JP & Chrissie Hynde It’s the proverbial story of life imitating art that Chrissie Hynde now finds herself living. The legendary veteran leader of rock royalty, The Pretenders, has spent the good part of 35 years crafting songs about her affection for tough boys and making it a true art form. The song titles are all there: “Tattooed Love Boys”, “Kid”, “Bad Boys Get Spanked” and “Rebel Rock Me” to name a few. She has had daughters with rock royalty, first with her onetime idol Ray Davies of The Kinks and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds (to whom she was married). She is recognized the world over as one of modern music’s most enduring female rockers. So is there anything that could possibly blow her rock n’ roll hair back in the twilight of her illustrious career? Not a chance, right? Wrong! It was just a rare, off chance meeting; in a state of inebriation, Chrissie met a young scruffy Welsh guitarist named JP Jones two years ago at a London party. The now 31-year-old, unabashedly walked right up to Hynde, 58, and said, “lechyd da” or “cheers”. Although the meeting was a fuzzy memory for the two, the die had been cast. What she never saw coming was that she and this charming youngster would not only chat by phone about love and music, but he would provide her with her first ever band member/duet partner, co-songwriter and love interest all in the span of less than two years. Yes, this singing partner, JP Jones would prove to be “Kid” personified from the fairgrounds, and be the one to mellow out her steely exterior and show her more vulnerable side as a female musician. And while the 28 year age difference would put the brakes on the love affair in the bedroom, it would shift exclusively to the recording studio. The affection which the two have shared would be physically held in check, but nothing could stop the musical consummation. And so, on August 26 the union of Chrissie Hynde and JP Jones created a musical child now known as Fidelity was released to the public via records stores and online. Its release has already garnered much critical acclaim. Now as JP, Chrissie and the Fairground Boys gear up for their two month American tour (which stops at The Tangier in Akron Oct.3 and Cleveland’s Grog Shop Oct. 5) the two shared with me the impetus behind their unlikely, yet torrid relationship while en route to from Los Angeles to San Diego where they were opening for Lucinda Williams. “It’s all happened to fast, we haven’t known each other for two years,” said Hynde, who’s leadership of the Pretenders has made her a rock icon. “I feel like he saved me. I mean, everything was fine at the time. I am not very good at having a legacy, you know. I only like the here and now. “He found me and sort of plucked me out of my own version of obscurity. Now I have this amazing band. I had an amazing band, but this is something I didn’t have to orchestrate myself. It was like a soothing balm, to be surrounded by this new energy. It’s been a revelation to me; like an angel.” Jones, relatively unknown to US audiences, is a native of the southern seaside resort town of Porthcrawl, Wales. He grew up listening to the sounds of European rock and The Pretenders. His own band, Grace, had landed a recording deal with EMI and released an album, Detours in 2007. After promoting the album with tours throughout the UK, the label cut Jones and his band free when the instant success did not come. When the two realized the noise of the party where they first met was too loud, Hynde slipped Jones her number and told him to call her sometime. As The Pretenders embarked on the 2008 Break Up the Concrete tour, Hynde received a text from Jones; “Wishing you all the fairground luck for your show tonight.” This enticed Hynde to respond with, “Write a song called ‘Fairground Luck’.” So he did. “His voice stopped me in my tracks-what a voice!” Hynde says. “And the song was like something I’d never heard before. I was totally seduced.” In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Hynde, now smitten with this mysterious young songwriting talent, decided to rendezvous with Jones in Cuba. There, as the story goes, amidst notebooks full of lyrics, empty rum bottles and cigarette butts, the majority of Fidelity was created. “There was no real reason (why we went to Cuba). That’s the crazy thing since we met,” Hynde acknowledges. “I feel like we are being guided by angels. We can’t really see where it is going and why until after the fact.” Hynde was guided by her peaked curiosity of this Welsh lad’s mystic and childlike charm and the influence upon him growing up on fairgrounds. Hynde herself had cut her teeth on rock n’ roll via the fairground or outdoor carnival route as a teen. JP