Robert Vessenmeyer remembers Wilco's Jay Bennett
Jay Bennett, a former multi-instrumentalist for the band Wilco, died earlier this week. Among the many musicians mourning his loss is Robert Vessenmeyer of the Tampa band Experimental Pilot, who got to know Bennett, above, over the years. Vessenmeyer not only hung out with Bennett; they had talked about recording together. He offered up this tribute to Bennett.
Jay Bennett's contributions to the Wilco legacy are undeniable. He made them a complete and whole band where there was none. His rock guitar playing, song writing and production skills were groundbreaking in the evolution of the band and I personally feel that they made some of their best music ever with Jay Bennett.
My Brother Stephen and I have actually been in contact with Jay for quite a while now and were going to record with him and the old Wilco drummer Ken Coomer in Nashville last year, but sadly Jay wasn't up to the challenge at that time (with some personal issues), but seemed to be back on the rebound recently until his hip replacement problems developed. (I just talked to him a few weeks ago about us recording at his beautiful new studio, Pieholden, and he seemed to be upbeat about that possibility and genuinely into the music, but also bedridden with his health issues.)
One of my fondest memories of Jay Bennett was watching early Wilco on the Being There tour, f---ing rock Jannus landing on the song Misunderstood, with Jeff Tweedy screaming in a punk rock voice "I want to thank you all for nothing at all!" and Jay providing scorching feedback on his guitar. They played all the early hits that night from Casino Queen, OuttaSite (Outta Mind), I Got You, Monday and even added early Uncle Tupelo songs like We've Been Had and The Long Cut which drove the crowd to a frenzy. I was right down in the mosh pit, beer soaked and screaming for more!
After the show my brother and I ended up singing harmonies with Jeff Tweedy and Will Quinlan on Screen Door in the old Club Detroit (a great time capsule moment for us all), and then finally the Wilco guys (Jay Bennett, Ken Coomer and John Stirrat) all came over to my house and we drank beer, listened to music, laughed and partied until the early hours of the morning. We all had a great time and clicked as fast friends. I even vaguely remember that Jay was wearing a 12-pack carton as a hat, cracking us all up with his funny sense of humor. It was such a magical night of music and a great memory.
Jay Bennett was a beautiful human being and a very sweet man. Although he seemed to be a Misunderstood soul, so to speak, his musical genius will live on in his songs forever.
Postscript: Vessenmeyer also passed along this video of Bennett and Tweedy performing Cars Can't Escape in 2002.