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Jay Bennett: 1963-2009

May 26, 2009 - Andy Gray
The first time I saw Wilco live was in February 1997 at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland when the band was on the road in support of its second release, “Being There.”

Jeff Tweedy clearly was the frontman and leader of the band, but Jay Bennett seemed to set the musical tone. He’d throw in AC/DC or Led Zeppelin riffs into the band’s songs when he was playing guitar and would do the same thing when he was on keyboards.

If Wilco was Tweedy’s musical vision, Bennett was the one with the chops to bring it to life on stage.

Bennett died Sunday in his sleep at age 45, according to his record label, Undertow Music Collective.

Bennett hasn’t been a part of Wilco since 2001, when he and Tweedy had an ugly split, made all the uglier because cameras captured their creative differences in the documentary “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”

Since the split, Bennett has produced some quality music that few people heard, while Wilco has soared. Its sound has evolved dramatically this decade, and the current lineup certainly is more accomplished than that loose, bar-band feel that Bennett helped shape.

I love Wilco’s current sound – I pre-ordered the new CD, “Wilco (The Album),” over the weekend – but I’ll always have fond memories of standing body-to-body with 600 other Wilco fans in the cramped Agora Ballroom watching Bennett push the occasionally introverted Tweedy to rock out.


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