June 16, 1982 – Jimmy Scott was born James Honeyman-Scott on November 4, 1956 in Hereford, England. All along, he knew he wanted to be a guitarist. At home, a sleepy town on the Welsh border, Jimmy began taking piano lessons at seven. Although the lessons lasted for two years, he never learned to read music: “Everything I do is done by ear. I could never follow the theory of music. It all sounded very difficult, so I used to pretend I could read something, but in fact I always learned by ear to fool the piano teacher.”
At ten he was given a guitar that his brother brought back from Africa. He graduated to an f-hole arch-top a year later, and then traded that for a Rossetti Air Stream after the f-hole’s neck fell off.
Prior to joining the Pretenders in 1978, he played in several bands, The Enid, The Hawks, The Hot Band, and Cheek.
A self-taught guitarist, Jimmy at first thought licks were the most important thing to learn, although he now claims chord work turned out to be more vital. His main influences as a teenager were Hank Marvin & The Shadows, Eric Clapton with Cream and Derek & The dominos, and the Allman Brothers Band. “Certain records back then said a lot to me,” he remembers. “Anything by Cream was important for guitar work, especially ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Badge’ – Jesus! And then came the Allman Brothers after that. Their song ‘In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed’ was real important.”
A year after taking up guitar, Jimmy began performing at youth clubs, often appearing on a borrowed bass: “We were playing ‘Sunshine Of Your Love,’ ‘Hey Joe,’ and songs like that. Then I was with a band that had no name from what I can remember. It was probably ‘something Blues Band’ because everything turned out to be a blues band back then. This was in 1968.” At 16 Honeyman-Scott bought a Gibson ES-335 and recorded tracks for an album by Robert John Godfrey. “I forget the title of that,” he adds, “and except for the Pretenders, the only other album I’ve played on was Place Your Bets by a guy named Tommy Morrison.”
Jimmy was in three other lineups prior to joining the Pretenders – The Hawks, The Hot Band, and Cheeks. “That second band was named after Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band. We were in some village in Herefordshire, and it was like 12 guys – accordion and all manner of guitars and things. Mott The Hoople was just taking big then. They came from a group called Silence, which had been on the Hereford scene for quite a while. Mott happened in the early part of ’69, but I wasn’t into their music until 1974.What happened was Martin Chambers, who is now the drummer in the Pretenders, and I joined up with Verden Allen, who was Mott’s keyboard player, and formed Cheeks. That’s when I got into Mott The Hoople and started to understand them. Mick Ralphs [former lead guitarist for Mott, now with Bad Company] lent me his little ’57 Gibson Les Paul Jr. for a while when I was with Cheeks; that was a beautiful guitar. Mick Ralphs became a hell of a big influence because I started to steal his lead lines and things. I always liked the way he did finger vibrato.”
Cheeks toured extensively for three years without ever recording. After they disbanded. Jimmy started making his living selling guitars in a Hereford shop. During the summer of 1978, after hearing the guitar sounds on new cuts by Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello, he decided that it was time to reenter the music scene: “I was out in the garden, digging away, and Nick Lowe came on with ‘So It Goes,’ and then came Elvis Costello’s ‘Red Shoes.’ And they had this big, jangly guitar sound, which was what I’d been wanting to get into for a long while. It was a huge guitar sound, like a big Rickenbacker 12-string or something. I thought, ‘Ah, my time is here!’ To get that sound at first I used a fantastic Ibanez Explorer-style guitar through an Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory pedal and a Marshall.”
Throughout his teenage years and his early twenties, Honeyman-Scott played with a variety of regional bands, including the band Cheeks, which included former Mott the Hoople founding member/keyboardist Verden Allen. It was during his tenure with Cheeks that Honeyman-Scott became friendly with fellow local musicians Martin Chambers (drums) and Pete Farndon (bass).
