Benmont Tench
You Should Be So Lucky

Here’s a guy who is a founding member of one of the biggest rock and roll bands in the world. That would be enough for most folks, right? But Benmont might just be the most restless, searching musician I know. It's like his life has been an immersion program in music. At their invitation, he's been in the room with legends from every generation, playing his ass off, learning everything he can from every player he meets. And, believe me, it's all stored in his mind, ready to come out his fingertips. He turns up everywhere . . . and when he does, things always get more musical. - Don Was

The world of popular music has known some great sidemen. Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Earl Palmer, James Burton. They made records with the Frank Sinatras and the Elvis Presleys of the world, along with what seems to be almost every other artist from the fifties to the seventies. They were the best. But sidemen like that belong to an earlier era. For various reasons, in our own time we don't have the same community of session musicians, neither the caliber nor the quantity. But there are a few players out there, musicians who show up on credits of all kinds, who carry this tradition forward. Benmont Tench is one of them. But his situation is all the more interesting because, first and foremost, he’s the member of a band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Here’s a guy who has had a lot going on, for a long time.

In addition to every recording by the Heartbreakers, Tench has played on records by Stevie Nicks, Willie Nelson, Green Day, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks, the Replacements, John Prine, Waylon Jennings, John Fogerty, Elvis Costello, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, etc. The "etc." part of this is, of course, significant--because the list just keeps going. Those who can get him tend not to hesitate. Wait too long and he'll be on someone else's recording.

Without a doubt, it was the celebrated recordings he made as a member of the Heartbreakers, the group many consider America’s best working rock and roll band, that took Tench’s musical life to the next level. A few years younger than Tom Petty, he's the son of a judge from Gainesville, Florida. He was still a child when Petty and some others on the local scene would spot him, a kid in glasses that looked just a little too big for his face, playing full Beatles albums solo on the demo keyboards at Gainesville's Lipham's Music. In some sense, he was a freak. But he was exactly the kind of freak you'd want in your rock and roll band. And Petty got him. And never let go.

Jimmy Iovine, man of many hats and former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' producer, puts it this way: "If you want a track to sound better, you just put Benmont's part higher in the mix. No shit." Known as one of the finest organ players, piano players, anything-with-keys players: Benmont Tench attracts music. When he comes around, something about him makes other musicians want to take their instruments out of the cases.

Despite all of the above, there's still a lot that people don't know about him. But that's going to change. Because his first solo release is finished and coming your way. And it's one hell of a document. Recorded by the legendary Glyn Johns, with a list of players that includes Don Was, Ryan Adams, Blake Mills, Ringo Starr, Ethan Johns, Jeremy Stacey, Joel Jerome, Tom Petty, Gillian Welch, and Dave Rawlings: this is the record that tells you the sideman has something to say that he wasn't sharing with the group. And what he's sharing is a recording, made the way they used to make them, that is beautiful top to bottom.

Before saying more, however, the question has to be asked: why now? He chewed on the question when it was put to him. "Well, I like these songs. And who am I to sit on them?" One realizes--very quickly--that when you’re dealing with Benmont Tench you're not dealing with a used car salesman. He's not going to tell you that your life will remain unfulfilled if you don’t buy his record. He’s not going to tell you that Ringo played on it because, in part, they’re longtime pals. He’s not going to tell you that he was writing all along, or that he already had chart action as a songwriter, even had a number one song, “Never Be You,” a co-write with Tom Petty that Roseanne Cash recorded. In fact, he’s not going to tell you a whole lot (this is the guy who said, “If you call attention to yourself at the expense of the song, that’s the cardinal sin”). He’s not going to tell you much, that is, except when it comes to letting you know that he had the time of his life making his solo recording, and that a big part of the joy has to to do with producer Glyn Johns.

You know Glyn Johns. Even if you don’t know it, you know him. He worked with the Who, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, the Beatles, the Stones. You get the picture. As Benmont explains, “He’s old school . . . because he invented the old school.” They met on a session some twenty years ago, but neither man can remember which session exactly. At one point, Glyn Johns stopped Tench in a studio hallway and said, “When are we going to make your record?” Tench, always one to adhere to the sideman book of etiquette, let the moment pass. After all, he was working someone else’s session. But the two men kept meeting. And Glyn Johns kept asking.

So, again, why now? Twenty years after the idea was first raised? The answer really is this: because something happened in Benmont Tench’s living room. Something happened, and, in fact, it kept happening. The story goes like this: Benmont has a swimming pool. Remember, this guy is in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Stick around that kind of crowd long enough and you get a pool. So he started inviting musicians over to swim. And they started playing music. When the weather turned and it was too cold to swim, they kept playing music. It was Sean and Sara Watkins, Matt Sweeney, Blake Mills, David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, Jonathan Wilson, several of whom Benmont met through his musical adventures at a club called Largo in Los Angeles. Unplanned, unstructured, authentically spontaneous: it became a scene. Paul Simon dropped in one day. Jackson Browne was a regular and even set up his own living room hoping that what happened in Benmont’s living room might happen in his own.

In the course of the proceedings, a few of Tench’s own songs leaked out into the living room. And the musicians got ahold of those songs and let the material pull them along. A few, Matt Sweeney, Jonathan Wilson, and Blake Mills, in particular, told Tench that the songs deserved to be let out the door of his home, allowed into the neighborhood and the world beyond. They prodded enough that Tench remembered his friend Glyn Johns. The pieces came together.

You Should Be So Lucky is a remarkable collection of songs in terms of its scope alone. It’s a compendium of styles, all of which come together as a whole through the environment that Glyn Johns creates for Tench, an environment that echoes the sound of that living room on a Sunday in Los Angeles. You won’t think of Benmont Tench the same way after you hear it. If he’ll always be your favorite sideman, the Heartbreaker who seals up the band’s sound, you may just have to make a little more space and welcome this other fellow into the room, too. He’s bringing us a record that’s all his own but carries within it traces of every place he’s ever been.

- Warren Zanes, November 2013