He is the newest member of the latest incarnation of the Pretenders (sort of).
Hynde, whom the Sex Pistols' John Lydon once described as "a tough old bird", has known McEnroe since the 1980s. In an interview with the Observer New Review she describes their friendship, including the recurrent argument they keep having. "I say to him, 'Don't do any more exhibition matches. If you want to play in a band, just play in some shitty little band in a little club if that's what you want to do.' Of course, he doesn't do it," she says.
"And he always says, 'I want to meet your accountant: how much are you getting paid?' I don't know, so that winds him up."
McEnroe, who won 77 singles titles, including seven grand slams (three at Wimbledon and four at the US Open), learned to play guitar with the help of Eddie Van Halen and Eric Clapton. After he left the tour in 1992 he formed the Johnny Smyth Band, touring mostly small clubs in 15 countries over two years, and almost completed an album of his own. He plays on the song A Plan Too Far on Hynde's album Stockholm, to be released on 9 June.
"As far as success goes, I've never really got too excited about losing or winning," Hynde says. "I don't have whatever the gene is you need for that. Whatever the gene John McEnroe has, I don't have that. I don't care."
Hynde, born in Ohio, is best known as the frontwoman of the Pretenders. She first arrived in London in the 1970s, working a variety of odd jobs before her musical breakthrough – she sold handbags in a market, worked for Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood in Sex, their shop in Chelsea, and wrote articles for the New Musical Express.
In 1978 she met Pete Farndon, a bass player from Hereford, and then a guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott. With the addition of a drummer (most enduringly Martin Chambers) they became the Pretenders. The band's third single, Brass in Pocket, went to No 1 and was followed to the top of the charts by a self-titled debut album in 1980. But Hynde has been the only constant band member. Two members died of drug overdoses: in 1982 Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure in his sleep after a cocaine blowout, and the following year Farndon injected heroin in the bath, lost consciousness and drowned. Hynde says the deaths did not make her reconsider her own behaviour: "Certainly not as much as they should have, considering they both died from drug overdoses. Mainly I would regret if I've encouraged anyone else to do anything like that. But what can you do about it now? What does Keith Richards call it? 'The price of an education.'"
Hynde is sceptical in the interview of the idea that women were held back in the 1970s music scene. "I just didn't have the confidence. There's always been women doing this, just not that many. I don't know what the feminists have to say about it. Over the years you'd hear, 'We weren't encouraged.' Well, I don't think Jeff Beck's mother was saying, 'Jeffrey! What are you doing up in your room? Are you rehearsing up there?' No one was ever encouraged to play guitar in a band. But I never found it harder because I'm a woman. If anything, I've been treated better. Guys will carry my guitars and stuff – who's going to say no? Guys always tune my guitars too."
Though Hynde wrote, sang and played guitar on the songs the Pretenders released, she says she was always too shy to perform solo – until now. Alongside McEnroe, the main collaborator on the new album is producer Björn Yttling from the Swedish popsters Peter Björn and John. The album also stars Neil Young on the song Down the Wrong Way.
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