sparked her fond memories of the days long ago when Hynde first experienced the old-style carnival fair. “One of the real pivotal experiences that brought me into rock n’ roll was Chippewa Lake Park and Mitch Ryder and the Wheels. That’s where you would go to see them. I remember in the afternoon they had a fistfight on stage and I was really shocked, and I remember (Ryder’s) band was amazing. His guitarist, Jimmy McCarty, blew my mind. I remember asking my girlfriend to stay for the show that evening, which she did. “It was the magic of it and how I was drawn in. I saw Alice Cooper at some other outdoor carnival thing. And then throughout my life I associated that with pre-rock n’ roll experiences. And later when I met JP and thought about it later, maybe I always had this fascination with fairgrounds and I would recognize that when I met him.” Beside the song “Fairground Luck”, the album’s 10 other tracks classic rock n’ roll love songs, in which Hynde and Jones not only wear their affection on their sleeves, but allow the love to cascade out at every turn. The album is a mix of love ballads with urgent emotion-packed fervor, in which Hynde and Jones sing in response to each other. The music itself is rock and folk tinged with country twang. The album was released on Hynde’s own label La Mina in conjunction with Rocket Science Ventures. Hynde, who is a staunch advocate for animal rights and is a devout vegan (opening her popular Vegiterranean Restaurant in Akron two years ago) has never been one to allude the meaning of her songs through grandiose metaphors. Here, she and Jones cut right to the chase with realization and acceptance of a love not to be. On “Perfect Lover” Hynde anguishes over this impossible love, “I found my perfect lover but he’s only half my age / He was learning how to stand when I was wearing my first wedding band / I found my perfect lover but I have to turn the page / But I want him in my kitchen and standing on my stage.” The two realized that the age difference put the writing on the wall of their May-December romance, but it also put the writing on paper as they shared songwriting responsibilities. And as much as Hynde feels Jones gave her career a second wind, he feels Hynde did even more for him. And it was all spontaneous. “She helped me discover who I really was personally and musically. That all came from meeting Chrissie,” he admits. “We didn’t really plan the album, it just sort of happened. We went to Cuba, I brought my guitar and it just poured out of us.” For Hynde, the whole experience has been a breath of fresh air. “It’s pretty weird being Chrissie Hynde; you walk around the streets and to be plucked out of this life like this, is a wonderful liberation experience. He’s a great songwriter and singer. I cannot tell you what a joy it is to be sharing the stage with someone singing and laughing.” But the songs on Fidelity are not all fun and games, but cries of longing and want, and also realization and acceptance. On the album’s first single, “If You Let Me”, Jones takes the lead. From the opening Welsh wails of sexual tension he speaks pointedly to Hynde as he warns, “If you don’t want me to come in, you’d better lock this door.” Jones’ and Hynde’s vocals mesh perfectly here and fit as if they had been playing together for years. But the two agree, the key has been the lack of intention and planning on their debut release. They believe in the beauty of improvisation. “I think most of your favorite records are made that way,” Hynde figures. “That has been my experience as a songwriter. The ones that come out faster with the spontaneity are the ones you like the most. They weren’t planned. “It’s like a painting; the one that someone agonized over and you feel that agony. It’s not a great feeling. You love joy; joy is what you really respond to in any kind of art and that is what happens when it flows out naturally.” Where Hynde is more the punk with attitude, Jones is a kind, light-hearted soul. And it is this opposites’ attraction which has made their relationship a fit. “JP is very sweet and very personable. He’s kind-hearted and generous to people,” Hynde says. “So I try to stay one step behind him so people have to encounter him before they encounter me.” “Chrissie can react so strongly sometimes and I’m so easily led, I will go along with anything,” Jones says frankly. “I guess I am a pleaser in that way, and sometimes that isn’t right. She has helped me and said you can’t let people walk all over you, so we are very good together.” As for playing these songs in which they serve up to each other their hearts on a platter, how much drama comes out from playing these love songs over and over? “The drama is good and