Jay Bennett: Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with the Chicago alt-rock band Wilco

The fact that Jay Bennett's seven-year membership of the US alternative rock group Wilco coincided with the landmark releases Being There, Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the three albums he contributed to between 1994 and 2001, was no accident. Bennett wore many hats, as multi-instrumentalist, arranger, engineer, mixer, producer and most notably co-writer, helping Wilco's front man Jeff Tweedy fashion the band's heady alt-country sound. Theirs became an uneasy relationship, its breakdown documented in forensic detail in the Sam Jones documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco.

Something of a painstaking perfectionist, Bennett didn't see eye to eye with the British singer songwriter Billy Bragg either, despite naming his first group, Titanic Love Affair, after a line in "Richard", a Bragg composition. In 1998, the musicians clashed during the making of the Mermaid Avenue album, on which Bragg and Wilco set unheard lyrics by folk legend Woody Guthrie to their own music. Nevertheless, this critically acclaimed pairing delivered another similarly themed album, Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, in 2000.

The following year, Bennett was edged out of Wilco and embarked on a solo career, releasing five albums, one a collaboration with his friend Edward Burch. A gifted, versatile musician and in-demand session player, Bennett also recorded with Sheryl Crow, Allison Moorer and Billy Joe Shaver, and produced the ¡Bastardos! album for the American jam band Blues Traveler in 2005.

Born in 1963, Bennett was a gifted student with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the 1980s he successfully completed degrees in mathematics and political science while playing in several bands. With vocalist Ken Hartz he formed Titanic Love Affair, a four-piece band which bridged the gap between the power pop of Cheap Trick and Jellyfish and the more raucous approach of Dinosaur Jr. and The Replacements. In 1991, they signed with Charisma Records in the US and issued an eponymous debut but their tenure with the Virgin-affiliated company – then also the home of Jellyfish but by now a completely different entity from Tony Stratton-Smith's famous British label of the Seventies – proved short-lived. Despite a further two releases – an EP pointedly entitled No Charisma (1992) and the Rolling Stones-referencing Their Titanic's Majesties Request album (1996) – they had broken up by the time Tweedy asked Bennett to join the Chicago-based Wilco.

This new group had risen out of the ashes of the alt-country pioneers Tupelo Honey and were about to tour their first album, A.M., around the world. Bennett quit his job in a video repair shop and became a mainstay of the band, playing keyboards, guitar and a myriad of more unusual instruments – Mellotron, Wurlitzer – both on stage and in the studio. His input, while noticeable on the US college radio favourite Being There (1996), grew on Summerteeth, a double set sold for the price of a single album (1999), and became a prime ingredient of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002).

Despite this, Bennett, the co-writer on most of the tracks, had to relinquish mixing and production duties to the more experimental Chicago producer Jim O'Rourke. This created tensions and Bennett left Wilco soon after the album was completed in 2001.

"In my mind, making a record is all-encompassing, and calls for each band member to use every ounce of his or her talent/skills for the greater good, and it has always felt a bit weird for me to sit around watching TV, while someone else is, for example, miking up drums, when you know perfectly well how to do it yourself," Bennett told the Glorious Noise website in 2002.

"I'm a bit of a workaholic, and I actually stay more alert and creative and focused when I'm kept rather busy. Call it multi-tasking or whatever, it's just the way I keep myself engaged. I'm very happy that Jeff and I went out on a creative high point in terms of the sheer number of songs that we actually sat down and wrote together that are included on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Quite simply: some partnerships just run their course. Seven years is a long time in this "biz", no explanation needed, and no sense diggin' for one."

However, Bennett recently filed a $50,000 lawsuit against Tweedy, alleging non-payment of royalties, non-compensation for his appearance in the documentary and breach of contract. Bennett also conceded he was suffering from a long-standing hip injury dating back to his days with Titanic Love Affair, and was hoping to raise funds to undergo surgery and correct the problem.

The appearance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco's breakthrough album, was further delayed when the group was dropped by the Warners subsidiary Reprise only to then be signed by Warners' boutique label Nonesuch. The ensuing furore conferred a certain cachet to what was already an eagerly awaited release and has helped it sell over half-a-million copies since 2002.

Bennett built his own small studio facility, called Pieholden Suites, in Urbana, where he recorded The Palace at 4 A.M. with Edward Burch (2002), and then, solo, Bigger Than Blue and The Beloved Enemy (both 2004), The Magnificent Defeat (2006) and Whatever Happened I Apologize (2008). He was working on a sixth release, Kicking at the Perfumed Air, when he died at home in his sleep.

Paying tribute to Bennett, Tweedy said in a statement: "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."

Pierre Perrone

Jay Walter Bennett, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer: born Chicago 15 November 1963; died Urbana, Illinois 24 May 2009.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

News
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday

Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Sivero in Goodfellas; Simpsons' wise guy Louie

The sound of Goodfellas mafioso Frankie Carbone demanding $250m in “damages” would be chilling enough on film, let alone in real life.

News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front end web developer - URGENT CONTRACT

£250 - £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT** Our...

Year 3 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 Teachers - Chelm...

ABAP Developer

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ampersand Consulting LLP: SAP ABAP Developer - Rugb...

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?