Montmorency Tench III
Born: September 7, 1953
Native of Gainesville, FL
Married to Courtney (1991 to ?) -- Divorced
Attended Exeter High School (New Hampshire) class of 1971
Attended Tulane University in New Orleans for a couple of years, until Tom Petty convinced him to drop out and join the band.
Benmont's first bands were "The MiffMole Band" (while at Exeter?) and "Tuna Fish & Larry" at Tulane. During his college years, Benmont knew and played with Gene Nunez (later the Tommy Hoehn band guitarist) and Rick Diamond (later of Men & Volts of Boston).
The MiffMole Band (at Exeter High School (?))
Tuna Fish & Larry (at Tulane)
The Apathetics (1972-1975),
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1975- current)
Plays about every keyboard known to man: organ, piano, harmonium, tack piano, electric piano, accordion, orchestron, vibes, mellotron, and zenon.
While growing up in Gainsville Florida, Benmont learned to play the piano. At the young age of six, he showed off his talent at his first piano recital. When asked what inspired him to learn how to play, Ben said that he “just wanted to do something better than my cousin.“ Clearly, one-upping his cousin was not Benmont’s only motivation; he was also inspired by the contemporary music of the 60s. In a recent Sacramento Bee article Benmont said, "I’d hear the Beatles on the radio and start playing that by ear and neglect lessons, to the immense frustrations of my teacher". During their teens both Tom and Benmont would hang out at the same music store. Tom wanted to be around the local, music big shots, though Tom’s band, the Epics, was gaining in notoriety, too. Benmont remembers going into Lipham Music back then and being impressed by Tom, the blond guitar player with the Brian Jones haircut. Years later, when Ben was home on a vacation from art studies at Tulane University , a friend of his, Sandy, who was roadying for Tom’s new band, Mudcrutch, invited Ben to see the band. Benmont said, “the first night I saw them at this little club in Lake City they played the shit out of 'Dizzy Miss Lizzy'. That night I thought they were a really good band, but it was Randall Marsh, the drummer, that completely knocked me out.”
When he was in Gainsville, Benmont was invited to sit in with Mudcrutch quite a bit. The first time it was because the band was bored playing five sets a night, six nights a week at a topless bar called Dub’s, their main Gainsville gig, and bringing in a piano player shook things up a bit. By the second time Ben sat in, Mudcrutch was down to three members -- Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Randall Marsh. "We were pretty popular at the time, though we seemed to go down in popularity after I joined," Benmont said with a chuckle.
Benmont would sit in with the band, then join the band, then leave the band to go back to school. He was in his finals in his second year before Petty hit him at a particularly vulnerable moment -- cramming for an economics exam -- with a speech about how he was wasting his musical talent in college. Ben saw the light, but before he could quit school, Petty had to convince Ben’s father, Circuit Court Judge Benmont Tench, that young Ben had a promising future in music. Petty successfully argued his case before the judge, who granted Ben permission to drop out.
Mudcrutch made a demo tape of their best material on a rented* 2-track reel-to-reel recorder in Judge Tench’s living room. The final recording included six or seven songs, including one song, “On The Street,” which was written by Benmont. “You couldn’t mess with that recording if you tried,” Ben laughs. “My parents let us leave the drums set up in the living room and everything. We could play in there up to a certain hour, like six or something. They were great. Somebody found Rick Reed... who had a van and a 2-track machine and knew how to make tapes.” Armed with proof of their ability, Tom and some friends pooled a few hundred bucks and drove west to find their fortune. Benmont went back to school in New Orleans until he heard the news from Tom.
The news was good. Tom had landed a recording contract with London records in Los Angeles, but before signing a contract, he switched to Shelter records. Mudcrutch recorded some tracks at Shelter’s Oklahoma studio, then returned to Los Angeles, but shortly after that Tom quit the band when the new bassist, Charlie Sousa, wanted to record some of his own songs, then Mike Campbell accepted an invitation to join Charlie Sousa’s band. So ended Mudcrutch.
Tom recorded some songs with session players after Mudcrutch disbanded in 1975. When Benmont heard one of the songs, “Since You Said You Loved Me,” with Al Kooper, he thought he was out of the group. Ben went to work on a demo of his own at this time. He was barely making ends meet with a gig in a soul review, and was commiserating over Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with Stan Lynch, who offered to play with Ben on his demos and suggested Ron Blair to play bass. A friend of Ben’s named Tim Kramer who worked in a studio promised them some free time after hours. The plan was to include Jeff Jourard and Mike Campbell to play guitars and Randall Marsh to play on a song or two. Then they would ask Tom to stop by to either blow some harmonica or coach Ben on his vocals. When Tom came to a session and heard the new combination of his old friends, he realized that he found the band he was looking for. A few days later, Ben got a call to join Tom and record with the band, comprised of Tom Petty, Ben, Mike Campbell, Jeff Jourard, Stan Lynch and Ron Blair -- later to be called Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Jeff Jourard decided to leave the Heartbreakers and form his own band, The Motels, with his brother Marty. Tom, Mike and Benmont have played with this amazing band for 30 years.
Benmont has been recognized as one of rock's most accomplished keyboardists. According to Keyboard magazine, "He illuminates Petty's songs with a softer lighting, revealing yet never intrusive," adding that Tench "has made himself invaluable by making himself inconspicuous. The Rolling Stone Record Guide described his work as "the ultimate extension of Al Kooper's playing with Bob Dylan in the mid '60s." And Marty Hughley of The Oregonian said that Benmont’s “playing provides the subtle color and cohesion that elevates Petty's music above the mass of rock 'n' roll product."
Benmont believes that playing with other musicians helps refine his ear when coming back to perform with Petty. "Working with Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson takes you up another level," Tench said. "The songwriting is so good, the feeling is so deep; you have to start listening a whole other way. I can hear the spaces in the music differently (when working with Petty). I'll think, 'Oh, well, this texture worked really well and this one didn't work well against the guitar, so maybe I should stay out of the way with Campbell.' " Dylan himself, and dozens of other artists, have recruited him for sessions. Other artists whose songs he's played on include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Carlene Carter, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Waylon Jennings, Alanis Morissette, Roy Orbison, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, U2, Paul Westerberg and X. Benmont has also written songs for other artists, including Roseanne Cash (her #1 hit "Never Be You," co-written with Petty), Carlene Carter, Hal Ketchum and Delbert McClinton.
The TPATH Official Site Qs and As; September 18, 1999.
Sacramento Bee interview; “Everybody is a star: In Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, each band member gets a chance to shine” By Chris Macias; Aug. 29, 1999.
Playback Book 1973-93.
Keyboard Magazine; "Benmont Tench" (a feature article) By Robert L. Doerschuk; May 1995
The Oregonian; "Heart to heart with a 'Breaker Benmont Tench shares his love for the music" By Marty Hughley; August 27, 1999
* From "Conversations with Tom Petty" "There was a guy in town named Rick Reed who had the first mobile recording van. It had a 2-track Ampex recorder in it. He worked in a stereo store, and you could rent him for a day, and he would come over and record you. You know, he made a really good recording. It was all live to the 2-track. If you listen on the boxed set [Playback], there’s a track called “On The Street” that Benmont wrote and I sang. And that’s the actual 2-track recording. Recorded in Benmont’s living room.