bad,” Hynde says. “Some nights I can hardly look at him on stage, cuz I want to cry. It’s just the weirdest experience I’ve ever had in my life.” Looking back over her punk rock beginnings when she moved from Akron to London, Hynde will not admit to mellowing out but it is noticeable how her new venture with Jones has made her aware of her past. “Punk was all about attitude and I was in no way not short on attitude,” she admits. “I wish I had a whole lot less of it every day of my life. Of course, my brother Terry; I grew up listening to all his jazz records.” “The musical thing is what has kept me alive, cuz you know once you lose your attitude you’ve got to have something to fall back on.” And that she did. The Pretenders eponymous debut album, released in 1980 on Sire Records, was an immediate hit here and in the UK. The band’s first singles “Stop Your Sobbing”, a remake of The Kinks ‘60s hit, “Kid” and “Brass in Pocket” helped the album to break the US top 100 and is ranked by many critics as one of the top 100 albums of all-time. The 1981 follow up, Pretenders II, had the hits “Talk of the Town” and “Message of Love.” But it was a year after this release that bassist Pete Farndon was fired in the summer of 1982. Two days after this announcement, in an unrelated incident Pretenders extraordinary guitarist James Honeyman Scott died of a drug overdose. The following year, Farndon died of a heroin overdose. Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers were left to carry on. A few line-up changes later the Pretenders recorded hit “Back on the Chain Gang” with “My City Was Gone” on the B-side. The song spoke of Hynde’s disdain of the disappearing downtown of her beloved home town of Akron. Both songs and a remake of the classic Persuaders’ single “Thin Line between Love and Hate” (with “Middle of the Road” on the B-Side) ended up on Learn to Crawl in 1984. Over the next two decades, Hynde fostered the ongoing efforts of the Pretenders with an additional five albums: Get Close, Packed, Last of the Independents, Viva el Amor and Loose Screw. In 2005, the Pretenders received their immortal dues when they were enshrined in the Rock n’ roll HOF. It was also the Pretenders’ version of Hynde, Chambers, guitarist Adam Seymour and bassist Andy Hobson who would have the longest tenure with the band for well over a decade. Hynde’s new project is receiving her focus as they march headlong into three dozen dates across the US. Hynde has a tour set for the Pretenders in Australia in which JP and Hynde and Fairground guitarist Murdoch will do some performing as well. The rest of the Fairground Boys include; Sam Swallow on keyboard and piano, Vezio Bacci on bass and Geoff Holroyde on drums. Aside from her new music venture, Hynde is an advocate for the furthering of the downtown Akron area. She decided some twenty years later to be part of the answer to Akron’s problems and no longer just a critic of the city. She re-established ties with the opening of her vegan restaurant Vegiterranean in 2007 on Furnace Street. And while not on the road touring, or in her other residence in London, Hynde spends time in Highland Square where he has an apartment. “Well, I have been writing about and thinking about it for years. It’s in my blood obviously. You know I sort of realize now in my sort of old age and wisdom, that your hometown is sort of like a third parent,” she says affectionately. “You learn from the streets, from the trees. “I feel a responsibility to look after my city even though I have been gone for so long. It’s been my intention all this time to help rebuild the downtown which I loved so much as a child.” “I believe Akron can be a great city again, once we get the retail downtown and people will want to live downtown. The youth population will not want to leave town; they can go downtown and get an apartment and hang out in an urban cultural center.” “So, you know, the mayor has done a great job. You’ve got Tony Troppe, who is a believer in live music promoting Musica. These people really believe in it. The Testas and all the others who have revitalized the city, God bless them and all the others. I thank them all. The Vegiterranean would not be there without them.” And where does all this lead for Hynde and her new band mate and group? “I can only think two years in advance and this is taking up my time for the next two years,” she informs, adding quite frankly, “I mean come on, the Pretenders? Who cares? I have done the Pretenders for years; I think I have served my time.” And Hynde’s time with the Pretenders has served her well. Her reward is a new band, new album and a new tour. And she is not pretending at all about what which band she prefers to play with, for now.