Jay Bennett hadn't played with Wilco in some time, but his influence lived on in the band's greatest hits.
The multitalented musician, who was a creative force with the Chicago-based alt-rockers from 1994 to 2001, died in his sleep Sunday night at his home in Urbana, Ill. He was 45.
Friend and collaborator Edward Burch told the Chicago Sun-Times that an autopsy will be performed to determine cause of death.
Bennett's record label, Undertow Music Collective, confirmed his passing on its website. "We are profoundly saddened to report that our friend died in his sleep last night," read the statement. "Jay was a beautiful human being who will be missed."
Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy released this statement from Spain, where Wilco is currently touring:
"We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him—as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band's songs and evolution. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time."
Bennett had sued Tweedy, claiming he was owed years of back royalties, earlier this month.
"Creative differences" were cited as the reason behind Bennett's departure from Wilco in 2001 after seven years of playing keyboard and guitar with the Chicago-based alt-rockers. He recorded five albums with the group, including Mermaid Avenue, which received a Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy Nod in 1999, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth.
Financial conflicts between Bennett and the group are well documented. A 2002 lawsuit was also brought against Wilco after claims that Bennett didn't receive his proper payout from the Sam Jones-directed documentary on the band, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco, which chronicled the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Prior to joining Wilco, Bennett was a founding member of Titanic Love Affair, and after his time with Wilco he cut four solo albums for Undertow Music and was working on a fifth. He also produced a 2008 album for Blues Traveler and spent time as a studio session musician with, among others, Sheryl Crow and Billy Joe Shaver.
When Bennett filed suit against Tweedy earlier this month, the musician took to his MySpace page to address his sudden financial needs, discussing an upcoming hip-replacement surgery and the months of therapy that would reportedly follow.
"I have been saving as much money as possible ever since I made this new commitment to my health, my future, and my quality of life," he wrote.