Asleep at the Wheel
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Asleep at the Wheel

Austin, Texas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | INDIE | AFM

Austin, Texas, United States | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 2015
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Asleep at the Wheel has always worn its affinity for Bob Wills proudly, but never more so than on its upcoming album. Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (out March 3rd on Bismeaux Records) is the venerable Texas swing band's third salute to the late great King of Western swing, following 1993's Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and 1999's A Ride With Bob.

Weighing in at 22 tracks, Still the King includes Wills signatures such as "Trouble in Mind," "Time Changes Everything" and "Faded Love." Like the Wheel's earlier Wills tributes, it boasts a flashy cameo guest list. There are rising stars from the Americana universe — the Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Pokey LaFarge and Kat Edmonson among them — plus longtime fellow travelers like Willie Nelson, George Strait, Jamey Johnson, Brad Paisley, Merle Haggard, Buddy Miller, Vince Gill's Time Jumpers and even a few surviving Texas Playboys in vocalist Leon Rausch and sax man Billy Briggs.

"Billy Briggs is 92 and still plays great as ever," Wheel founder/leader Ray Benson tells Rolling Stone Country. "This album is just me trying to get younger and older Bob Wills aficionados together. Every time we put one of these out, I always say it's the last one. But I shouldn't say that because it's not like this music ever died. Regardless of what radio says, the Number One male country singer in America right now is George Strait and he plays this music. It's like if Beyoncé were singing Bessie Smith — which she oughta."

Highlights on Still the King include Lyle Lovett's bluesy take on "Trouble in Mind"; the late-night salon vibe of Time Jumpers' "Faded Love"; Old Crow Medicine Show's breakneck "Tiger Rag"; and Robert Earl Keen's loopy "Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas," a song he was truly born to sing. North Carolina's Avett Brothers also score with "The Girl I Left Behind Me," making Wills sound as if he might have been the father of Appalachian freak folk as well as Western swing.

"We get asked to do a lot of things we can't make happen, but I was not gonna let us miss this one," says Scott Avett. "'Girl I Left Behind Me' was a song we'd already been doing when we were out with Old Crow Medicine Show, so it sort of picked us in a way. Ray has an interesting take on it all. He's been in the know about roots music since the Seventies, when Asleep at the Wheel was starting out and Ray was the kid doing his new version of old things. It seems like he's got the same bright-eyed perspective he had in 1972."

Beyond Still the King, Benson has another giant of Texas music in mind for his next project: a tribute to the great bluesman T-Bone Walker. He already has a bunch of old Walker tapes to work with, provided by Steve "The Joker" Miller (whose father was Walker's physician in Dallas).

"I see it being a Nat King Cole-Natalie Cole 'Unforgettable' kind of thing with every great contemporary rock and blues guitarist," Benson says. "Steve, Billy Gibbons, Jimmie Vaughan, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Duke Robillard. Anybody who's into it, I'll welcome 'em in. Give me a couple of years and I'll make that happen." - Rolling Stone - by David Menconi


By THOR CHRISTENSEN

Asleep at the Wheel has been around so long --- 43 years, to be exact – it’s hard to remember just how strange the band once seemed.

In Then and Now – a short documentary film that premiered Friday at the Eisemann Center before the group performed – fiddler Johnny Gimble of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys is asked his first impression of the Wheel after meeting them in the early 1970s.

“They needed a bath,” he says with a grin bordering on a sneer.

Country’s old guard gave the stink eye to all young longhairs who dared to play country music in the Age of Aquarius. But even the hippies weren’t too sure about Asleep at the Wheel.

The turning point in Then in Now arrives in 1974, when the band moves from San Fran to Austin after Willie Nelson assures them Texans will embrace their traditional country music better than the California hippies did. As usual, Willie was right.

The Wheel went on to win nine Grammys and become “the national band of Texas,” to quote group member Elizabeth McQueen in the film. Their concert Friday showed why. Instead of trying to rejigger Western swing, they simply let it be and allow their impeccable musicianship to shine.

Ray Benson led the band with his booming baritone and fast, bluesy electric guitar. Vocalist McQueen added a sweet torch-song touch to Wills’ classics “Sugar Moon” and “I Wonder if You Feel the Way I Do.” And Eddie Rivers put the bloom back in “San Antonio Rose” with a particularly saucy pedal steel solo.

But the surprise star of the show was guest sax player Billy Briggs, who made his name in the 1950s with Willis. At age 90, he can still breathe fire, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation for his soul-stirring solos in “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and “Take Me Back to Tulsa.”

Benson – the only original Wheeler after dozens of lineup changes – joked that he hired a stunt actor to play the skinny, long-haired version of himself in the film. While the hair’s long gone and the paunch has grown, the 61-year-old Benson was the same spirited performer he’s always been – juggling balls, tongue-twisting up a storm and wind-milling at his guitar Pete Townshend-style at the end of “Hot Rod Lincoln.” The Wheel may be getting old, but as it reminded fans Friday night, it just keeps rollin’ along with a steady eye and a keen sense of swing. - The Dallas Morning News


"Bright, playful and exploding with verve, 'Willie and the Wheel' is one of the first great albums of 2009." - The Washington Post

"One of the finest albums ever recorded." - Austin Music City

"Record of the year material" - Midwest Record

"...flawless musicianship and brilliant arrangements..." - The News & Observer

"You couldn't make this story up if you wanted to" - Ray Benson

"...pure musical joy..." - CMT

"The set is so authentic that one almost feels guilty listening to it on modern speakers instead of seated around the old Victrola." - Billboard

"Grade A" - Philadelphia Daily News

"With titles like 'Shame On You' and 'Sweet Jennie Lee,' the songs came from the canon of Western Swing, a style born around the same time as Mr. Nelson in Texas -- and one that, in uncertain times, may have a new relevance." - The Wall Street Journal

"I haven't heard a more exhilarating, body-celebrating album this year." - Offbeat Magazine

"Years from now, when exploring either artist’s catalog, WATW will stand out as the crown jewel in the latter stages of their careers." - San Diego CityBeat

"'This is the best year ever,' Benson said by phone last week from New Jersey. 'We’re here on the road with Willie Nelson, going on tour.' Best year ever, that’s major for Benson’s Asleep at the Wheel. Since forming in 1972, the Western swing band has won nine Grammy Awards. Despite all the Wheel’s Grammy-winning albums, this one rises above." - The Herald Courier

"Both Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel are in prime form on this magnificent effort." - Nashville City Paper

"This is the kind of record that makes people want to become real musicians in a way that today’s music doesn’t. Five Stars." - The 9513

"Asleep at the Wheel's take on Western swing should be especially interesting to fans of early 20th-century American popular music. Their fidelity to the source material means that traces of jazz swing, ragtime and Dixieland are preserved as if in amber, sounding much as they did in the '30s and '40s." - Washington Times

"Music doesn't get any more fun than this. It's the first must-have album of the year." 30 Days Out

"Willie And The Wheel celebrates a kindred-spirit teaming of Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel that brings out the best in both. It's also a revelation, as horns add a Dixieland feel to some of the arrangements, bringing the music closer to New Orleans than Texas." - No Depression

"This is string-heavy, boot-tapping stuff, music that was once a fixture of dance halls in Tulsa, Fort Worth, and elsewhere. No, western swing certainly ain’t dead, as Asleep at the Wheel likes to remind us. In fact, it sounds as lively as ever." - Garden and Gun

