Jay Bennett

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Jay Bennett
Jay Bennett performing with Wilco @ the Riviera Theatre, Chicago, Illinois, January 1, 2000
Jay Bennett performing with Wilco @ the Riviera Theatre, Chicago, Illinois, January 1, 2000
Background information
Birth nameJay Walter Bennett
Born(1963-11-15)November 15, 1963
Rolling Meadows, Illinois, U.S.
DiedMay 24, 2009(2009-05-24) (aged 45)
Urbana, Illinois, U.S.
GenresAlternative country, garage rock, Americana, pop, rock, experimental
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, Guitarist, Producer, Engineer
Instrument(s)Guitar, piano, organ, mellotron, banjo, bass, drums, synthesizer, harmonica, mandolin
Years active1991–2009
LabelsUndertow Music

Jay Walter Bennett (November 15, 1963 – May 24, 2009) was an American multi-instrumentalist, engineer, producer, and singer-songwriter, best known as a member of the band Wilco from 1994 to 2001.


Early life and work with Wilco[edit]

Jay Bennett was born November 15, 1963, in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, a suburb northwest of Chicago.[1]

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

Nearing a master's degree in education at the University of Illinois, Bennett became a classroom teacher at Urbana Junior High, first as a substitute in 1985. Bennett was a full-time middle-school math teacher in 1986 at the then redesignated Urbana Middle School. He also worked for several years as an electronics technician for a local audio-video repair store.

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. Bennett claimed he "tried to stay away from the mixing, having been reminded that Jim didn't like a lot of folks around when he was mixing."[2] Tweedy and Bennett frequently argued over whether the album should be accessible to a general listener, or attempt to cover new musical ground.[3] 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.[4] (Bennett claimed he contributed organ, guitars, and the "Noiz section" to "Poor Places.")[5] The album was completed in 2001, and Bennett was dismissed from the band immediately afterwards.[6]

Solo career[edit]

After leaving Wilco, Bennett released five solo albums. The first, entitled The Palace at 4 am, was a collaboration with Champaign 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 by Ryko Records in September 2006. He released Whatever Happened I Apologize in November 2008 on rockproper.com. Bennett had been working on a sixth record, titled Kicking at the Perfumed Air.[7] It was released posthumously for free on May 24, 2010, on the Jay Bennett Foundation's website.

In addition to his popularity in Wilco and as a solo performer, Bennett also played on albums by Sheryl Crow, Allison Moorer, Sherry Rich and Billy Joe Shaver, produced Michelle Anthony's 2004 release, "Stand Fall Repeat," West of Rome's 2005 release, "Drunk Tank Decoy,"[8] and Blues Traveler's 2005 release, ¡Bastardos! and mixed the album Double Barrel by Chicago country-rock band Old No. 8.

Later life and death[edit]

In May 2009, Bennett sued Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy for breach of contract stemming from his work for Wilco.[9] 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."[10]

Sign from May 24, 2009, reading "Jay Bennett, we're here, where are you?".

On May 24, 2009, Bennett died unexpectedly in his sleep.[11] On the weekend of his death, members of Titanic Love Affair and fellow bands and friends from its heyday had descended on Champaign-Urbana for a "Play or Pose Reunion" at which Bennett was expected to perform. When Bennett failed to show up for festivities, they posted a picture on the "Play or Pose" website, brandishing a placard reading "Jay Bennett, we're here, where are you? We love you."

The Champaign County coroner reported about one month later that Bennett's death was accidental, and was the result of an overdose of the prescription painkiller Fentanyl.[12][13] He was wearing a Duragesic patch on his back when his body was found, said Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup.[14] At the time of his death, Bennett lived in Urbana, Illinois, where he spent most of his time writing songs and recording in his private studio, Pieholden Studios, 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 4 am Part II, and that he had recently enrolled in graduate school classes at the University of Illinois.[15] 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.[15]

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."[16]

Bennett's final album, Kicking at the Perfumed Air, was released on July 10, 2010, through The Jay Bennett Foundation. It was made available free of charge, with a suggested donation.[17]

Where Are You, Jay Bennett? documentary[edit]

