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Monday, May 25, 2009

Jay Bennett R.I.P. - (November 15, 1963 - May 24, 2009)

I came home last night after the stunning Leonard Cohen show at the John Labatt Centre to the terribly sad news that former Wilco guitarist and songwriter Jay Bennett passed away this weekend at his home in Urbana, Illinois. Bennett was only 45 years of age. So far no cause of death has been announced for the talented singer songwriter.

It’s an unfortunate footnote that Bennett is mostly remembered for the way he departed the Wilco camp. If you’ve seen the I Am Trying To Break Your Heart film that chapter makes for some high drama in the band’s history. Bennett and Jeff Tweedy memorably lock horns over the mixing of "Heavy Metal Drummer" before Bennett is later unceremoniously kicked out of the band. What a shame though he is not remembered more for the great artistry he brought to the band via production and songwriting from Being There, Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – a trifecta of recording brilliance.

Only last month Bennett launched a legal suit asking for $50,000 in damages from frontman Jeff Tweedy, claiming he never received compensation for appearing in the local band's 2002 documentary.

Bennett had released a number of solo records post-Wilco, the latest of which - Whatever Happened I Apologize - came out last year and is available for free download here. He was working on his sixth, Kicking At the Perfumed Air, at the time of his death.

Rest in peace, Jay… You gave us some fine music.


Allison said...

I've heard it was due to complications with a hip surgery he had had recently, which was also one of the reasons he was suing Wilco. He had no medical insurance...he blogged about it.

Sad day is music.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I thought that he had actually cancelled the hip surgery, again due to no medical insurance.

So sad, so untimely.

Sean Wraight said...

Allison and Barbara - So sad indeed... I still haven't heard anything official but will update as appropriate.

Such an almost tragic figure Jay became. Some of those scenes in I am Trying to Break Your Heart are still so hard to watch. Now even moreso heartbreakingly poignant.

God bless him though. He gave us some good music and I venture to say we wouldn't like Wilco as much today if it were not for him.


Blair Whatmore said...

I agree with your final comment 100% Sean. I've always seen Wilco's peak as the trio of albums Jay made with the band, and I've always thought it was a shame that Jay is most remembered for the bitterness seen in "I'm Trying To Break Your Heart".

Wilco are still a great band, and Jeff Tweedy remains one of my songwriting heroes, but I always thought Jeff was better when he had Jay pushing him. So many of the greats make their finest music when there's another creative force in the band working with or against them, and in the case of Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy they created magic together.

Anybody else finding they keep turning back to that trilogy of Jay adorned Wilco albums in the past few days? I can't stop listening to them!

RIP Jay. You will be greatly missed.