Interview with Benmont Tench — October 2004
Date: October 2004
Interviewee: Benmont Tench
Notes: This is part of the "Spotlight on a Heartbreaker" series, which appeared on the official website several years ago (before it was redone), in which fans could email in questions for a Heartbreaker.
Wendie C asks: Where is your most favorite place in the world?
Right now, Big Sur.
Caroline,Matt W and Ann from Wisconsin ask: What's your favorite place to put on a concert?
It's no so much about the place as about the atmosphere.
Jupitergirl asks: Is "the food" still your favorite part of being a Heartbreaker?
But of course!
Jackie in Orlando wants to know: What is your favorite kind of food?
Chocolate. Very dark chocolate.
Jupitergirl asks: What is your favorite movie and why?
There are far too many to narrow it down, but I'm partial to Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, La Dolce Vita, Spirited Away…
Jo asks: What is your favorite non-musical thing to do?
Jackie M. asks: In your opinion, what's the best kind of keyboard to buy?
Something real, not digital? Steinway or Yamaha for piano, Hammond or Vox or Farfisa for organ.
Ann Marie asks: What is the oldest keys instrument you own, the oldest you'll take on tour with you and your favorite to play?
The oldest instrument I own is a Bosendorfer 1873 baby grand. The oldest I take on tour is my Hammond. My favorite to play is whatever's in front of me.
Jackie M. asks: What's your favorite television show?
I don't know? Buffy The Vampire Slayer?
Jackie M. asks: What was your favorite subject in school?
Tommy P. asks: What's your favorite hockey team?
Air or ice?
Jackie M. asks: Which is your favorite "home," Florida or California?
It's a tie.
Jackie M. asks: Which Heartbreakers album is your personal favorite?
Wildflowers, the first one, Torpedoes, discs 4 & 5 of Playback.
Jackie M. and Marion S. ask: Do you have a favorite song? And which is your favorite to perform live?
Come On Down To My House.
Mike W. asks: Which song gives you the most personal satisfaction to perform?
Jupitergirl asks: "You Got Lucky" is one of my all-time favorite Heartbreaker songs. I have heard Tom say that it is one of your favorite songs too. Why?
Marion S, Jackie M, Tracey, Kim J and Kate ask: Besides the Heartbreakers, who are some of your favorite artists to work with and who has influenced you the most?
Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, John Prine, whatever Rick's up to. Everything's always an influence. Playing Largo with Jon Brion has taught me a lot.
Jupitergirl asks: Is there a performer or group that you would love to play for or with in the studio or in concert?
More Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones, please!
Steve from Pittsburgh, wants to know: Have you and the band ever discussed the possibility of doing a tour of smaller intimate venues and playing not-so familiar songs, personal favorites, rare tracks, and what have you, sort of a "no-hits" kind of tour for the die-hards?
Sort of Remember the Vic? Or the first Fillmore run? That's sort of the way we've been doing that.
Judy/tpfan asks: When was the first time you realized you were famous?
I'm not, I just work with people who are.
Judy/tpfan asks: Do you recognize and remember certain fans?
When fully rested and alert, yes.
Judy/tpfan asks: You seem the gardening type, are you?
No, but my girlfriend is.
Judy/tpfan asks: What else do you like to do besides sleep, read and eat?
Judy/tpfan asks: Do you tune your own piano?
No. it takes a highly skilled professional named Kevin or Wayne.
Kevin N asks: Are there any places you would love to play that have a huge organ?
Tracy in Olympia, WA asks: As a fourth grade teacher I was wondering, what were you like as a kid in school?
Lost, o lost!
Michael M. asks: What do you see as a worse display of a pop culture fad?: 1980s "glam" metal (hair bands) or "gansta rap" (the fad that doesn't seem to go away)
I have to pick?
Jo wants to know: What are five things about yourself that you think will surprise your fans?
I'm sorry, I'm really not very surprising.
Tracey asks: If you could spend an evening with anyone, fictional or real, living or dead, who would it be?
Tracey wants to know: What makes you laugh?
Twiggy asks: When growing up did it ever bother you being a 3rd?
