Interview: Benmont Tench Talks Solo Album, Dylan, ‘Free Fallin’ and ‘Wildflowers’
If you’re a fan of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, you know him. He’s been playing keyboards for that band since they started in 1976.
Or, if you’re the type who reads liner notes, you definitely know his name. He’s played on records by, among many others, Johnny Cash, U2, Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, the Rolling Stones, Don Henley and that is merely the tip of this particular iceberg.
But it’s now that Benmont Tench is releasing his very first solo album, You Should Be So Lucky. Certainly, the man has had a full dance card over the years, between his day job and the fact that he remains a very in-demand session keyboardist. Why did it take so long to do a solo record?
“I’m pretty shy and I’m not seeking the spotlight,” he tells Radio.com. “I like having a big grand piano to hide behind when I’m playing with the Heartbreakers.”
While Tench takes lead vocals on this album, hardcore Heartbreakers fans have heard him on the mic before. He sang lead on “This Is A Good Street,” from Mudcrutch’s 2008 reunion album. Mudcrutch was the band that Petty, Tench and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell played in before they formed their current group. Petty often says he’d like to do another Mudcrutch album, and Tench would love to see that happen as well.
“I’m really dying to do it. It’s a real blessing to be in two of my favorite bands. I was a fan of Mudcrutch: I used to follow them around and see them long before I joined. I’d love to bring Mudcrutch all over the country,” he says, noting that their ’08 tour was restricted to the West Coast.
Petty and the Heartbreakers have been working on a new album, their first since 2010’s Mojo, which hopefully will lead to another tour. One song that usually makes their setlists is “Free Fallin’,” from Tom’s 1989 solo album, Full Moon Fever. Legend has it that Petty played it for the Heartbreakers, who didn’t like it. Tench has a different memory: “I asked them, ‘Can I play on this? Please? Let me play on it, let me play on it.’ [Full Moon Fever producer] Jeff Lynne does not like Hammond organs… it didn’t need me on it, but it’s such a beautiful song, I wanted a chance to play on it. Now I get to play it with the Heartbreakers. That song knocked me out.”
Petty’s solo followup to Full Moon Fever was 1994’s Wildflowers, which turns 20 this year. But Tench bristles at the idea that it’s a solo album. “I’m sure there’s a reason that Tom called it a solo album. Maybe it’s a mental state he was in, you’ll have to ask Tom.”
He continues: “The fact is, it’s the first Heartbreakers album with the new drummer,” he says, referring to Steve Ferrone, who has been in the band ever since. “At the time, the idea wasn’t to replace [original Heartbreakers drummer] Stan [Lynch]. Tom set out, I believe, to make a solo record, but very quickly we were all on it except for Stan. It’s a Heartbreakers record… It’s a really good record, I think it’s one of our best.”
Tench’s You Should Be So Lucky is out now; he just played his first few solo shows at Largo in Los Angeles. No other shows have been announced.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com