"Superb vocals and excellent instrumental backing." - Roughstock

"Nelson's easygoing tenor sounds smoother than ever with by the band's barbershop-quartet-style backing on songs like the opening "Hesitation Blues" and "Corrine Corrina," and when they're not coming together in high harmony, gentle violin swoops and washing pedal steel keep things bucking and shuffling." - Galesburg Register-Mail

"It's hard to listen to the album and not have a smile on your face." - Listen.com

"Four and a Half Stars" - Montreal Gazette

"The album is strong across the board, prompting listeners to tap their toes and sing along with the parts they know. For fans of Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel or simply traditional country and western, Willie and the Wheel is worth a spin. A-" - Greencastle Banner-Graphic

"...as comfortable and welcoming as a familiar old leather jacket." - All Music Guide

"The tracks on Willie and The Wheel swing like crazy as Nelson croons over the urgent, jazzy tempos, blazing fiddles, tinkling piano and ever-present steel guitar." - High Country Press

"Asleep at the Wheel has sparked an amazing album of sexy, old-time ragtime tunes, rethought with Texas Swing and New Orleans jazz flavors." - Philadelphia Daily News

"Nelson is obviously in his element and having a ball." - Houston Press

"A marriage made in Heaven." - The Time Union

"Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel delivers an awesome selection of timeless western swing hits that will stand the test of time. Each song paints a picture that will take you to a place and time that has practically become extinct. Five Stars" - About.com

"If you really don't know what you're missing in the Western Swing arena, then this is a great introduction. The sound is accessible and tight, friendly and joyful. Bob Wills is still the king, but Willie And The Wheel brings it all into the 21st century with a keen edge that would make the king proud." - Hybrid Magazine - Various


It's easy to take a band like Asleep at the Wheel for granted.

After all, the group is a fixture on North Texas stages, often playing a set that rarely strays from familiar contours (not unlike another famous Texan, one Willie Nelson).

But again and again Friday, during the opening night of the 21st annual Concerts in the Garden series (another local institution easy to take for granted), one was reminded of how deeply Ray Benson and his bandmates are embedded in the Lone Star State's DNA.

Like a defiant splash of bluebonnets or a cold Shiner Bock on a hot, humid day, the gentle, timeless sounds of Western swing are immediately, proudly Texan. (Not for nothing did the Legislature decree the genre this year to be the official state music.) The durable songs, in a nearly two-hour set, floated easily on the almost-but-not-quite-yet stifling breezes in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.

This is Asleep at the Wheel's 41st year in the music business, a staggering landmark that's scarcely evident in the Grammy-winning band's lively presentation and stage presence. "It's amazing how well some of the fellas have held up," Benson deadpanned.

Despite the absence of vocalist/fiddler Elizabeth McQueen (she' on maternity leave), the Benson-led sextet delivered its trademark blend of originals, covers and near-ceaseless tributes to Bob Wills (although a few tips o' the Stetson were sneaked to Fort Worth's Milton Brown, whom many consider the real godfather of Western swing).

The sizable crowd, armed with lovers, coolers, grandchildren and smiles, was a bit subdued -- unimpressed by the meager cheers, Benson had to ask for a larger response before launching into Big Balls in Cowtown -- but whether people were seated or swing dancing, the mood was perfectly pleasant.

Summer has sneaked up on us once more, bringing with it aggravating insects, dreadful heat and endless dry days. But for a moment Friday, it was staved off just a little longer. One of the state's genuine musical treasures, visiting our neck of the woods once more and playing songs that have endured since the days of W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, made everything feel just right. It was good to be home. - Fort Worth Star-Telegram


With his band Asleep at the Wheel, Ray Benson has seen miles and miles of Texas — and pretty much the rest of the U.S. — spreading the gospel of Bob Wills and Texas Swing. Beginning in West Virginia in 1970, Asleep at the Wheel spent a couple of years in the San Francisco Bay Area before setting up shop in Austin in 1973. Tonight (Nov. 5), Benson and the 2010 version of the Wheel will gather on the stage of Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate their 40th anniversary with two dozen or so alumni and friends such as Leon Rausch of the Texas Playboys and Willie Nelson. We caught up with Benson a week ago as the Wheel was rolling from Cody, Wyo., to Wichita, Kan., for a Friday night show, and then on home to get ready for the concert. Here's some of our conversation with Ray.

What persuaded you to move from California to Texas?
I met Willie Nelson and Doug Sahmand they suggested we move to Texas. After we played the Armadillo World Headquarters, it became pretty obvious that we should. We playedLiberty Hall in Houston, Mother Bluesin Dallas and the Armadillo in Austin. The telling thing was when we went to San Antonio and we played a hippie club called the Scotchmans Club and then the Farmers Daughter, which was a redneck dance hall with a picture of Bob Wills behind the stage. It became obvious to us that we were the only band that could play hippie joints one night and then go play a redneck dance hall, and do well in both. ... The whole Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Commander Codycrossover redneck and hippiedom kind of fit us perfectly.

Did you ever get any grief in the joints you played? Did you ever have to fight your way out?
Oh, hell yeah. In West Virginia we did. I think the difference between us and the other hippies was — hey, I'm 6-foot-7. ... We believe in peace and love and everything but not if it meant getting our ass kicked. ... (Not too long ago,) at a trail ride kind of deal somebody got very offended that I was born a Yankee.

What is your worst experience on stage that you can laugh about today?
How much time you got? I don't get nervous going on stage because everything has happened to me. I've walked onstage with my fly wide open. I walked onstage and had my nose start bleeding. I threw up on stage and had to swallow it. That's the worst thing that's ever happened. And you know the show must go on. It's one of those sacred things you do. I've been sick as a dog and gone onstage because what are you going to do? Tell people I'm sick? No. We don't believe in that. I've missed three or four dates in 40 years. Sometimes you have what I call Tourette's moments. Sometimes things come out of your mouth and you can't believe what you said. You had no intention of saying it. You don't know how your lips formed the f-word. You didn't do it intentionally.

The best experience?
The best moment? I'll tell you what it was. The day after 9/11. We were supposed to play at the White House on 9/11. Laura Bush had asked us to come play at a Texas barbecue on the South Lawn. We obviously didn't play. The next day we were at the North Carolina State Fair. We had a bus so we could drive out of D.C. So we drove down. We asked if we were still playing. The lady said, "Yeah. I don't see any reason not to. We won't have the crowd that we normally have." But we certainly didn't want something like that to stop one of our traditions, state fairs. So I think about what the hell am I going to do, you know. This is a very solemn moment. We walk on stage and I just said: "We all know the tragic events of the day before but we're not going to let something like this stop our American way of life." And we went right into America the Beautiful. It really was the most emotional moment I've ever had on stage. It was such a strange day to be playing music.

You seem to be on the road all the time. I read that you retired a bus with 3 million miles on it in 1997.
That was the old bus. We've gotten three since then. We're on our sixth. We do about 100,000 miles a year average, not including air miles. We do about 150 shows, 180-200 days on the road. You look at Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan, we're no big deal. That's just the way it is. If you love playing, you've got to do it on the road.

