playing in a band called Sat. Sun. Mat. that also featured Mark Mothersbaugh, who would later come to prominence as a member of Devo. Restless, she left the U.S. for London in 1973, where she eventually crossed paths with rock journalist Nick Kent, who helped get her a writing job at NME. This was short-lived and she soon wound up working at SEX, the clothing boutique run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. This store was central to the birth of British punk, but it was just before the scene started when Hynde left Britain. After a brief sojourn in France, she went back to Ohio in 1975 but only stayed a year. Heading back across the ocean, she tried to get a band going in France, eventually heading back to London where she auditioned for 999 but didn't get the gig. She and Mick Jones, who would shortly start the Clash, attempted a group but didn't get anywhere, then McLaren invited her to join a band called Masters of the Backside. This also proved to be a non-starter, as she was fired prior to it becoming the Damned. Finally, in 1978, Hynde decided to form her own band, recruiting guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Pete Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers to form the Pretenders. The band recorded a demo that made its way to Nick Lowe, who produced their first single, "Stop Your Sobbing"/"The Wait." It climbed into the U.K. Top 30 early in 1979 and they recorded their debut album shortly afterward. The Pretenders appeared in January of 1980 and became a hit due to the single "Brass in Pocket." The Pretenders were on the rise and so were their troubles. Contract disputes were a roadblock, delaying the release of Pretenders II until mid-1981, but the real problem arrived in 1982 when Hynde fired Farndon and Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure; both departures were drug-related. Hynde rallied and pulled together a new line-up for 1983's Learning to Crawl, a record that proved to be a bigger mainstream hit than its predecessors. All the lineup changes put the focus on Hynde and she also earned some headlines on her own, particularly through her romance with Kinks leader Ray Davies -- the two had a daughter in 1983 -- and marriage with Simple Minds leader Jim Kerr (the couple also had a daughter). Over the next decade, more success came with the Pretenders -- 1986's Get Close generated the single "Don't Get Me Wrong" -- and with UB40, who featured her on the 1985 U.K. chart-topper "I Got You Babe" and its 1988 sequel, "Breakfast in Bed," which went to number six. Hynde also earned a reputation as a social activist, particularly in regards to animal rights -- she was a vocal member of PETA -- and vegetarianism. The Pretenders remained a going concern until the second decade of the new millennium. After 2008's Break Up the Concrete, Hynde began to stretch out, first teaming up with her boyfriend JP Jones for the 2010 album Fidelity! Four years after that record, she released her first official solo album, Stockholm. Unlike Pretenders' records, which were primarily constructed out of songs Hynde brought to the band, this was almost entirely a collaboration with Björn Yttling, a member of the Swedish pop band Peter Bjorn and John -- an irony Hynde never failed to note in her promotion for the record. Stockholm debuted at 36 on the Billboard 200 and 22 on the U.K. album charts. Hynde returned to the Pretenders in 2016, releasing Alone, which was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys; while the LP was a band project, Hynde was the only actual member of the group to play in the album, with session players dominating the arrangements. Three years later, she resumed her solo career with Valve Bone Woe, an homage to mid-century jazz that blended rock, pop, and jazz classics into the set list. As Hynde waited out the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, she and Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne indulged their passion for Bob Dylan, recording songs from his catalog in their home studios by passing files back and forth online. The experiment resulted in Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde sings Bob Dylan, which was released in May 2021.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo


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