Remembering Pete Farndon of the Pretenders

Monday, April 14, 2014
Remembering Pete Farndon of the Pretenders

Today marks the day that bassist Pete Farndon, a founding member of the Pretenders, left us far, far sooner than he ought to have, and in highly depressing fashion, passing out after a heroin overdose and drowning in his bathtub. Even though he was only with us for a short time, Farndon nonetheless made his mark on rock ‘n’ roll by contributing to songs that are still being spun today, most notably “Brass in Pocket.”

Born in Hereford, England on June 12, 1952, Farndon spent some time in the early ‘70s playing with the band Cold River Lady, subsequently going on a tour with an Australian folk-rock band called the Bushwackers, but in the spring of 1978, he got a call from Chrissie Hynde, inviting him to join her new band. Indeed, Farndon was the first person Hynde called for her new endeavor, recalling in a 1980 Rolling Stone interview how he blew her away in their first rehearsal.

“I'll never forget it,” she said. “We go in, we do a soul number, we do a country and western number, and then we did 'The Phone Call,' which is, like, the heaviest fuckin' punk rocker you could do in 5/4 time. Impressed? I was very impressed." Also along for the ride were two other Hereford-born musicians, Martin Chambers and James Honeyman-Scott, both recommended by Farndon.

In addition to playing bass and chiming in on backing vocals for the Pretenders’ first two albums – entitled, appropriately enough, Pretenders (1980) and Pretenders II (1981) – Farndon also co-wrote a couple of the band’s songs, including “Space Invader,” a collaboration with Honeyman-Scott, and “The Wait,” written with Hynde. (He also contributed to the tracks “Swinging London” and “Nervous But Shy,” both of which are credited to all four members of the band.)

Unfortunately, Farndon’s drug habits caused a transformation in the musician which led to tension in the ranks, with Hynde recalling in a 1999 interview with Uncut that his increasing hostility meant that he “was really not someone you could work with." As a result, she had little choice but to cut him loose from the band, giving him his walking papers on June 14, 1982…a mere two days before Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure brought on by a cocaine overdose.

When Farndon himself died less than a year later, he had been in talks with former Clash drummer Topper Headon to start a new band, but as intriguing as might be to contemplate what music might’ve emerged from such a collaboration, it’s important to recall that Headon had also been kicked out of his band for his drug use, so it seems pretty unlikely that the project ever would’ve gotten beyond the talking stages without both of them kicking their habits.

As such, let’s just focus on the music that Farndon did manage to make, remembering him fondly as we spin those first two Pretenders albums again.