When you're on the road, what do you do to keep from getting too bored? What do you do on the bus? Do you play tourist?
Now that we have satellite TV on the bus, and Internet, it's a whole different world. We used to play poker and card games and backgammon. Off the bus, we go play golf, sight-see, watch movies, kill time. We've been to Wichita so many times. What's there to see in Wichita? Well, there's the um ... the um ... well they've got the aeronautics thing here. ... Cody, Wyo., was really cool. We went to the old bar that Buffalo Bill Cody built in 1902. It's got this bar that the queen of England gave him. So, yeah, we like to catch the local flavor if we can. In the early days, we used to - The Houston Chronicle


Asleep At The Wheel was anything but Saturday night at Atwood Concert Hall. With nine Grammys under the Austin group's belt, these country swing musicians put the yee-haw into a night of Texas-style big-band music.

This was Texas swing with jazz, blues and honky-tonk going along with its cowboy twang. Co-founded by Ray Benson -- on guitar and vocals Saturday night -- the group's sound evolved from the music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys who owned the Texas swing style from the 1930s to the 1960s.
The band relied on old western swing standards with Asleep's updated twist, like "Don't Fence Me In," "Happy Trails To You," and Wills' favorites "Take Me Back To Tulsa" and "Miles and Miles of Texas" for the program.

You know a band's good when you have to restrain yourself from dancing in the aisles to a tune that's 65 years old. And you also have to give the band chops for playing non-stop for almost two hours and looking like they could go another two.

Benson's baritone was like silk and took center stage most of the evening. But Jason Roberts' higher vocals complemented him wonderfully. Add in singer Elizabeth McQueen's sweetly rough sounds and you had a vocal section that melted your heart and set your feet tapping.

Benson got "Route 66" off to a jumpin' start with a growling melody that challenged the other musicians "to get your kicks," which they did in fine form. In Wills' "Faded Love," Roberts and McQueen leaned back to howl out this country love song while Benson came in soft and low behind them.

The group dipped into contemporary mixtures of boogie, jazz and the blues to fashion sounds that definitely had more than Texas in their chords and notes. "Sweet Jennie Lee," for example, is on the band's latest album featuring Willie Nelson. Fiddler and singer Jason Roberts wrote "Am I Right Or Amarillo," and the band recorded Wills' "A Big Ball's In Cowtown" with George Strait.

If the singing was sweet as Texas water, the instrumental music was just as clean. And as much as I liked Benson, McQueen and Roberts' singing, Eddie Rivers on steel guitar and John Michael Whitby on piano stole a piece of my heart. Rivers' steel guitar was classic western swing music. Its whining twang and slithering notes put the Texas in songs like "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine" and "Sweet Jennie Lee." Equally, Whitby put the boogie in "Good Bye Lisa Jane" and the aptly named "Bump Bounce Boogie," which had the group leaping like fools.

Here's the secret to Asleep At The Wheel's success all these years. You don't have to be a ten-gallon hat-wearing Texan to swing with the group. You can be an Alaskan cowboy wanna-be and still get a kick in the pants from this wildly popular band.

Anne Herman holds a master's degree in dance and has been a consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts.
- Anchorage Daily News


In the first of two area shows, the nine time Grammy Award winning band Asleep At The Wheel performed last night at Rams Head On-Stage, a restaurant and intimate night club in historic Annapolis. The band will play the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia this evening.Ray Benson

The band kicked off a lively and highly entertaining twenty two song set with the once obscure yet fitting “Miles and Miles of Texas”. This particular tune tells the tale of a young cow poke that “crossed that ‘ol Red River” only to fall deeply in love with all things Texas. The song’s composer may well have been describing the band’s founder, front man, and 6’ 7” funny man Ray Benson himself. Benson migrated to Texas nearly forty years ago from Philadelphia, by way of West Virginia; only to fall hard for the Lone Star State and the music of Bob Wills and western swing. In nearly forty years since, Asleep At The Wheel has carved out an impressive artistic niche.

Benson casually led the group through some wonderful interpretations of songs like the boogie woogie classic Route 66, the Texas fiddle breakdown “Ride With Bob”, the aching and familiar “Faded Love”, and several songs from the bands’ most recent album “Willie And The Wheel” including “Hesitation Blues”, “Oh, You Pretty Woman” and “ I am Sittin On Top Of The World”.

Like Bob Wills, Benson and the band borrow their stylings from a variety of influences including jazz great Fats Waller, gypsy swing guitar savant Django Reinhardt, and even cowboy crooner Gene Autry on “Don’t Fence Me In”. What makes Benson and Asleep At The Wheel’s interpretations so fine and well received are deceptively complex arrangements delivered seamlessly, and with little apparent effort. The icing on this multi-layered musical cake were strong two, three and four part vocal harmonies laced through “Faded Love”, “Cherokee Maiden”, and “Sugar Moon” among others throughout the set.

Although the bands’ alumni now numbers over eighty, Benson is blessed with a current line-up featuring fiddle champ and tenor vocalist Jason Roberts, the sunny Elizabeth McQueen from nearby Columbia and U. of Md. on vocals and rhythm guitar, and young Dan Walton on boogie woogie piano. Rounding out the personnel are Eddie Rivers on pedal steel guitar, David Miller on the Swiss Army bass, and David Sanger on drums. McQueen and Sanger are married and welcomed their first child, a baby girl named Lisel born in December of 2008. Jason Robers and Elizabeth McQueen perform at Rams Head On-Stage 3-10-10.

The night’s only glitche were some popping sounds heard about half way through the evening that sent the tech crew scrambling. Walton’s piano had blown, effectively ending his contribution until the very end of the show. Taking it all in stride, Benson simply added yet another quip “Gee, now I actually have some room to move around” bringing yet another laugh from the enthusiastic, sell-out crowd. - DC Examiner


Asleep at the Wheel's shows make one wonder if the band's name is something of a misnomer.

It certainly was at a recent show in Falls Church, Va., when it seemed that at least a quarter of the audience was out of their seats and dancing in the aisles as the band played some of its classics tunes, including 'Am I Right (or Amarillo),' 'I'm an Old Cow Hand' and 'Sweet Jennie Lee,' a song made famous by Willie Nelson.

"I'm just blessed to have this long run and be able to play music my whole life," leader Ray Benson told The Boot just prior to the concert. "You can blame it all on Willie."
Fair enough. Willie became one of the band's biggest fan when he first heard their brand of western swing mixed with jazz 40-plus years ago. His rave reviews plus Van Morrison's high praise of Asleep at the Wheel to a Rolling Stone writer, launched the band's career that, even now, continues to build steam.

In addition to Asleep at the Wheel's well-received theatrical production of 'A Ride With Bob,' which may soon hit Broadway, they've again joined Willie in the recording studio. A new album, 'Willie & The Wheel II,' is due for release in May. Add to that constant tours and special events -- such as Ray's Broadway debut November 16 in the production of 'Million Dollar Quartet' -- and you can see this band still kicks up quite a storm.

Even though Ray temporarily lost his voice on top of spending most of the morning at an area hospital owing to a freshly sprained hand, he joined the band on stage and even gamely picked out a few notes on a guitar at one point.

"As you can see, I got in a fight with the floor this evening," Ray joked with the crowd as he greeted them, tipping his hat and gesturing to his band. "These folks will take care of you. I'm going to sing a little bit and then go back and rest my hand."

Although the band boasts more than 80 former members, its current lineup is clearly up to any task set before it. The band -- including fiddler/vocalist Jason Roberts and guitarist/vocalist Elizabeth McQueen -- kept the arrangements tight and the mood swinging.

