Martin Chambers of the Pretenders considers himself one of the most selfless and generous drummers any band could have.
That may sound like a boast. But Chambers, in a mid January phone interview, made a good case for just how tolerant he's been during his long association with the Pretenders and its bandleader, Chrissie Hynde.
Chambers' tolerance was most recently tested when Hynde chose to record the latest Pretenders CD, Break Up the Concrete
, without Chambers. Instead, she worked with four musicians with whom she had never before recorded - the highly respected drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist James Walbourne, bassist Nick Wilkinson and pedal steel player Eric Heywood.
Chambers' only issue with the new lineup was that Hynde never told him she was using Keltner for the album.
"I was fine about it," Chambers said. "It just would have been nice to have gotten a call."
As it is, Chambers is back in the Pretenders, part of the revamped lineup that is on tour to support Break Up the Concrete
. Walbourne, Wilkinson and Heywood are also on board and are now considered to be the latest members of the Pretenders.
The new CD shows a rootsier, more country-inflected sound than most people associate with the Pretenders, a group known for its forceful straight-ahead rock (songs such as "Precious" and "Middle of the Road") and melodic pop ballads ("Hymn to Her" and "Brass in Pocket").
What's interesting is that Hynde only brought in Keltner, Walbourne and the other musicians after the previous edition of the Pretenders had recorded nearly all of the songs on Break Up the Concrete
Chambers has the perspective and personal history to understand Hynde's decisions. And even Chambers fell out of favor for a time, getting fired in 1986 and then invited back into the lineup in 1993.
The fact is, the Pretenders have always been Hynde's band, even when the original group - Hynde, Chambers, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon - formed in 1978.
That lineup fell apart within a week. In June 1982, Hynde fired Farndon. Then two days later, Honeyman-Scott died from drug-related causes. Farndon died in April 1983 from a heroin overdose.
Since then, the band has had a revolving door of members and released seven studio albums of varying quality. The original group's 1980 self-titled debut and the second lineup's 1984 CD, Learning To Crawl
, remain the best of the bunch. And while some other albums have been solid (1994's Last of the Independents
and Break Up the Concrete
), there have also been duds (1990's Packed
Chambers thinks a little more input from other band members might have helped some of the albums.
"I do believe she's spoiled," Chambers said of Hynde. "One thing she doesn't realize it's all been her since about '86. It's all been her and nothing else. And I think the whole Pretenders thing has suffered because of that.
"The point is it's the Pretenders," he continued. "It's not like Neil Young. It's not like Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. It's the Pretenders. And yet you have all these albums through the end of the '80s and '90s and what's on the front? A picture of her. There were still some great songs, don't get me wrong, [some] classics, but not many. She's not the most prolific."
Chambers said that he sees Hynde as single-minded, even selfish at times, but knows those traits are sometimes necessary for her to run the band and realize her vision for her music. Moreover, he says that aside from playing drums, part of his job in the Pretenders is to support Hynde in trying to make the best music possible. Still, some situations can be frustrating.
"I can do one thing one day and play exactly the same thing the following day and she won't like what I'm doing," Chambers said. "That goes back to [saying] that she's very lucky to have somebody like me. Otherwise she may have had 20 drummers over the last 30 years and not just three or four. She's not subtle. The thing is I've gotten a bit of a thick skin over the years, but it still ends up, I get some kind of brain scar or something, or soul scar, out if it. It's hard work sometimes working with her."
Still, Chambers remains loyal to Hynde because she's capable of moments of brilliance.
"When she's really on it, which is not always, she can be really truly remarkable," he said. "But it comes and it goes."