The Petty Archives

Heartbreakers' talented keyboardist pulls no strings: He prefers guitars
By Marc D. Allan
The Indianapolis Star - September 10, 1991

Tom Petty and his band will perform at Deer Creek tonight
Band: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Opening band: Chris Whitley.
Where: Deer Creek Music Center.
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Tickets: $19.50-$22.50 at the box office.

"Just let me take this accordion off," says Benmont Tench, the keyboard player for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, moments after answering the telephone in his Kansas City hotel room.

Now there's a sentence you don't hear every day.

"You have to have something to play in the room," he explains, "and if you bring portable keyboards, you either have to either buy batteries or plug it in. Plus, I don't have a clue how to play accordion, so it's fun."

Tench, who will be in town tonight for a concert at Deer Creek Music Center, is credited as playing accordion on the group's new record, Into the Great Wide Open.

"Yeah, and I did," he says. "And I still don't have a clue how to play it."

Tench may not be ready to lead a hot polka band just yet, but his keyboard work had been an integral part of Petty's band since its formation in the mid-1970s.

He's also been a sideman for a laundry list of great songwriters and musicians, including Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, John Prine and the Replacements.

For the new Petty/Heartbreakers record, though, Tench's keyboards were in less demand. He can be heard playing accordion on All the Wrong Reasons and piano on the title song, Makin' Some Noise and You And I Will Meet Again.

"I like guitars," he says. "I don't like keyboard- heavy stuff usually. There are some really talented keyboard players who can pull off carrying the weight of the band, but I prefer guitars."

He'll play more in live shows because "there are a thousand acoustic guitars on that record and we don't have a thousand acoustic guitar players with us."

"I'm set up on the other side of the stage from Tom, so I just go crazy. He's given me pretty much free rein. I just build the songs the way I see fit. If he doesn't like it, he'll say so, but he hasn't said so yet.

"We've played together so long that we pretty much know how to fit together to make a song work live --  with each other. I don't know if we could do it with anybody else."

Rumors of a break-up
Tench is feeling somewhat possessive about the Heartbreakers because he and the other band members have had to answer questions at almost every stop about rumors of the band's possible breakup.

The rumors intensified because of the success Petty had with his solo album, Full Moon Fever, and as a member of the Traveling Wilburys.

"I don't think we were ever going to break up," Tench says. "I don't know what any of us would do without the others. I don't think I'd ever find a band as good as this one. I really don't. I'm a big fan.

"They're my friends. I'm real comfortable playing with them and traveling with them and working with them. I think we play really well together. and over the years we've developed a really good rapport and an instinctive way of ensemble playing where we don't even have to look at each other to know what's coming next."

Another element of the band he likes is that "it's got a lot of guitars," which seems an odd comment from a keyboard player.

Guitarist in his dreams
But Tench (his first name, Benmont, is a contraction of first name Benjamin and middle name Montmorency) grew up loving guitar bands -- the Byrds, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks.

He remembers getting in trouble as a child for spending his allowance on the Byrds' and Bob Dylan's greatest-hits albums. "I started played piano when I was 5 or 6 years old, and the Beatles didn't show up until I was 10 or 11 and I was stuck," he says. "I try to play guitar, but people tend to leave the room."