But as the band moved through more hits including 'Take Me Back to Tulsa,' and 'Miles and Miles of Texas,' Ray still didn't leave the stage, singing, dancing and chatting with the audience much as he likely did years ago when the songs were brand new.

Of course, things have changed dramatically since the nine-time Grammy Award winning band formed. Prior to the show, Ray reflected on country music's focus on country pop that often leaves bluegrass, classic country, western swing, and other variations out in the cold. Not that he isn't a fan of more contemporary artists -- his bus is littered with CDs including those of Gretchen Wilson, and he offers high praise for her and other performers -- but he thinks fans crave more variety.

"Johnny Cash said he had the good fortune to be a simple player," says Ray, likening Asleep at the Wheel's sound to that of the Man in Black. "Audiences like the simple sounds."

By the enthusiastic response of the capacity audience that came to see Asleep at the Wheel, Johnny was likely right. - The Boot


Asleep at the Wheel played their smooth and classy western swing at the Egg’s Hart Theater Friday night. Ray Benson, who founded the group 41 years ago, sang, played and entertained as well as he ever has, backed by a younger but experienced group.

Western swing, at least their version, is a Texas-grounded sound that crosses often into old jazz standards, jazz swing, and light country music with positive, g-rated lyrics. While the lyrics can offer some Texas-boasting, the music is humble. He played early “Miles and Miles of Texas,” then moved to “Don’t Fence Me In,” into a boogie-woogie of “Kicks on Route 66.” Regardless of pace, the energy stayed steady and smooth, somewhere between knee-slapping and foot tappin’.

Eddie Rivers’ solo on steel guitar always raised eyebrows, as did the fiddling of Jason Roberts. Benson probably took the best solos, tossing us some blues, Django Reinhardt jazz, and country. They played an upbeat “It’s a Good Day,” title track from their latest release, each member taking a quick round of jazzy, unflashy solos. Then came the first mention of Bob Wills, with the Waylon Jennings tune, “Bob Wills Is Still the King.”

Elizabeth McQueen sang a beautiful song about being an old cowgirl that moved more like an old jazz standard than a country tune. She sang mostly backup all night, and it would have been nice to hear her a little more alone, but that would mean less of Benson. Can’t have it all.Benson talked a bit about Western-swing founder Bob Wills. He played his tune “Roly Poly,” which started with a jazz piano solo from Walton and grew into a big-band feel that swelled on its own without a horn section.

He played “Hesitation Blues” from his “Willie and the Wheel” album, which he did a few years ago with Willie Nelson. Benson followed with a story about the play he wrote and performs in Texas about Bob Wills. They sang a song from that play, “Sittin on Top O the World,” which he also recorded on the Willie Nelson album. Benson and McQueen sang the duet, trading verses, trading banter, and singing against each other, her blues coming through more than her country, a nice complement to Benson’s mellow western approach.

During “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens,”guitarist Rivers blew a raspy and harmless sax solo for the fun of it. Benson went off on the value of chickens — “man’s best friend, breakfast, unch and dinner” — playing around with the Egg venue name.

He followed with the prettiest song of the night, “What a Wonderful World,” Benson and McQueen trading verses and then joining on harmonies for the chorus. Benson took a gentle guitar solo, as did Roberts on fiddle. It was all beautifully done. For an encore they played a lush, drowsy version of “Happy Trails,” relaxing further the vibe of the room, before hustling into a smooth boogie woogie of “The Texas Playboys Radio Hour.”

At most their music was great fun, and at least their music was smooth and enjoyable. For those northeasterners who generally don’t like all things from Texas, Asleep at the Wheel is something you can embrace without any effort.
- The Egg


Home in Texas - flew in from NY midday. Got on my boots, jeans, work shirt and jeans jacket. Tonight I'm at a concert of legendary Texas band "Asleep at the Wheel" in Austin. When it comes to Texas music, outside of Willie (Nelson), it doesn't get any bigger or better than "Asleep at the Wheel."
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/epr67c

What the New York Philharmonic is to Gotham, "Asleep at the Wheel" (@AATW1969) is to Texas. Don't jump to conclusions. Texas has a lot of world-class classical music and big audiences for it. For example, The Houston Symphony and the Ft.Worth Opera, to name just two. Austin's own Symphony is very good itself. And the University of Texas has one of the best music departments, with all kinds of first rate music groups, anywhere. It's just that we get a rich mix in Texas and we don't forget our past and our roots.

Part of what makes "Asleep at the Wheel" a quintessential Texas band is that it has always had great fiddlers - if it doesn't have a fiddle it's not a Texas band. The one last night was excellent (part of what made their rendition of the old standard "Faded Love" among their best numbers.) I Had never heard "Little Drummer Boy" played on guitar until last night. The opening solo act did it beautifully, hauntingly. The concert was in the old "Paramount" theater, a downtown Austin landmark. And what a beauty it is - fantastic detailed artistry inside, including a glorious ceiling. They don't make theaters like this anymore. Multiplex theaters in the mall are handy, accessible and all that, but the "Paramount" they aren't.
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/eq5igr
- @DanRatherReport


Led by guitar-slinging troubadour Ray Benson, western swing kingpins Asleep at the Wheel have been churning out their spirited mix of country, bluegrass, swing, jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll for more than 40 years now.
The line-up has changed considerably over the years, but the sound remains the same, anchored solidly by Texas tunesmith Benson’s deep and easy-on-the-ears voice. Their fan base is huge and spread out from coast to coast and includes Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Vince Gill, the Dixie Chicks, Merle Haggard and so many more among them.
Two years ago when Asleep at the Wheel last passed through the area, they were playing the Palace Theatre with a bigger band that included horns. This time out they were stripped down to a seven-piece outfit with no horns, and they were playing in the smaller, more intimate, Swyer Theatre at The Egg.
No matter, blame it on economics or a thousand other things why fewer folks showed up, but don’t blame the music: it jumped, did cartwheels and sounded oh-so-good, as it always does whenever Benson and the Wheel roll into town.
With a gut-bucket full of originals and well-chosen covers, Asleep at the Wheel transformed the theatre into a Texas roadhouse, a Chicago jazz club or “Austin City Limits,” depending on the tune.
Dan Walton’s piano jazz licks exchanged solos with Eddie River’s marvelous pedal steel guitar lines, while Benson added just the right guitar accents to create a space for Jason Roberts’ fiery fiddle runs. Guitarist Elizabeth McQueen, bassist David Miller and drummer David Sanger nailed down the rhythm and kept hammering it to keep it tight and right on cue.
Out in the audience, feet were tapping out the rhythms right along with the band, and the waves of applause kept coming all night. The hard-touring band has been at it for more than four decades, and Asleep at the Wheel just keeps rolling along and delighting crowds, one town after another. - Nippertown


Given the tight, select world of Texas swing, it's surprising that Ray Benson's prolific Wheelers had never recorded with Rausch, who joined Bob Wills' Texas Playboys as a vocalist in 1958. Rausch is credited with arranging the Wheel's signature song, Get Your Kicks (on Route 66), reprised here, and still possesses a sturdy voice at 83. He gets impeccable support from his hosts, and from Willie Nelson, who does a workmanlike turn on Truck Driver's Blues.— Jerry Shriver - USA Today


