Benmont Tench of The Heartbreakers Releases Solo Debut, Talks Next Tom Petty Album

After 40 years of recording, first with Mudcrutch and then -- and for much longer -- with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, keyboardist Benmont Tench finally got around to making his own album.

"I've always written songs since I was a kid, always," Tench, who releases "You Should Be So Lucky" on Feb. 18, tells Billboard. "In Mudcrutch we all wrote songs, and when it got to the focus on Tom and the Heartbreakers I kept writing songs but it wasn't anything that was up the Heartbreakers tree, I didn't think -- and I don't think they did, either. So I kept writing songs for the hell of it, but I didn't want to make record just for the sake of making a record. This time around I kinda felt like, 'Well, there's some good songs here, and I think they should exist in some way other than a demo hidden in my closet. I think they deserve to be heard.'"

Tench, who also boasts voluminous credits as a sideman and studio hand, says "encouragement" from musical friends such as Jackson Browne, Blake Mills and Matt Sweeney, who he'd play with at the club Largo or at his house on Sunday afternoons, also helped make the album happen.

"The reaction was not for specific songs but for the songs in general," Tench recalls. "Everybody was like, 'Those are good songs.' Then (producer) Glyn Johns offered to make a record together, just 'cause we're friends, and I finally took him up on it."

The stylistically diverse 12 songs on "You Should Be So Lucky" include 10 Tench originals and covers of Bob Dylan's "Duquesne Whistle" and the traditional "Corrina, Corrina," and a number of Tench's friends -- including Blake Mills, Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Don Was and Ethan Johns along with Petty and Ringo Starr -- appear on the album.

But, Tench adds, "this isn't loaded up with some famous people because they're famous. Everybody who's on here is my friend, and I thought they were the right musician for the song. Like, Tom wasn't stunt-casting; I love the way he plays bass. And Ringo isn't stunt-casing; he's the best drummer in the world. Why wouldn't I use them?"

Tench will promote "You Should Be So Lucky" with a variety of appearances, including a sold-out Feb. 20-22 run at Largo and radio appearances on "World Cafe," "Acoustic Cafe," "Rockline," "Off The Record" and WNYC's "Soundcheck," with some television appearances still being sorted out. Meanwhile, Tench is in the studio with Petty and the Heartbreakers as well, working on the follow-up to the group's 2010 release "Mojo."

"I think it's really good, and that's kind of all that I know," Tench reports. "I think it's close to finished, and I think it's really good. And when Tom feels like it's the right batch of songs that fit together right, we'll have us a record... There's a couple of ways it can go depending on how, I think on how Tom decides to shape the record with the material we have. Then I think there's a couple of ways it can go. This is a very versatile band, and we have a lot of different interests, musically. So I'm actually curious to see what he's going to pick and how he wants to represent it."