CHICAGO — Jay Bennett, a former member of Chicago-based rock band Wilco, died Sunday, according to a posting on the Web site of his record label. He was 45.
Bennett, a multiinstrumentalist who was a member of Wilco from 1994 to 2001, was a creative foil to bandleader Jeff Tweedy on the band’s highly acclaimed albums Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Bennett’s acrimonious split from the band after the recording of the latter album was chronicled in the 2002 documentary “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”
Earlier this month, Bennett sued Tweedy in Cook County Circuit Court claiming that he was owed royalties on Wilco songs and compensation for his appearance in the documentary.
Bennett joined the band as a lead guitarist in 1994 shortly after the release of their debut album “A.M.” He gradually assumed a larger role over the band’s next three albums, eventually taking credits as a songwriter and arranger in addition to work on guitar, keyboards and other instruments.
But the sometimes tumultuous partnership between Bennett and Tweedy reached an impasse during the recording of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” and Bennett left the band shortly after the record was finished.
“I was starting to feel more and more limited, and Jeff recognized that,” Bennett told Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot in 2002. “It’s like breaking up with a girlfriend. At first it really hurts, but you realize once your ego heals that it was the right thing to do. We’re both better off that it happened.”
After his split with Wilco, Bennett released four albums solo and with collaborator Edward Burch and has done production work for other artists, including a 2005 album by Blues Traveler.
“We are profoundly saddened to report that our friend died in his sleep last night,” read a posting on the Web site of Undertow Music Collective, which released Bennett’s first three albums. “Jay was a beautiful human being who will be missed.”