It’s startling to reflect on the fact that Austin’s Asleep at the Wheel, the modern standard-bearers of the native branch of country music known as Western swing, has been a going concern longer than the form’s most famous innovators, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.??But nonetheless, it’s true. The Wheel, a shifting cast of characters under the long shadow cast by towering frontman Ray Benson, began as a group of Berkeley hippies who moved to Austin in 1974 where they discovered some surviving members of the Playboys, most notably fiddlers Jesse Ashlock and Johnny Gimble, still holding forth in local honky-tonks like the Broken Spoke.??Since then, the two bands have been joined at the hip, spiritually and musically. The Wheel and the Playboys shared an episode during the first season of “Austin City Limits” and many other stages before and since. The Wheel recorded two tribute albums of Bob Wills music, and Benson co-wrote and starred in a play, “A Ride With Bob.” As time and circumstance whittled the cast of Texas Playboys down, the Wheel assumed the role of keepers of the flame of Western swing. Nobody does it better (though Merle Haggard and George Strait come close).??So it’s not only natural, it’s probably inevitable that the band should team up with one of the Playboys’ last and greatest vocalists, Leon Rausch. Similar in spirit to last year’s Willie and the Wheel, the latest effort sees the band putting its guest in a familiar setting and letting him rip.??Rausch joined the Texas Playboys in 1958, relatively late in the day for the band whose heyday was in the 1930s and ’40s. But songs like “It’s A Good Day,” “Basin Street Blues” and “Sugar Moon” are encoded in his DNA, which lends this product a natural, effortless feel.??Rausch drops his voice to a playful, Satchmo-like growl for “Alright, Okay, You Win” and duets playfully with Benson and Wheel vocalist Elizabeth McQueen on other tunes. Willie Nelson makes a cameo with Rausch on “Truck Driver Blues,” and the latter sounds like a natural member of the band on the Wheel’s reinvented classic, “Get Your Kicks (On Route 66).” Rausch also offers up an elastic, heartfelt blues vocal on Wills’ “Cotton Patch Blues.” Only the slightly mechanical rendition of Cindy Walker’s sentimental “Sugar Moon” gives the track a forced, contrived feeling.??Otherwise, this is an upbeat, tip-of-the-Stetson salute from one era of innovators to the next. But the effort begs the question: Now that Ray Benson and Asleep At the Wheel are the de facto elder statesmen of Western swing, where are the hot young next-generation musicians looking up to them? - Austin American-Statesman


The musicianship is stellar, with horns, fiddle, guitars, drums, piano, mandolin and upright bass expertly produced by the Wheel's unflappable leader, Ray Benson. Leon Rausch, 82, who sang with Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, remains in fine crooning voice. He's particularly smooth on "Snap Your Fingers." Willie Nelson guests on "Truck Driver's Blues," Wheel members Elizabeth McQueen and Jason Roberts tear up the microphone singing and picking, and then the entire gang rips through the Western swing scorcher "Osage Stomp." What's not to like? Here's further proof that down in Austin, Benson keeps Wills' legacy spit-polished. - Dallas Morning News


“Hiring Asleep at the Wheel to be your backup band might seem like paying Picasso to paint your kitchen.” Las Vegas Sun, March 7, 2007

“Clever lyrics, speed-demon picking, and lightness of spirit characterize great Western Swing, and Asleep at the Wheel – a phenomenon since the ‘70s - is one of America’s most gifted purveyors of the genre. “…this traditional, refreshing and someime surpristin CD would leave the most hardened Brooklyn Boy bopping in the seat of his Escalade.”
Chelsea Now, February 16-22, 2007

“…on the aptly titled Reinventing the Wheel the group reclaims its multi-pronged, three-vocalist approach, with Elizabeth McQueen and fiddle prodigy Jason Roberts getting almost as much face time as [Ray] Benson. This Wheel is still rolling strong.”
Vintage Guitar, June 2007
- Various


by DOUG FREEMAN

Asleep at the Wheel
Reinventing the Wheel (Bismeaux)

While it may not be reinventing their signature style, Asleep at the Wheel's first album of new material in almost a decade does swing full circle by returning to their early formation of tri-shared lead vocals. Ray Benson's comfortable drawl finds appropriate complements in Jason Roberts' countrified twang and Elizabeth McQueen's saucy jazz verve, the three encompassing the typically broad extension of the group's Texas swing roots, though the vocal trio unfortunately only unites behind 1999 Ride With Bob holdover "Misery." The Blind Boys of Alabama add an exuberantly haphazard call-and-response chorus to opener "The Devil Ain't Lazy" before Benson kicks into the jive-jumping blues of Mose Allison's "Your Mind Is on Vacation." Roberts' original "Am I Right (or Amarillo)" gives the clever adage a honky-tonk spin, his fiddle rollicking alongside Eddie Rivers' steel guitar, while McQueen reworks "I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)" with a debutante's cheeky aloofness. Closing with Guy Clark's "The Cape" lends Reinventing the Wheel its greatest divergence simply for the song's fairly straightforward rendering, though Benson's seasoned voice adds a touching and sincere nostalgia to the band's usual freewheeling antics. - Austin Chronicle


It’s a match made in Western Swing heaven as Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel team up with famed Texas Playboy vocalist Leon Rausch for a new feature length CD entitled It’s a Good Day due in stores and online July 20, 2010.

Following on the heels of the GRAMMY-nominated 2009 release Willie and the Wheel, Benson knew the time was right, “I have known Leon Rausch for over 38 years and I finally got to do the recording I have dreamed of for so long. He also is responsible for the Wheel’s version of ‘Get Your Kicks (on Route 66),’ still our most popular song, when back in the mid-70s he suggested to Floyd Domino we take the venerable standard and put our signature boogie-woogie beat to the song.” For his part, Rausch loved recording with Asleep at the Wheel, “They’re all good musicians and good people. I just love this band and so we tried to capture a little of that on record and see what happens.”

Additional tracks include “Truck Driver’s Blues” a Cliff Bruner song which Rausch performs as a duet with Willie Nelson, “Alright, Okay, You Win” a Joe Williams / Count Basie gem that Rausch has some fun trading with Asleep at the Wheel’s Elizabeth McQueen, and the title track “It’s a Good Day” takes a Peggy Lee classic on a swinging ride through Texas.

To celebrate the CD launch, Mr. Rausch will be appearing with Asleep at the Wheel on “A Ride With Bob: The Bob Wills Musical” at Dallas/Richardson’s Eisemann Center with five performance between July 15-18, 2010.

TRACK LISTING:
1) It’s a Good Day (feat. Jason Roberts and Ray Benson)
2) Truck Driver’s Blues (feat. Willie Nelson)
3) Alright, Okay, You Win (feat. Elizabeth McQueen)
4) Rosetta
5) Basin Street Blues (feat. Ray Benson)
6) I Didn’t Realize
7) Mean Woman With The Green Eyes
8) Sugar Moon
9) Cotton Patch Blues
10) Snap Your Fingers
11) Get Your Kicks (on Route 66) (feat. Ray Benson, Jason Roberts, Elizabeth McQueen)
12) Osage Stomp (feat. Jason Roberts, Eddie Rivers, Ray Benson, Dan Walton, Jim Cullum, Jonathan Doyle, Randy Zimmerman)

About Leon Rausch:
Originally from Missouri, Leon Rausch got his start in the mid 1950s in Tulsa, and had early success with a performance on the Louisiana Hayride. By 1958, he was tapped by the great Bob Wills for vocal duties in the Texas Playboys, a position he retained into the early ‘60’s. Wills again called on Rausch to participate in the historic 1973 recording For the Last Time (just prior to Wills’ passing). Rausch appeared in the first episode of Austin City Limits (a double bill with Asleep at the Wheel in 1976) and since 1975 has led Bob Wills’ Original Texas Playboys and The Playboys II, both of which still actively appear at various festivals, concerts and dances around the world.

