Smile Politely

Remembering Jay Bennett

Steve Pride and His Blood Kin (Pictured, left to right: Jay Bennett, Don Gerard, Mike Hazelrigg, Steve Shields; photo — Steve Shields)


There are so many great things I remember about Jay. He was one of the smartest and funniest people I knew. He was the kind of person who would call or e-mail just to talk and make sure you were doing ok. The business part of our relationship was always secondary.

There’s no single story that defines Jay in my mind. There have been so many times when I was blown away by his music. So many times I laughed so hard I thought I was going to cry. “Hot for Buffalo” will be remain one of my favorite inside jokes. Edward, Scott, Will and Paul know what I’m talking about.

One of my favorite experiences with Jay; he was mixing The Palace at 4 a.m. at a studio in Chicago. They had mixes going in the A and B studios. He was running back and forth listening to mixes in each control room and then giving the engineers notes on what to do. It was exhausting and amazing to watch him work. He knew exactly what he wanted each song to sound like. Up until then I had only heard random bits and pieces of songs. I have to admit I was worried because the songs sounded like train wrecks. I could not understand how all the pieces would fit together. Once they had a final mix of “Talk To Me,” Jay sat me down in front of the speakers and played it for me. I could not believe it. So many weird subtle things going on. But they all fit together perfectly like a beautiful puzzle. As I sat there listening, I looked over at Jay with a big smile. He pointed at the speakers right when I expected to hear a guitar solo. Banjo! What the hell? How do you put a banjo solo the middle of this upbeat pop song? Well, he did and it worked. That was Jay … he was able to fit things together that should not fit together and make art out of it. He made the impossible possible.

The thing I remember most is how much he cared about his Mom and Dad. He talked to them every day. They were a big part of his life. I hope they know how much Jay meant to everyone who knew him.

My heart is breaking for Jan, John, Kate, David, Edward, Matt, Jefferson, Jonathan and everyone who was close to Jay.

Bob Andrews


What a loss this is for us all. Jay was a true musical light in this world. I hadn’t talked to him in a few months, but the last time I talked to him, he sounded great, and inspired, and full of optimism!

I first met Jay in the early ’90s through my friend Lisa Cannaday. I was a huge Garrison Starr fan, and Lisa said Jay was playing guitar for her at a show in Nashville, Tenn. On a whim, a bunch of us got in the car and drove down to the show! Although I had missed the music he had made here in C-U early on, I got my first glimpse of the guitar “hero” he was! I befriended Jay, and followed his career from there on out! My biggest regret is that I never had a chance to play music with him….I guess I’ll wait till the big show in the sky!

Godspeed Jay…rest easy.

Angie Heaton


In time I will miss his music. Today I miss him.

Jay was a genius and quite likely the greatest guitarist of our generation. He was definitely the most talented and amazing guitarist I have ever seen (and I am to this day stunned he took it upon himself to allow my rudimentary talents to intertwine with his brilliance for the year-and-a-half or so we lived and played together). I honestly believe Titanic Love Affair’s “No Charisma” and Steve Pride & His Blood Kin’s “Pride on Pride” are every bit as remarkable as anything he did with Wilco.

I miss him and his stupid habit for crapping everything up with his ketchup packets, cigarette butts and those awful, stinky turtles. I miss his crooked, gatemouth smile and cracking-voice cackle. I miss his habit of hugging everybody. Hell, I even miss carrying his damn amp for him all the time right now.

In recent months Jay had gone on occasional jags of emailing me intensely. He told me he thought the year we played with Steve may very well have been the most purely joyous time of making music he had ever had. He reminisced about our penchant for rehearsing for hours and hours several days a week and how the camaraderie we shared filled him with contentment. He even spoke of wanting to look to reuniting the band some day for some shows.

He also queried as to my lot in life, the dynamic I had with my ex-wife and what my life was like with my children. He was warm and funny and I knew at some point he would retreat to his lair and I might never hear from him again.

A few weeks ago my son, Will, and I were dropping of Mike Rader at his home – in the same Buena Vista Court group of housing in which Jay resided – after an Illini baseball game and we say Jay pulling out. Jay did not seem to recognize us, however, Will (who has a picture of himself as an infant being held by a grinning, disheveled Bennett) got a good look at him. When we walked into our house Will spoke not of the game or his day, but immediately gushed in a star-struck tone rarely heard from a 12-year-old who just saw one of his father’s friends, “We saw Jay Bennett!”

I am grateful Lars, Ken, Mike and Leroy were here with us yesterday. I wonder if years from now those who were hear sharing food and drink and stories and tears will think back at how the sun-drenched day was briefly interrupted by a shower once all had arrived.

Godspeed, my friend.

— Don Gerard, reprinted with permission from Greedy Love


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