Benmont Tench

Benmont Tench, one of the founding members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played keyboards on a few tracks from Be Yourself Tonight.

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 borrowed tape 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 Maca

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