The 3rd was a lot easier than the Benmont.
Tracey wants to know: What is the toughest part of being a Heartbreaker?
Liz U and Jupitergirl ask: When playing your absolutely awesome solo on "Melinda", which was never the same from show to show, did you have an idea how you would play the solo before hand, or did you just ad-lib and go with it when the time came to play the solo? Who wrote Melinda?
Thank you, Tom wrote it, and there's a way in and a way out of the solo, but it's fairly adlibbed. So far. Watch this space.
Ann from Wisconsin, Mike N, Anna and Dolly asks: In his online interview, Tom mentioned the possibility of recording a new album. I loved the Heartbreakers' live performances of "Black Leather Woman" and "Melinda" on Soundstage and The Tonight Show; they were bluesy and energetic. Any chance of those songs being included on the new album? What would you like to see the Heartbreakers release? What type of theme will it have? Are there any changes to the group members?
I know nothing. Nothing! Changes? New shoes for Ferrone!
Donna A asks: I was fortunate enough to attend the taping of the Heartbreakers' great Soundstage performance and was intrigued with your beautiful solo for "Melinda." Some of the passages sounded classical, and I was wondering if Bach (maybe Concerto No. 1 in D Minor) had been one of your inspirations for the piece.
Well — spotted…yes, I love that piece, especially Glenn Gould's recording from Russia.
Mike N asks: What do you think of the current state of rock and roll now, five years after your last online chat in 1999? Given the Heartbreakers' stature and legacy as one of the preeminent rock bands of the past 30 years, and the limited airplay real rock and roll gets these days (never mind MTV), do you think there's anything the Heartbreakers can do to shake things up?
I have been hearing some good new artists lately, and I'm feeling encouraged. All we can do is play our arthritic best.
Chris from England asks: Are you planning to use anymore classic 80s Oberheim sounds on any of the new songs because they sound so cool?!! Also, what keyboard was used on "You Got Lucky"? Was it an Oberheim Matrix 6?
Oberheim, OB-Xa live; the record is an OB-Xa and a Prophet 5, I think.
Jupitergirl asks: After 25 years of playing piano for audiences all over the world, was there one show that stands out in your memory as the most significant for you personally?
A lot of the European shows for Long After Dark, as well as a lot of the Wildflowers tour, but they all really do mean a lot.
William asks: How was it to play in the Harshed Mellows and do you still have any contact with Dan Baird and Mauro Magellan?
Dan? Mauro? Is that you?
Bonnie asks: In the original Spotlight on Benmont Tench – you told us you were reading "A Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin. I was looking for a book to read at that time and picked that up from the library. I LOVED it! I read all the rest of Mark Helprins books after that. So, my first question is – What are you reading now?
Alan Furst. And read the recent Anna Karenina translation by the couple whose names now escape me.
Bonnie asks: When you play for other people on their records, does it ever affect how you play with the Heartbreakers?
I learn a lot every time, and I try to bring it back to the band.
Bonnie asks: What one thing in your piano playing has evolved the most over the years? For example, have you become more or less rigid in getting the right notes or is it more about the feeling of the song now than when you started?
It's always been about both. I think I'm getting closer, but you don't want to be too self conscious about it. It's a balancing act and half of it's accidental.
Matt W asks: How does the current Heartbreaker line up compare to the earlier line up?
I think they compare really well, they feel quite different to me, actually, but they're both pretty damn good, don't you think?
Jack in Claremore asks: Will Pack Up The Plantation ever be released on DVD? I just can't crank up the volume on my VHS copy.
Jack in Claremore asks: Will there ever be a DVD release of the music videos that do not appear on the Playback DVD?
Ian in Dublin , Christoph S, Dominic from the UK and Martin from Scotland ask: Are there any plans for the band to tour Europe?
I hope so — there usually are, they just haven't gotten past the planning stage lately. Demand! Demand! Demand!
Alejandra from Mexico asks: When are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers going to do a tour in Latin America or Mexico?
Shirley from Seattle asks: I heard that Ben and Marty Jourard (ex-Motels) recorded a great keyboard duo album called "I Back Into the Pool," but it was ahead of its time and MCA has kept it in the vault for years. Is there any chance of this album being released?
