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Jay Walter Bennett (November 15, 1963 - May 24, 2009) was an American guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, engineer, producer, and singer-songwriter, best known for his work with the band Wilco.


Early life and work with Wilco

Jay Bennett was born November 15, 1963 in Rolling Meadows, Illinoismarker, a suburb Northwest of Chicagomarker.

Bennett was a founding member of Titanic Love Affair. The band recorded three albums in the 1990s: Titanic Love Affair (1991), No Charisma (1992), and Their Titanic Majesty's Request (1996). He also played guitar with Steve Pride and the Blood Kin and Gator Alley.

From 1994 through 2001 Bennett was a member of Wilco. Conflicts between front man Jeff Tweedy and Bennett that would contribute to Bennett's split with Wilco are visible in the Sam Jones film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco. Although Bennett sought to act as both mixer and engineer for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy was unsure of Bennett's abilities against those of producer Jim O'Rourke. Tweedy and Bennett frequently argued over whether the album should be accessible to a general listener, or attempt to cover new musical ground. Unbeknownst to Bennett, Tweedy invited O'Rourke to remix "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart", and the results impressed the other band members — even Bennett. Tensions grew between Bennett and O'Rourke because Bennett wanted to play a more integral role regarding the mixing of the album. O'Rourke cut the contributions of other members on several of the songs; some songs, such as "Poor Places", only featured the Loose Fur trio of Tweedy, O'Rourke and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. The album was completed in 2001, and Bennett was dismissed from the band immediately afterwards.

Solo career

After leaving Wilco, Bennett released five solo albums. The first, entitled The Palace at 4am, was a collaboration with Champaignmarker musician Edward Burch. 2004's Bigger Than Blue was a more stripped-down set of personal songs. In the same year he released The Beloved Enemy, which saw Bennett exploring his personal turmoil in even more intimate detail. The Magnificent Defeat, was released in September, 2006. He released Whatever Happened I Apologize in November 2008 on Bennett had been working on a sixth record, tentatively titled Kicking at the Perfumed Air. It is unclear whether that record will see release posthumously.

In addition to his popularity in Wilco and as a solo performer, Bennett also played on albums by Sheryl Crow, Allison Moorer, and Billy Joe Shaver, produced Blues Traveler's 2005 release, ¡Bastardos! and mixed the album Double Barrel by Chicago country-rock band Old No. 8.

Later life and death

In May 2009, Bennett sued Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy for breach of contract stemming from his work for Wilco. The suit came less than two weeks after Bennett publicly revealed that he needed hip replacement surgery which he could not afford due to his health insurance considering the situation a "pre-existing condition."

On May 24, 2009 Bennett died unexpectedly in his sleep. The Champaign County coroner reported about one month later that his death was accidental, and was the result of an overdose of the prescription painkiller fentanyl. He was wearing a Duragesic patch on his back when his body was found, said Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup. At the time of his death, Bennett lived in Urbanamarker, Illinois, where he spent most of his time writing songs and recording in his private studio, Pieholden Suites, which was named after "Pieholden Suite" on Wilco's Summerteeth.

Immediately after his death, a friend of Bennett's posted a blog through the musician's MySpace account, saying that Bennett had "been in a really good place these last few years." The post also revealed that he had been looking forward to engineering an unreleased Titanic Love Affair album, another album with Edward Burch titled The Palace at 4AM Part II, and that he had recently enrolled in graduate school classes at the University of Illinois. The post ended by encouraging fans to engage in some of Bennett's favorite activities: "listen to a Nick Lowe album, watch some Mythbusters on Discovery, play Warren Zevon’s "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," rent Pay It Forward (one of his favorite movies), write a song with the TV on and the sound off," and focus on Bennett's loving spirit.

Former bandmate Jeff Tweedy also made a brief statement on Wilco's official website: "We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him -- as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band's songs and evolution. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time."


  2. Kot 2004. p. 195–6
  3. Kot 2004. p. 198–9
  5. Bennett v. Tweedy court documents
  6. Chicago magazine (August 2009):
  7. NME article: " Ex-Wilco guitarist died of a drug overdose, says coroner: Jay Bennett had been taking pain medication."
  9. MySpace blog entry on Jay Bennett's page.
  10. Wilco's official website: " Jay Bennett"
  11. Billboard article: " Jay Bennett, Ex-Wilco Member, Dies At 45

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