Playlist: Remembering James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders

November 4th, 2014

by Tom Beaujour

Passing away as he did at the young age of 25 in 1982, Pretenders lead guitarist and avid axe collector James Honeyman-Scott had precious little time to create an extended recorded legacy.

The tracks he did commit to tape on the Pretenders’ first two studio albums, however, are nothing short of revelatory: Punk attitude can, in fact, coexist with a sophisticated melodic — it’s just that most of us, unlike Honeyman-Scott can’t crack the code. H

ere are four of the guitarist’s finest fretboard moments.

(Pretenders, 1980)

The song’s Dave Edmunds-inspired signature lick would be enough to secure this track a spot in the rock-guitar pantheon, but the solo’s use of open strings and tasty slides is as good as rock guitar gets. And while Scott actually used Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde’s Telecaster to play the lead, dig the pink non-reverse Firebird that the dude trots out in the video!

“Pack It Up”
Pretenders II, 1981

The guitar parts in this song have an eerie similarity to those employed by Police guitarist (and fellow Hamer guitars endorser) Andy Summers on that band’s 1983 single “Synchronicity II.” Surely that’s just a coincidence, but if Summers was inspired by Scott’s work, who could blame him: The Sex Pistols-flavored riff is unforgettable, the ostinato verse figure electrifying, and the chunky slash of bridge part is something that well, even a member of the Police could wish he had written.

“Tattooed Love Boys”
(Pretenders, 1980)

Lest anyone should think that Honeyman-Scott lacked traditional “chops,” please refer to the solo section of this up-tempo rocker. This is a guy who could rip speedy blues licks with the best of ’em. He just chose not to most of the time.

“Brass In Pocket”
(Pretenders, 1980)

This Pretenders’ hit is proof positive that skillful guitar orchestration can propel an otherwise average number into the stratosphere. Honeyman-Scotts’s guitar again delivers a classic melodic hook, while the staccato verse figure puts a much-needed spring in this tune’s mid-temp step.

  • I was recording at AIR studios in London in the room next door to the Pretenders in 1979. Jimmy and the band’s producer Chris Thomas knocked on the door and asked to borrow some of my chorus-type pedals. They went through a number of options before settling on (if I recall correctly) the EH ‘Clone Effect’ for the characteristic Honeyman-Scott chorus tone.

    He was a good bloke and died too young to be fully appreciated for his guitar playing.


    • Ian

      Thanks for sharing.

  • I just listened to the first Pretenders album this morning, did a search for James Honeyman-Scott and ended up here! Wow, that’s a great story Laurence!

    I always wondered about the chourus sound in ‘Brass in pocket’, that’s such a great part with that funky line in the back.

    So one great player did help out another great one!



  • The lead solo in ‘Kid’ is my all time favourite, every trick in the book in 16 seconds with classic understated style. My dream as a guitarist is to play that solo. What’s depressing is that Johnny Marr uses it as his pre-gig warm-up finger-stretcher..

  • dan leising

    didnt realize how young this guys was when he died, leaves a lot of ? marks of what he could of done, glad his work holds up so well…and gets better with time