Since there isn't any such record, no. Marty has a good book coming out on how to play, though.
Jo wants to know: What are 1 or 2 memories of Howie that make you smile when you think of him?
Almost all of them make me smile. Howie was a prince. I cannot express how much I miss him.
Kim (aka Pettywoman) asks: What is one of your scariest memories as a Heartbreaker?
The US Festival. 5 of Us and 250,000 of Them.
Jackie asks: What's your first childhood memory of music? First song you remember hearing, playing, liking?
Maybe See You Later Alligator by Bill Haley and the Comets. I was too short to see the top of the kitchen counter.
Twiggy asks: You seem like someone fully capable of writing music yourself, why don't you? And when it comes to adding keyboard to a song, do you figure that one out on your own?
I do write myself. And I figure it out unless somebody has a better idea. Then they figure it out.
Dee in Denver wants to know: What other styles of piano do you play besides rock and roll? Are you a classically trained pianist? How old were you when you started playing? What other instruments do you play?
Oh, I took lessons. Didn't practice much. Not much good at it if it isn't rock ' roll, though I like all kinds of music. Six or seven. A little guitar (ukelele).
John "RoqDawg" asks: Do you find that you feel like giving more to the crowd in a small venue or do you find more energy feeding off the screams of 20,000 or more?
The big gigs are great, and you do play collaboratively with the energy from the crowd, but there's something about small shows that I really love.
Jackie M asks: Do you ever get nervous or stage fright before a show?
Every time. Paralyzed.
Dmtenterden asks: What do you think of Jools Hollands boogie style piano, and why have we not seen Benmont Tench dueting with him on one of his recent CD's in which he plays & collaborates with different musicians?
Jools is great. He certainly doesn't need me. Although I wouldn't be opposed…
John Barnes asks: When TPATH performs live, I notice you always have a full-size grand piano on stage. You are probably one of the few who does not use an electric piano in concert. Logistically speaking, how difficult is it to move the piano from show to show, as well as trying to keep it in tune after multiple load-ins and load-outs.
It can't be easy. Fortunately there's a highly skilled team of professionals…
Joann asks: Are there any bands out bands out there today that you might listen to?
Quite a few actually. But I don't want to play favorites.
Steve from Pittsburgh asks: Did you play or help out on the Reef album "Glow"?
One of them. I don't remember which one.
Bluegill asks: Why don't you write more songs, Benmont? "Unbreakable Heart" is wonderful…
Thanks, I just started up writing again. We'll see how it goes.
Bluegill asks: If there are other songs of yours out there with lyrics, where can they be found? (artist covering, date, label…)
You know, I don't know. Maybe my old publishers Warner Chappell would know.
Bluegill asks: Are you working on anything this summer? (Other than answering questions from devoted fans…) If so, a few details please.
Lots of sessions — some surprising stuff (!), no HBs, a woman named Kathleen Edwards who's really good and answering questions from devoted fans.
Bluegill asks: Do you think we'll hear more songs via internet in the future? Why or why not? Are you positive or negative about the internet promoting good music and making it accessible to most all?
I think it's a great way to get music. I'm all for it. Wish it was easier to get artwork and credits… And I do think we should all be paid for our work.
Bluegill asks: Do you use power tools around the house, or are you not allowed by principle or some indemnity clause? Does this concern you in some way?
I don't. It's my choice. I am unconcerned.
Jackie M asks: What's the best gift you've ever received? Material or non-material, doesn't matter.
Oh, it's non-material, and I'll keep it to myself for now.
Jackie M asks: What advice do you have for the younger generation of fans and what do you think of the fact that kids are discovering the music of TPATHB and loving it just as much as their parents?
Be nice, even to people who upset you, and if you like what we do, God bless you. And God bless you anyway.
Refugee asks: Which instrument do you like to play most? Piano or organ?
Right now, I'm playing a lot of piano.
Refugee asks: If you were not the greatest pianist in the greatest band, what would you like to be doing?
Oh cut that out!
