How Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench Survived Tom Petty’s Death
Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench said the birth of his daughter two months after the death of Tom Petty had prevented him from falling apart.
He’d attended school with Petty and spent most of his life making music with the band leader. In a new interview with Rolling Stone, he noted that he’d been expecting a call about another tour instead of the call he received saying Petty was in the hospital in 2017.
“Catherine came in December, Tom died in October,” Tench said. “It was not the circle-of-life lesson that I wanted. It really wasn’t. I’d rather go watch The Lion King! But it was an extraordinary experience. It saved me, having my daughter. It let me not go, ‘Holy shit. My world world is fallen apart.’ Tom was the last person in the band that I expected ever to go. He was the very last person. But because I had a daughter coming, I had to take care of my wife.”
He said of Petty: “I’d known him since I was 17. I played with him since I was 18 or 19. I quit school at 19 to play with him full-time. Sometimes he played bass. Sometimes he played guitar. And whether it was his song we were doing or a cover, that was my singer. He was also someone I looked up to enormously.
“To this day, people say to me, ‘Why don’t you get another singer? Tom would want you to do that.’ Well, I don’t want to do that. Are you going to get a guy that has that swing in his rhythm? How are you going to do that? Also, we shared a real love for each other.”
He added that "it isn’t that I’m in denial, but my world just changed. It’s changed to kind of an alternate universe. … Thank God my daughter came along and brought that alternate universe to me so that I wasn’t floundering, I wasn’t lost. It didn’t give me something to push aside my grief or my acknowledgement of what was lost. It didn’t do that. It brought a vital center to my life.”
Tench said he was now nearing completion of a solo album featuring “a tiny, compact band” as a result of the pandemic. “It says exactly what I want to say, the way I want to say it,” he explained. “I think it’s a real piece of work. This record is the real thing.”