Honeyman-Scott paid the bills during these lean years by selling guitars in a shop and growing vegetables, as well as lending his guitar talents to albums by such obscure artists as Robert John Godrey and Tommy Morrison. Growing increasingly fed up with the stale rock scene of the mid-’70s, punk rock and new wave began to perk up Honeyman-Scott’s interest in rock again, namely the jangly pop of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Not long after, Honeyman-Scott received a phone call from his pal Farndon, inquiring if he’d like to try out for a new band he had formed with singer/songwriter/guitarist Chrissie Hynde. The tryout was a success, but Honeyman-Scott had second thoughts. To help make up his mind, Hynde and Farndon were able to line up Honeyman-Scott’s hero Nick Lowe to produce the band’s first single, a cover of The Kinks song “Stop Your Sobbing”. The song gained critical attention. It was followed in June with “Kid” and then in November the band got to No.1 in the UK with “Brass in Pocket”, which was also successful in the US reaching No.14 on the Billboard Hot 100. By 1979, he was a full-time member, bringing Chambers along to play drums for the new quartet as well.
Hynde, an American-born musical expatriate who was crossbreeding bits of pop, punk, reggae, and an eccentric sense of meter to create crisp, no-nonsense accompaniments to her lyrics, opened opportunities for Jimmy (as he prefers to be called) as his abbreviated lead style and Chrissie’s quavering, throaty vocals and unique guitar rhythms, worked well. He joined her lineup, the Pretenders. In a series of basement rehearsals, he found his specialty – savage power chords, arpeggiated or percussive rhythms, and short hooks instead of extended solos – and proved that he could handle his role with a precision and flamboyance that belies his cheery, light-hearted stage mannerisms.
Released in January 1980, their debut album, Pretenders, brought unexpected critical acclaim as whirlwind record sales shot the disc into the top slot of British charts and into the U.S. Top 10. The Who’s Pete Townshend described the effect of its provocative, sexually candid lyrics and hard-driving beat as being “like a drug.” After its release, the band toured Great Britain and the United States and appeared in numerous magazine articles. For Honeyman-Scott, the attendant publicity surrounding their rags-to-riches story was difficult to handle: “It’s very weird at first when it happens. When you’re eight years old and see the Beatles at Shea Stadium on TV or see the film A Hard Day’s Night, you think, ‘My God! That is the answer to everything!’ And then when you have a number-one record and a gold disc, you think, ‘What is this? What happens next?’ You tend to think the stars are going to open up or something. They don’t. But to get there, you’ve got to make a bit of a fight for it.”
While the album has become one of rock’s all-time classics, the band’s sudden success began to fracture the band, as both Honeyman-Scott and Farndon sank heavily into hard drugs. A month after the release of a stopgap mini-album in March 1981 (Extended Play), Honeyman-Scott wed model Peggy Sue Fender in London.
In May and June 1982, Honeyman-Scott was first in Los Angeles and then in Austin, Texas, for a short visit with his wife Peggy Sue Fender (an actress/model based in Austin, Texas), whom he had married in April 1981. His wife was staying with local guitarist Mark Younger Smith at this time (?). While in Austin, he became involved in his first co-production effort for an album by Stephen Doster that was never released. During the sessions with Stephen Doster in Austin, Honeyman-Scott was called back to London for a band meeting on 14 June with Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers that resulted in the dismissal of Pete Farndon from the Pretenders, due to Farndon’s increasing substance dependence.
Two days after the dismissal of Pete Farndon, on June 16, 1982 Honeyman-Scott was found dead in a girlfriend’s apartment of heart failure caused by cocaine intolerance.
He was 25 years old.
Honeyman-Scott’s death profoundly affected the Pretenders’ subsequent direction and longevity. Hynde later said, “One of the things that kept the band alive, ironically, was the death of Jimmy Scott. I felt I couldn’t let the music die when he did. We’d worked too hard to get it where it was…. I had to finish what we’d started”. At the group meeting on 14 June 1982, Honeyman-Scott suggested bringing Robbie McIntosh into the group in some capacity. After Honeyman-Scott’s death, McIntosh became the group’s lead guitarist for several years.