Posted by:on May 26th, 2009
Taking a little time off to mourn the loss of a friend of mine who died in his sleep over the weekend, Jay Bennett. If the name is familiar, Jay might be most famously known as a member of the band Wilco. He appeared on every album up to and including Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, after which he quit and/or was fired, depending on who you ask. Before that he was a member of Steve Pride and His Blood Kin, and before that he was in a band called Titanic Love Affair, or TLA for short. This was an early promo I shot of TLA in the late 80’s before they appeared on MTV and in Rolling Stone. Jay is pictured in the center. That’s a Thrasher Freedom sticker sideways on the brim of his hat, actually.
TLA once appeared in Thrasher briefly as well, I think they were too embarrassed to go into the store and buy it. Also in the picture are Mike Hazelrigg and Ken Hartz. Let’s see, Jay also filled in for The Bowery Boys for a while, and he was member of the Rebel Ducks and Gator Alley, as I recall. Jay was also a sought after studio musician, but I think of him as a friend.
I can’t recall specific memories many meals I’ve eaten over the years outside of one. If I had to request a death row meal, I’d ask for a particular concoction that Jay whipped up one evening after staying up way too late. The key ingredients were scrambled eggs, pesto, and dijon mustard. I think we literally emptied all the leftovers we could find into a giant saucepan. Delicious. I’ve tried to recreate many times with out success. It sounds bad, but it was excellent.
Every time I see a Ford Falcon, I remember the station wagon he was always tinkering with. Cool cars for sure, but it seemed like you had to be devoted to them to actually keep them running. Then there was the Squirrel Bait record Skag Heaven. I think Jay listened to that thing nonstop for a month solid. One time in particular, we listened to “Kid Dynamite” over and over. Jay seemed to really connect with the line “I don’t need no pig stomping on my buzz.” It was like transcendental meditation for him.
I went on a road trip with Jay and a couple other friends from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to Texas one winter. It was cold, so we decided go south until it got warm. Unfortunately, Jay wrecked his car during the wee hours of the morning as we were arriving in Monterey, Mexico. Once we got back over the border, we rented another car and totaled it in a freak ice storm outside of Dallas. Jay was driving again! It wasn’t his fault, a semi cut us off and we plowed right into the back. The truck didn’t even stop. We took the Greyhound to Effingham, Illinois and called a friend to pick us up. We really bonded that trip, and I swear it nothing to do with sharing a bed in a foreign country…
Speaking of poor impulse control, one time Jay suggested a couple of us hop on a moving coal train after closing down a bar one night. Three of us ended up about an hour south of Chicago the next morning after we woke up when the engine disconnected. We were flat broke and looked like we were painted in minstrel faces from the coal dust. Cops picked us up and drove us to an off ramp and said “Get the fuck out of town.” We hoofed it to the next exit and Jay remembered Ken (Hartz) was visiting Chicago. Through a series of collect calls, he managed to work out a ride home. Good times.
I remember being excited for Jay when the first Wilco album came out, and even more so when he was added as an official member of the band. I was thinking one of my talented friends is finally going to get his due. I also remember cringing through those scenes in the Wilco movie. I’d seen Jay interact with friends, bandmates and other musicians, and I knew like all of us, he had a difficult side. But I also knew he was one talented mofo, and that film couldn’t possibly have been the definitive story of Jay Bennett. Although we were in intermittent email contact, The last time I saw him in person was a couple years ago. I went to see him at an in-store appearance at a record store, and later that night at club. Just as he did the last time I went to see him play, he had no problem (to my embarrassment) stopping the gig to tell the audience stories about some of our shared experiences. I was somebody they could care less about, but Jay treated the evening like an intimate gathering of friends instead of a performance.
I’ll miss you Jay. Here’s another eulogy from another mutual friend and band mate of Jay’s on several occasions, Don Gerard.
Here’s one last spin of Kid Dynamite for you.
A Look Back at the Life of Musician Jay Bennett on Chicago Public Radio.
JAY BENNETT REMEMBERED: UNDERTOW ISSUES STATEMENT
Jay Walter Bennett Obituary: Heath & Vaughn Funeral Directors
Remembering Jay Bennett on Smile Politely
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