About Asleep at the Wheel:
Now in its 40th year, Asleep at the Wheel is the 9-time GRAMMY® winning band dubbed the “post modern kings of Western Swing.” Founded in 1970 in Paw Paw, West Virginia, the band gained recognition in the San Francisco Bay area before finally settling permanently in Austin in 1973. Soon afterwards, they achieved their first top-ten country chart status with “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read.” The band boasts nearly 100 members through its four decades of continuous touring and recording, and a country music “who’s who” list of recording collaborators. Front man from the beginning, Ray Benson, with the big baritone voice and 6’ 7” stature, has continually worked to extend the legacy and vitality of a music first popularized by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

About Bismeaux Records:
Bismeaux Records is the Austin, Texas home of artists such as Asleep at the Wheel, Willie Nelson, the Texas Tornados, Carolyn Wonderland, Jason Roberts and Leon Rausch. Most releases are produced and recorded by Benson at his state-of-the-art recording studio in south Austin. Bismeaux enjoys national distribution in the U.S. through Sony/RED/MRI. Releases include: GRAMMY®-nominated Willie and the Wheel (2009), the Texas Tornados Esta Bueno (2010), Carolyn Wonderland Miss Understood (2008), Asleep at the Wheel with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (2008), and The Very Best of Asleep at the Wheel since 1970 (2005). - Bismeaux Records


"ENTERTAINMENT NOTES: The most entertaining night in Texas was seeing the great nine-time Grammy winner Ray Benson in his signature musical about the late country-western king Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. This show is titled "A Ride With Bob" and is a kind of c/w version of the ABBA musical "Mamma Mia!" Ray took all of the Wills' classics, such as "Rose of San Antone" and other hits, and reconstructed them through the life of Bob Wills.

Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and Minnie Pearl of the Grand Old Opry all appear as characters along with the four wives of Bob Wills. This show was written by the gifted Ann Rapp of Hollywood. "A Ride With Bob" can play all over the Southwest, and maybe even Broadway, if someone can figure out a way to allay the cost of so many amazing characters and such foot-stomping fiddle- and guitar-playing." - NY Post


The last time I saw Willie Nelson, a little more than three weeks ago at the Star of Texas Rodeo, his opening acts were saddle broncs and bull riders. Dust was, let’s say, ubiquitous.

But Saturday night he returned to play the hoitiest-toitiest new honky-tonk in town: the Long Center for the Performing Arts, which was throwing a gala, weekend-long grand opening party.

Nelson was one component of an all-star Texas music evening, which saw the Red-Headed Stranger mixing it up with Lyle Lovett, Asleep At the Wheel, Flaco Jimenez and Rick Treviño.

The acoustic gem which is the Michael and Susan Dell Hall at the Long Center might seem an odd setting for twin fiddles, steel guitars and songs about drinkin’, cheatin’ and redneck bonhomie. But the show was in keeping with the Long Center’s stated mission of serving a “broad spectrum” of the arts. (Hey, next week I’m returning to the hall to see opera diva Kathleen Battle — whether she, too, will sing about whiskey remains to be seen).

“Thirty-five years ago I moved to Austin and played at the Municipal Auditorium with Ernest Tubb and Hank Thompson,” reminisced the Wheel’s Ray Benson before the band swung into “Faded Love,” “Black and White Rag” and “Big Ball’s In Cowtown.” “I knew I was in heaven,” he continued. “Thirty-five years later, we get to play in the most beautiful concert hall this town has ever seen.”

Musically, the evening was a mixed grill, with Asleep At the Wheel taking the stage first and remaining to serve as a de facto house band for the other performers. The end result was refreshing, forcing Nelson, Lovett and Treviño out of their familiar respective contexts.

Thus it was a treat to hear Nelsonian standards like “Crazy” and “Whiskey River” adorned with fiddles and steel guitar, instruments that don’t feature in Nelson’s Family Band lineup. Likewise, the Wheel musicians, abetted by a trio from Lovett’s Large Band, turned “Blues For Dixie” into a jaunty romp and hot-wired “My Baby Don’t Tolerate” into a feral, prowling blues showpiece. (Lovett’s take on “What Do You Do/The Glory of Love” — with Wheel bandleader Ray Benson taking Large Band vocalist Francine Reed’s distaff part — was a showstopper in its own right).

Nelson, Lovett and the various Wheel vocalists also harmonized on several songs, a rare treat for fans of each.

Another highlight was Ruby Jane Smith, a crackerjack 13-year-old fiddle player guest-starring with the Wheel, who jumped into the proceedings with polished gusto.

Rick Treviño, along with accordion maestro Flaco Jimenez (who seemed somewhat disjointed and disoriented) joined the festivities for a plaintive conjunto ballad, and Treviño remained onstage to sing backup to Nelson’s ever-poignant “Always On My Mind.”

The whole deal wrapped up with all 18 musicians onstage romping through Nelson’s anthem “On the Road Again.”

The road that led to the Long Center’s fruition was a long and winding one; it was only appropriate to have some hometown icons on hand to celebrate the last mile of the journey.

- by John T. Davis - Austin American-Statesman


Texas Music Cover Story, Spring 2009, Issue 38


The Ambassador

Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson has spent four decades carrying the torch of western swing. He’s towered over the Live Music Capital of the World as one of its most visible and respected artists for nearly as long, and even held office as the official Texas State Musician. Not bad for a Philly boy.

By Rob Patterson

There’s a notch at the front and center of the Broken Spoke stage, a step cut down into the already low riser. Owner James White made the alteration so that his low-ceilinged Austin dancehall could accommodate the skyscraper height of Ray Benson and his cowboy hat anytime he plays the venue with Asleep at the Wheel, the western swing band he has led for just shy of 40 years.

Yep, at 6 feet 7 inches, Benson is one tall drink o’ water. And for nearly as long as he’s fronted the Wheel, Benson has cast a long shadow across Austin, the Republic of Texas, American music, the music industry at large and just about anything he puts his canny mind and relentless energy to — as well as anyone who has ever gotten to know the man. Through miles and miles of roadwork and acclaimed side projects, like the Bob Wills musical stage play, A Ride with Bob, Benson and his bigger-than-average band of remarkably talented players have become a musical institution. Texas can boast better-selling acts, but few as highly lauded: Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have collected an impressive nine Grammy Awards, not to mention numerous other accolades.

Since arriving in Austin in the early ’70s, Benson has become an integral and influential presence in the Capital City. The Wheel appeared on the first regular episode of Austin City Limits with some of the surviving stars of Bob Wills’ old band, the Texas Playboys. He has served on almost every music- and musician-oriented steering committee, ad-hoc group and/or foundation board in Austin, and helped found organizations such as the Health Alliance for Austin?Musicians, which provides sliding-scale health care, and the SIMS?Foundation, which offers mental health services. He’s also spoken out about his status as a carrier of hepatitis C to help raise awareness of the contagious and potentially fatal disease. Even his birthday parties have been turned into hot-ticket fund-raisers.

