Waxing Poetic About the Majesty of Vinyl Records with Benmont Tench



Rock Cellar Magazine
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Note: This interview with Benmont Tench was conducted a few years back, well before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. 

Walk into Benmont Tench’s home and you’ll immediately know you’ve entered the dwelling of a musician. In the expansive living room belonging to the co-founder of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, flanked by walls of books, vinyl records and various instruments — acoustic and electric guitars, an Epiphone bass, a ukelele, Wurlitzer piano and a grand piano once owned by keyboard legend Nicky Hopkins — resides the soul and heartbeat of the room, his turntable. Benmont Tench is a devoted vinyl enthusiast, and we spoke at length about his appreciation of the medium.

Rock Cellar: Are you a record collector?

Benmont Tench:  I’m not a collector per se, I just love music and I enjoy it more on vinyl.

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Rock Cellar: What is it about vinyl that you particularly connect with?

Benmont Tench: For me, I put on a CD and it’s cool and it sounds really good. But it doesn’t make me go, “What’s another CD I can put on?” Then I put on a record and it’s kind of like, “Bet ya can’t eat just one.”

There’s a soul connection to it. As mechanical and electronic as it is, there’s almost a homespun, homemade quality to it. It’s a needle going into a groove and picking up vibrations and going through an electrical circuit.

It’s not a bunch of “1’s” and “0’s” and on off switches that you get with CDs.

Rock Cellar: What’s the first record you ever owned?

Benmont Tench: I don’t recall what the first record I ever bought was; it could have been “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” or something like that. But the first record I remember was “Frosty the Snowman” and “See You Later, Alligator” by Bill Haley & The Comets.

I remember that when I was tiny maybe three or four. My parents bought me Beethoven albums. I’ve loved Beethoven since I was about five or six years old. The first album I remember getting for real was Meet the Beatles and that I played to death. I think my older sister had some other stuff, but I had Meet the Beatles. (laughs)

Rock Cellar: Do you have a favorite record store to visit?

Benmont TenchAmoeba Records in Hollywood has always been great. I also really like Second Hand Rose Music in Manhattan because I spend a lot of time in Manhattan. It’s fantastic. The section of vinyl is really good. CD Trader is really good, but by virtue of its size Amoeba has masses of stuff so it’s the record store I go to in L.A. But I know there are tons of other record stores in L.A. that I haven’t gotten to.

Rock Cellar: Was there a vinyl record you loved growing up that either got misplaced or was one you wished you had but were never able to find?

Benmont Tench: I wasn’t a collector, but I tried to get my local record store to order me a single called “Live” by The Merry Go Round, which was Emitt Rhodes’ band.

And they kind for bushed me off like “Yeah, sure kid,” so I never got that. But I either lost or somebody borrowed my copy of the 3-LP Feelin’ High reggae compilation. Boy, I miss that; I want that back. Feelin’ High came out on Columbia House in ’75. It’s a collection of great early reggae before it got westernized. That’s something I really need. It’s my favorite reggae sampler ever. It’s all early stuff, pre-The Harder They Come. I can’t find my copy; it’s vanished. It hasn’t been reissued on CD and I only want it on vinyl.

Rock Cellar: Do you have a Holy Grail record you’re searching for?

Benmont Tench: Besides Feelin’ High? How about Message from the Country by The Move? I really liked that record when I was a kid. The other Holy Grail record for me was always Daddy Who, the first Daddy Cool record, and I’ve been able to find that. They’re a great Australian country-rock doo-wop band from 1971, 1972 and I’ve got a couple copies of that album. It’s a great record — great band, great grooves, great songs; some of them are really goofy and unusual.

Rock Cellar: Are there any new vinyl reissues that have caught your fancy?

Benmont Tench: I don’t know. I mistrust reissues. If I see that it’s from analog tape I tend to like it more. But even if it’s all recorded on pro tools I’m gonna prefer it on vinyl anyway.

