Benmont Tench

Keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers will release his debut solo album "You Should Be So Lucky" on Feb. 18. (Sam Jones / June 24, 2013)

If anyone has a great excuse for taking so long to put out a solo album, it’s Benmont Tench, longtime keyboardist and occasional songwriter with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Close to 40 years ago he came to Southern California with other members of the aspiring Florida rock band Mudcrutch, which failed to gain any traction and shortly disbanded. Tench and bandmate Stan Lynch subsequently went into a West Los Angeles recording studio with the intention of starting a new band.

“We were going to call it the Drunks,” Tench said by phone from New York earlier this week. “We were so taken with the Faces, after we’d seen them do a show and they actually mixed drinks on stage. It was fabulous.” 

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That’s about when Tench got a call from Petty, another Mudcrutch alum asking whether he and Lynch would throw in with the new band he was assembling.

“When Mudcrutch broke up,” he said, “it broke my heart. When Tom came down for the Drunks session and asked us, ‘Will you guys play with me?’ I said ‘Hell, yes — I’d rather play with you than any band I would put together.’”

The new band that emerged from the ashes of Mudcrutch became the Heartbreakers, a group that’s occupied much of Tench’s time, attention and passion over the last four decades. 

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On Tuesday, Tench finally will release his debut solo album, whose title, “You Should Be So Lucky,” reflects his feelings about being one of the Heartbreakers for virtually his entire adult life, as well as for the fortune he’s had to play alongside a wealth of other rock and country greats including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, John Prine, Fiona Apple and Ryan Adams.

“I think the time and conditions were right, with a little bit of impetus where before I didn’t have the spur to do it,” Tench said. “The reason at this point,” he added, “is that we’re not getting any younger, they’re good songs and they ought to be heard.”

The full album was recorded and mixed in 11 days in Hollywood with a core band that includes bassist Don Was, guitarists Blake Mills and Ethan Johns and guest turns from Petty, Ringo Starr, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Ryan Adams and L.A.’s adventuresome Section Quartet. Tench, of course, handles all the piano, organ and keyboard parts. 

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“Veronica Said” is unusual among the 10 Tench originals on the album, which are supplemented by a pair of career-spanning Dylan-related covers (“Corrina, Corrina” from 1963 and “Duquesne Whistle” from 2012), in that it spans a big chunk of Tench’s life.

He wrote the first verse and chorus in the early ‘80s, but didn’t get around to finishing it “until 30 days before we went into the studio." It’s the way songs work sometimes, he said.

“The way I write is that the song shows up, I scramble to write it down and then I try to dial it in more,” he said. “It isn’t a process of sitting down and trying to conjure a song idea. I didn’t know what this song was supposed to say, and I couldn’t remember what it said before, just that it was trivial. I wasn’t going to make a heavy philosophical statement, but I thought maybe it could say something.”

A sample verse, which contains glimmers of a storytelling ability reminiscent of a couple of the people Tench has played with over the years:

Veronica shivered and paused for effect

Pulled her windbreaker tight, lit a fresh cigarette

She said nothing turns out like you're led to expect

So you make what you can of the moment

After reacquainting himself with the first section, he came to a line -- “No true innocent can be corrupted” -- and from there he completed this portrait of a woman who has been bloodied by life, but remains unbowed.

Here’s the stream of “Veronica Said”:

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