Benson’s been on the board of directors of KLRU-TV, the home of PBS’ Austin?City Limits, and was instrumental in pushing the concept of selling Austin as the “Live Music Capital of the World.”?A world-class schmoozer, Benson will show up at the opening of the proverbial envelope; if there’s a cause in town to support, he’s often the first to sign up. Naturally, he’s proved to be an ideal spokesman for such initiatives as Gibson Guitar’s Austin GuitarTown fund-raising project, and when Austin became a high-tech center in the ’90s, Benson was along for the ride as chipmaker AMD’s “Premier Artist” to help the company develop music-industry expertise. He was also recruited by Michael Dell to fill in the high-tech community and potential recruits on the role that music plays in the city’s culture.

As a producer, he’s pushed the boundaries of digital recording, hot-rodding classic vacuum-tube equipment to bring the warmth and richness of the early recordings that first inspired him to the cutting edge of modern sound. His innovations won him the Les Paul Award from Mix magazine’s Mix Foundation for Excellence in Audio, an honor he shares with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Peter Gabriel, Steely Dan, Sting and Bruce Springsteen. He also helped found the Rhythm & Blues Foundation to both honor and assist the musicians who created and defined the style.

But wait, there’s more. Click on your TV, and you just might hear Benson’s sonorous voice in ads for McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Levi’s and the Texas State Lottery. Show up early every year on the first day of the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival — an event he lobbied passionately for as a KLRU?board member — and Asleep at the Wheel is there to both kick off the event and make sure that the Texas musical tradition isn’t lost in the contemporary rock shuffle. Oh, and when you fly in or out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, you can stop off at the Ray Benson Roadhouse to grab a bite or whet your whistle. (Benson licensed the use of his name for the wayfarer’s spot.)

Clearly, the Broken Spoke isn’t the only place in Texas where he’s made his mark. Benson is recognized the world over as one of the Lone Star State’s most fervent and effective musical ambassadors. So much so that in 2004, the Texas State Legislature appointed him as the first official Texas State Musician.

And just think about this for a spell: Could anyone have ever predicted that one of the most vital and influential forces in Texas music would be some lanky, ponytailed ex-hippie from Philadelphia? No way. Never in a million years. When A Ride with Bob, an imag - Texas Music Magazine


With unemployment soaring and President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan looking eerily like Depression-era jobs programs, the country-jazz sound of Western swing is a music whose time has come -- again.

Born of the brilliant marriage of jazz, blues and country string band tunes, Western swing reached its greatest popularity in the 1930s with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Wills died in 1975, but Ray Benson and his Grammy-winning Asleep at the Wheel have kept Wills' songs alive since forming in the early 1970s. Now they've teamed with Willie Nelson for the "Willie and the Wheel" album and concert that brings them to Durham's Performing Arts Center tonight.

The idea for Nelson to lend his inimitable phrasing to Bob Wills songs originated with legendary R&B producer Jerry Wexler in the early '70s. But Nelson changed record labels, and the project was shelved.

Last year, Wexler revived the idea and enlisted Benson and the Wheel as Nelson's backing band. Western swing is a natural for Nelson who, like Wills, is a Texas native and who grew up on Wills' music; Nelson even performed with Wills early in his career.

"A lot of people don't know it, but for Willie's first album the liner notes were written by Bob Wills," Benson says. "And Bob used to have him come up and sing with him."

The splendid CD version of "Willie and the Wheel" was released this month on Benson's Bismeaux label.

With its flawless musicianship and brilliant arrangements, the album features a dozen Wills songs, including "Right or Wrong," "Corrine Corrina" and "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World." It also features such bawdy blues numbers as Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon's "Fan It" and jazz singer Bessie Smith's "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of This Jelly Roll."

"'Fan It' is one of the songs Jerry [Wexler] was really hot on, and me too," says Benson. "When Bob Wills was still alive but in a coma, we went to visit Mrs. Wills, Betty Wills, and she started playing some of his 78s. She said, 'This is my favorite one of Bob's.' She put on 'Fan It.'

"Those songs of the '20s were the songs that shaped Bob Wills and Western swing. They were listening to Bessie Smith, Emmett Miller, Frankie 'Half Pint' Jaxon -- all the great black artists."

Asleep at the Wheel began to roll in 1970 when Benson, a native of Philadelphia, started the band with Leroy Preston and Lucky Oceans after attending a concert by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen at Ohio's Antioch College, where Benson was a student.

They relocated to rural Paw Paw, W.Va., and then San Francisco, before moving to Austin in 1974 at Nelson's suggestion.

At the time, Austin was the center of country music's "outlaw movement," which was unofficially headquartered at the Armadillo World Headquarters; the fabled dance and beer hall served an unlikely clientele of cowboys, hippies and University of Texas students. UT football coach Darrell Royal was a regular.

Nelson lived in Austin and performed at the club, as did Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Murphy, Willis Alan Ramsey and other architects of "redneck rock." Asleep at the Wheel and Commander Cody played the club's last concert on New Year's Eve 1980.

In music, timing is everything, and Asleep at the Wheel came along just as record labels were beginning to reissue 78 rpm recordings on LPs, and groups like the New Lost City Ramblers were seeking out old musicians to learn from. Benson followed suit.

"I felt like we were the first generation of musicians, starting in the late '60s, that had a musical rearview mirror," he says. "When we started the band, we hunted up old 78s and old music on LPs. We would dig around in attics. My role models were the people who researched the Delta Blues guys.
- The News & Observer


By Celia Wren

Western swing was the thing at the Kennedy Center when the musical biography “A Ride With Bob” coasted in for the weekend, attracting a crowd that on opening night included President and Laura Bush.
Performed by the Texas band Asleep at the Wheel, and previously seen in Austin, Fort Worth and other locales, “A Ride With Bob” is a heartfelt concert-with-plot that doffs a big cowboy hat to the Western swing icon Bob Wills.
A fiddler, tunesmith and bandleader whose innovative tinkering with country and jazz left a mark on American popular music, Wills came to fame during the 1930s with his groups the Light Crust Doughboys and later the Texas Playboys. “A Ride With Bob” relates this saga in brief scenes anchored to songs Wills wrote or performed – classics like “New San Antonio Rose,” the fiddle-tune-turned-big-band-sensation that was the Playboys’ first national hit.
“A Ride With Bob” derives a little poignancy from a framing device that’s based on a real event. Back in the 1970s, it seems, a planned tete-a-tete between Wills and Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson fell through when Wills had a stroke and lost the ability to speak. (He died in 1975) In “A Ride With Bob,” the meeting takes place after all: Wills’ spirit returns from the Great Beyond to recount his life story while Benson travels by bus to Tulsa.
Toting his guitar, his long gray ponytail snaking out from under his cowboy hat, the deep-voiced Benson played himself in laid-back, good-humored fashion. Actor Marco Perella was livelier as the ghost of Wills, who pepped up his reminiscences with the occasional wisecrack and a Cuban cigar clenched between his teeth (“Ain’t no embargoes in heaven!”)
As these two performers sat to the right on a simulacrum of a tour bus, the rest of the cast enacted the Wills story on a set that, with its jumble of antiquated gasoline signs and patch of blue sky, evoked the American highways of yesteryear (Christopher McCollum is the show’s set designer).
The role of the confident, flirtatious young Wills was deftly filled by Asleep at the Wheel fiddler Jason Roberts, who segued effortlessly from spoken scenes to passages of virtuoso fiddling. Among the supporting actors, Rick Perkins provided valuable light relief as a medicine-show charlatan, a swishy Hollywood impresario and other personalities.
The renditions of “Take Me Back To Tulsa,” “Milk Cow Blues.” “Faded Love” and other numbers were crisp and rousing, and there was even a gyrating cameo for an Elvis impersonator (Elvis was one of many legendary performers who performed “New San Antonio Rose”). The show’s highlights also included an impressive appearance by the Quebe Sisters – ages 16, 19 and 20 – who fiddle and sing breathtaking three-part harmony.
With its simplistic construction and unhurried pace, “A Ride With Bob,” written by Benson, Anne Rapp and CK McFarland, and directed by McFarland, risks boring anyone who’s not a Western swing enthusiast.
But on Friday night, the number of enthusiastic shouts of “Yeehaw!” By gleeful audience members (not Mrs. Bush, judging by the sound) suggested that for many, Bob Wills is still alive and swinging.
- The Washington Post


USA Today
"...swings easily across genres."