Marion S asks: Do you have songs you've written like "Benmont's Boogie" tucked away with no outlet for them? In other words, will there ever be a Benmont Tench solo album?
There are songs, but solo album? I don't think so.
Marion S asks: When you played the Vic in Chicago last year the fans nearly blew the roof off the theater with the cheers of love for you when Tom introduced you. Were you surprised by the fans reaction?
Yes. Thank you!
Lazlow asks: Can you recommend a tailor?
Lazlow asks: Would you ever consider ditching the grand piano for synth that sounds like a grand?
When they get one that really sounds and feels like a grand ask me again.
Donna in NC asks: Do you plan to release a solo recording of piano music?
Not right now.
HB Chick asks: A few years have passed, are you any more computer/internet savvy?
Well, at least I have one now.
HB Chick asks: What do you collect? (i.e.: ceramics; statues of pianos; sheet music; yarn???)
Yarn, definitely yarn.
HB Chick asks: When recalling particularly memorable incidents from a show (such as: …"the time I crawled under my piano") do you connect it with the city? (lol, answer: Boston)
What exactly does LOL mean, anyway?
HB Chick asks: Do you carry an organ donor card? If so, have you discussed your wishes with your loved ones?
No, I don't. Something to think about.
Michael C and Ken H ask: I loved "Unbreakable Hearts," the country hit you wrote a few years back. I was wondering how that came about, and whether you have more gems hiding away? How about an album of his songs done with various singers, like Santana has done a couple times?
Thanks. Only if Santana will sing on it.
Mike W asks: What is one of your most memorable career moments, on or off stage?
Career? Oh, I don't know about careers… With Bob Dylan, when we were good, that's it.
Jake from Folsom LA asks: Which Heartbreaker (out of Tom, Mike, Stan, Ron, Howie, Steve, and Scott) do you get along with the most? The least?
WARNING! THIS IS A TRAP! I will get along the least with the ones I don't name as the most.
Jason H asks: How would you describe the vibe or the atmosphere in your sessions with Johnny Cash over the years? You enhanced his latter day material, creating a backdrop for his aging voice. Those American Recordings albums are so special to me and you are a big part of them.
So much fun, so deep, and so rewarding on so many levels.
Ellyn asks: You've played with so many artists outside of the Heartbreakers. Who have you played with that you would consider the biggest departure from rock and roll and what was that experience like for you?
It really is all rock 'n roll to me, no kidding, it's all a matter of soul and feeling.
David asks: Has the subject of releasing new multi-channel DVD-Audio or SACDremixes of some or all of the band's material ever been considered by the band or the record company?
Ask Tony. I heard something a few years ago that didn't come out, it was great, then — nothing.
Margot, Clarissa and Nate would like to know: How did your parents react when you decided to join a rock and roll band? Were you met with resistance?
Yes, but it was very supportive resistance.
Margot, Clarissa and Nate ask: Do you still enjoy touring or has life on the road become something you'd like to avoid?
I do enjoy touring. I'm pretty tough on hotel rooms, I'm a big baby, but what are you gonna do?
Margot, Clarissa and Nate ask: Do you have children and if so, are he/she/they musically inclined?
No, no kids.
Margot, Clarissa and Nate ask: Did you learn to play the piano very young and if so, did you learn to play classical music such as Beethoven, Mozart, etc.?
I was seven or so, and I tried to learn, I really did.
Margot, Clarissa and Nate ask: Have you (or do you plan to in the future) compose any classical music?
No, I love it, but I don't know how to build it.
Chad asks: When on tour, does the band follow a rigid set? Are there any spontaneous changes in the set before or during a show? Had any memorable train wrecks? Where does the band rehearse?
Semi-rigid. There are changes, but if they were before the set, they wouldn't be spontaneous, would they? Train wrecks? Every night. A couple of different places around town.
Ann Marie asks: Is there even a remote possibility that one day you'll contribute a song you have written to a Heartbreakers album?
I wouldn't stand out in the rain waiting for it, if I were you. But, thanks for the thought.
Ann Marie asks: Were you majoring in anything music related while attending college in New Orleans?
Nope. It was Art for me all the way — I was majoring in waiting for the right band.