There are a few things I want to get. I want to get the new Belle Brigade album because I’m so taken with the single “Ashes.” As far as reissues go, the most recent thing that I’ve enjoyed is a Fleetwood Mac vinyl album called Boston. It’s a double vinyl and was recorded live in 1970 with Danny Kirwan, Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer on guitars. It’s just a great batch of music.

Rock Cellar: What do you think makes vinyl the ultimate listening experience?

Benmont Tench: It’s inviting; it makes me want to listen to more music, whereas I’ll enjoy music on a CD but vinyl makes me want to put on more and more and more and more. I’m less likely to get lost on an MP3 playlist or even on CDs, but I will lose a day listening to record after record after record.

It’s an electronic process but it’s got something primitive in the way that it’s done that connects to my heart more than the ones in the digital reproduction format.

— Benmont shares commentary on 11 albums that rocked his world —

Louis Armstrong — Satchmo’s Greatest Vol. 5 (1947-1956)

It’s a French pressing on RCA Victor and it’s volume 42 of a series called Black and White and of course it’s mono. The selection of songs on it is just fantastic. It’s stuff from the ‘40s and ‘50s. If it’s Louis it’s gonna be special anyway, but this is such an excellent compilation.

Elvis’ Golden Records Volume One

This is mono and none of what I’m picking are reissues, these are real records. You never know when you get the vinyl reissues if they were done from a digital source. It’s mono; it’s not reprocessed for stereo. This record was hard to find I got that at Second Hand Rose in New York.

Good lord, it’s Elvis’ Golden Records, what more do you need? (laughs)

Robert Johnson — King of the Delta Blues Singers

This is volume one. It’s essential, it’s Robert Johnson. They didn’t have any of the crazy digital noise reduction stuff yet so while there’s certainly value in that I tend to prefer this. I got this record when I was in boarding school.

Howlin’ Wolf — Chicago Golden Years Vol. 16 (L’age d’Or de Chicago)

This is a two-record French Chess compilation of great Howlin’ Wolf, and you’ve gotta have that.

Pete Johnson — Boogie Woogie Mood

This is my favorite boogie-woogie piano player; he just dances when he plays. There’s a lot of great ones but Pete’s my favorite.

Bob Dylan — John Wesley Harding

It’s the first Bob Dylan album I ever bought apart from a greatest hits. Again, none of these are reissues; these came from when I was a teenager or when I was in my early twenties or else they were bought in used record shops recently. It’s Bob Dylan and it’s my favorite Bob Dylan record, so how can you leave that out?

The Rolling Stones — England’s Newest Hitmakers

This is the American mono, not a reprocessed album — by The Rolling Stones. Again, this not a damn reissue; this is a real record. This is the way they put it out in the day. Enough said.

The Beatles — Something New

Just to prove I’m not a purist, a Japanese pressing of the American version of The Beatles’ Something New album, which was Capitol’s version of the Hard Days Night soundtrack. It’s got most of the songs on the British Hard Days Night album but it doesn’t have the song, “A Hard Days Night” (laughs). I’m sure it’s some kind of second generation tape and it was remastered by Capitol but I love the way this record sounds.

Wilson Pickett — Greatest Hits

It’s a two-record set on Atlantic. I bought this when I was barely twenty and it was the only record on my turntable for a really, really, really long time. It’s one of the ways I learned to play the piano.

The Byrds — Greatest Hits

Gene at Second Hand Rose turned me onto this album ‘cause it’s mono. Now the stereo version of this is actually great but if you get it in mono you find that it sounded like it sounded on the radio back in 1965, ’66, which is a really powerful thing. But I’m not some kind of “Back to Mono” fanatic; I am a back to vinyl fanatic.

The Everly Brothers — Greatest Hits Volume One

This is on Barnaby. I picked volume one just for the heck of it but there’s three volumes that I have and they’ve got everything, from “Poor Jenny” to “Bye Bye Love” to “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Hey Doll Baby” and more obscure stuff like that. This is a great set and I believe it’s the pre-Warner Brothers recordings. These are really great records.  If you can seek this out, do it.

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