Co-Directed by Gorman Bechard and Fred Uhter, this music documentary "delves into the life and career of Jay Bennett. The extremely talented musician was a crucial member of Wilco during the band’s formative years. Unceremoniously dumped from Wilco by Jeff Tweedy, the studio wizard and guitarist would go on to a solo career before succumbing to an accidental Fentanyl overdose at the age of 45." Released on Blu Ray and pay-per-view on April 19, 2022, and as part of a Record Store Day release with vinyl editions of Bennett's last two albums, Whatever Happened I Apologize and Kicking at the Perfumed Air on April 23, 2022,[18] "the new film does a wonderful job of capturing the quirkiness, inventiveness and brilliance of someone who never met an instrument he couldn't play. Bennett once described hearing the open spaces of the songs and holes that became his sonic landscape. They were at the core of the remarkable string of Wilco’s albums Being There, Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."[19] The film was originally started by Uhter, who asked Bechard to take over the project when it stalled. It takes a hard look at Bennett's years in Wilco, and his treatment in the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which many consider to be unfair. "Jay Bennett's reputation never quite recovered from the battering it took in Sam Jones' documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco, about the complex, lengthy gestation of 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in often painful detail, portrayed a band slowly pulling itself apart, with chief songwriters Bennett and Jeff Tweedy its twin opposing forces. The implication being that Bennett was a headstrong, intractable figure responsible for most of the discord. He was sacked as soon as the album was done. Filmmakers Gorman Bechard and Fred Uhter seek to redress the balance on Where Are You, Jay Bennett?".[20] The film painted a balanced picture of the relationship between Bennett and Tweedy. "They just happened to be two egos at that point, fueled by a lot of demons. And it just wasn't working anymore," Bechard explained. "They're both incredibly talented. They both had egos. They both, I think, saw maybe different paths for the band. And ultimately it was Jeff's band, so he's going to win that, and rightfully so. There were other issues, whether it be alcohol or drugs. You know, it was a little bit of everything. Personally, I wish they had stayed together because I think they could have literally become the next Lennon and McCartney or the next Jagger/Richards."[21]



  • The Palace at 4 a.m. (Part I) (with Edward Burch) (2002)
  • Bigger than Blue (2004)
  • The Beloved Enemy (2004)
  • The Magnificent Defeat (2006)
  • Whatever Happened I Apologize (2008)
  • Kicking at the Perfumed Air (2010)
  • Where Are You Jay Bennett? OST (2022)


  1. ^ Chicagobreakingnews.com Archived June 25, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Phillips, Derek (May 1, 2002). "Glorious Noise Interview with Jay Bennett, May 2002". Gloriousnoise.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
  3. ^ Kot 2004. p. 195–6
  4. ^ Kot 2004. p. 198–9
  5. ^ "Glorious Noise, May 2002". Gloriousnoise.com. February 28, 2012. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
  6. ^ Fricke, David (May 2002). "In from the Cold". Mojo.
  7. ^ Suntimes.com Archived May 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Tanzilo, Bobby (February 1, 2005). "Wilco's Bennett helps West of Rome find its sound". OnMilwaukee. Retrieved April 11, 2015. Milwaukee bands are getting awfully friendly with Jay Bennett, formerly of Wilco. Last year, Michelle Anthony released her Bennett-produced disc, and now her friends West of Rome follow suit.
  9. ^ "Bennett v. Tweedy court documents". Scribd.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
  10. ^ Lisle, Andria (May 14, 2009). "Is Wilco's Jeff Tweedy Living the Life He Sings About?". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved May 24, 2009.
  11. ^ Chicago magazine (August 2009): Chicagomag.com
  12. ^ Greg Kot (June 23, 2009). "Coroner: Painkiller killed ex-Wilco member". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on June 25, 2009. Retrieved June 23, 2009.
  13. ^ NME article: "Ex-Wilco guitarist died of a drug overdose, says coroner: Jay Bennett had been taking pain medication."
  14. ^ Newsgazette.com Archived June 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ a b MySpace blog entry on Jay Bennett Archived November 29, 2012(Date mismatch), at archive.today's page.
  16. ^ "Jay Bennett". Wilcoworld.net. Archived from the original on June 16, 2009.
  17. ^ "Kicking at the Perfumed Air | Jay Bennett | Acoustic Rock". Rockproper.com. March 3, 2010. Archived from the original on May 10, 2012. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
  18. ^ RSD '22 Special Release: Jay Bennett - "Kicking at the Perfumed Air" & "Whatever Happened I Apologize" with the film "Where are you, Jay Bennett?", retrieved June 14, 2022
  19. ^ "Jay Bennett, Gone Too Soon (Where are you, Jay Bennett?--Film Review) • Americana Highways". Americana Highways. April 21, 2022. Retrieved June 14, 2022.
  20. ^ "Where are you, Jay Bennett?". UNCUT. May 27, 2022. Retrieved June 14, 2022.
  21. ^ Gotcher, Steve (May 6, 2022). "'Where are you, Jay Bennett?' documentary chronicles his impact on Wilco and beyond". Wisconsin Public Radio. Retrieved June 14, 2022.

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