Early in the morning of May 24, Jay Bennett, a former member of the band Wilco, passed away in his sleep at his home in Urbana, Illinois, to unknown causes at the age of 45. An autopsy is being performed to confirm more details. Edward Burch, a friend of Bennett’s and a musical collaborator, spoke with the Chicago Sun-Times and announced that the family is unavailable for further comment at this time.
A “multi-instrumentalist” for Wilco, Bennett worked on Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in addition to their projects with Billy Bragg, Mermaid Avenue, and Mermaid Avenue, Volume 2. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco released a statement from their tour in Spain stating, “We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him – as a truly unique and gifted himan 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.”
Bennett’s death comes soon after he filed a breach of contract suit against Tweedy for alleged lack of compensation received after the production and distribution of the film I am Trying to Break Your Heart, in which he appeared. Although the court documents state that there were multiple attempts on the part of Bennett to obtain this payment, it was announced at around the same time Bennett revealed on his MySpace blog that he needed hip replacement surgery, but he was concerned about his lack of health insurance. “I began the arduous, or more accurately, extremely time consuming and endlessly frustrating, process of finding a surgeon and hospital that would perhaps ‘cut me a deal,’ be willing to bargain/barter a bit, or at least allow me to make installment payments. As it turns out, this /is/ possible, but also difficult to arrange, if you can not come up with a sizable down payment as a show good faith, etc. I have been saving as much money as possible ever since I made this new commitment to my health, my future, and my quality of life.”
Subsequent to leaving Wilco due to differences with Tweedy, Bennett released five albums: The Palace at 4am (2002 – which Burch worked on), Bigger Than Blue (2004), The Beloved Enemy (2004), The Magnificent Defeat, and Whatever Happened I Apologize (2008). Bennett’s latest album was released digitally on rockproper.com and is still available here. In addition, he produced Blues Traveler’s album !Bastardos! and played as a studio artist on many albums .
Bennett was born in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows. He earned degrees in secondary education, math and political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Bennett also founded the band Titanic Love Affair that released three albums in the early 1990s before being dropped from their label. He was completing work on his latest album Kicking at the Perfumed Air in his personal studio, Pieholden Suites at the time of his death.