Rolling Stone
"Ride With Bob is as hip and daring as the man it honors."

Playboy
"...a fitting tribute that swings into the 21st century."

People
"Both quaint and cosmopolitan, it's perfect for an era in which kitschy lounge music is hip. Swingin' tribute gases up country's past."

Tower Pulse
"the music is too rich, the casting is too good and the performances too fun and too bracing..."

The Austin Chronicle
"It's always a treat to hear AATW play Wills' music, whatever the circumstances. Their sizable instrumental acumen reanimates the simple joy of western swing; it's obvious they were having a ball...Ray Benson's unswerving devotion to Bob Wills is the reason Ride With Bob ultimately triumphs."

Texas Monthly
"A Balm of reassurance that Wester Swing's rhythmic foundation, jazz framework and energizing sound haven't changed one iota...Ray Benson gets it, and that's the reason Ride With Bob sounds fresh and vital."

Country Music
"The finest Western swing band in existence today." - Various


By Terry Mathews
Arts and Entertainment Editor

Nine time Grammy® winner Ray Benson and his band, Asleep at the Wheel are bringing their own brand of Western Swing magic to the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center on Friday, November 24, headlining a bill that includes singer/songwriter Pat Green and Django Walker, Jerry Jeff’s talented son.

People magazine has called Green the “Bruce Springsteen of the Southwest.” The creative talent behind nine albums, Green has opened for the likes of Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and The Dave Matthews Band. The Waco native’s latest hit “Feels Like It Should,” is from his album, Cannonball, released earlier this year.

Django Walker grew up in a house full of music. He decided to follow in his famous father’s footsteps and has carved a niche for himself in the world of independent Texas music. He has opened for Pat Green and played the Cotton Bowl with the Dixie Chicks. His latest album, Six Trips Around the World, was released in February.

From the moment Asleep at the Wheel takes the stage with one of their standards like Miles and Miles of Texas until they close the show with a rambunctious rendition of Hot Rod Lincoln, the band delights, entertains, and captivates.

Lately, the Wheel, as their fans call the group, has added a tribute to the late Cindy Walker.

Walker, who died in March, was the author of many of Bob Wills’ songs, including the 1944 hit, You’re From Texas. She wrote Cherokee Maiden and Sugar Moon for Wills. She also wrote tunes for Eddy Arnold, Bing Crosby and Willie Nelson. Benson’s turn on Walker’s mega hit, You Don’t Know Me is a showstopper.

Big Ray, standing about 6’5” in his stocking feet, is the band’s heart and soul. It’s no secret why he’s a legend in the world of Western Swing. He’s a master of the genre, he surrounds himself with great musicians and he shares the glory them.

There’s a new girl singer with the band. Her name is Elizabeth McQueen and she is a keeper. She is a quirky Lisa Loeb look-alike with a bounce in her step and a smile that lights up the stage.

Also providing strong backup and an essential dimension to the band is fiddle player Jason Roberts. Roberts might be short in stature, but once he tucks that fiddle under his chin, he seems ten feet tall.

The Wheel just wrapped up a tour of it’s new play, “A Ride with Bob,” an intimate look at the life and times of the Bob Wills, the father of Texas Swing music. The play, which Benson co-wrote, opened to rave reviews at Fort Worth’s Casa Mañana Theatre and recently made stops in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
“We had a big heat wave in San Francisco, but it went very well,” Benson said in a recent telephone interview. “And I think every Texan in D.C. came to see us at the Kennedy Center.”

Benson plans to take the play to Galveston and Amarillo next year.
“It’s an amazing experience,” Benson said. “We just hope to get it before more people.”

The Wheel has two CD’s coming out the week they play the civic center.
“We’re releasing ‘Reinventing the Wheel’ and ‘Santa Loves to Boogie’ that week,” Benson stated. “They’ll be available through our website (www.asleepatthewheel.com) and through HEB grocery stores. HEB partnered with the band to produce “A Ride with Bob.”

Tickets for the all-star event are $22.50 in advance and $27.50 the night of the performance. Doors open at 7:00, with the show starting at 7:30. Call 903-885-8071 for more information.
- Sulphur Springs


Discography

Asleep at the Wheel: Then and Now (2013)
It's A Good Day (2010)
Willie and The Wheel (2009)
Asleep at the Wheel with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (2007)
Reinventing the Wheel (2006)
Santa Loves to Boogie (2006)
Live From Austin City Limits CD/DVD (2006)
Best Of: On The Road Live CD/DVD (2006)
Live At Billy Bob's Texas (2003)
Remembers the Alamo (2003)
Hang Up My Spurs (2002)
The Very Best of Asleep at the Wheel (2001)
Ride with Bob (1999)
Super Hits (1997)
Merry Texas Christmas, Y'all (1997)
Live! Back to the Future Now (1995)
The Wheel Keeps on rollin' (1995)
Still Swingin' (Boxed Set) (1994)
Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills (1993)
The Swingin' Best of Asleep at the Wheel (1992)
Route 66 (1992)
Live & Kickin' (1992)
Keepin' Me Up Nights (1990)
Western Standard Time (1988)
10 (1987)
Pasture Prime (1985)
Framed (1980)
Served Live (1979)
Collision Course (1978)
The Wheel (1977)
Wheelin' and Dealin' (1976)
Texas Gold (1975)
Asleep at the Wheel (1974)
Comin' right at Ya (1973)

Photos

Bio

 



ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL



Asleep at the Wheel has seen miles and miles of Texas. They got their kicks on Route 66. And, in 2010, the band clicked another milestone on the odometer – their 40th anniversary. Now in their 45th year, the band continues to introduce the western swing genre to a new generation on tour.


“It’s been an amazing ride. From Paw Paw to San Francisco to Austin, we’ve seen it all,” says Wheel front man Ray Benson. “But, rest assured, there is still so many exciting projects in the works such as our brand new tribute album coming this March, Still The King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys …The Wheel keeps rolling!”


It all started when Ray Benson, Floyd Domino, and Lucky Oceans, along with a Vermont farm boy named Leroy Preston; Virginian Chris O'Connell; and Gene Dobkin, a bass player and fellow classmate of Benson's from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, joined forces. They began with a simple goal: to play and help revive American roots music.


Since their inception, the band has won nine GRAMMY awards, released more than 20 studio albums and charted more than 20 singles on the Billboard country charts. In 1971, the band signed their first record deal after Van Morrison mentioned they “play great country music” in an interview in Rolling Stone. Their debut record, Comin’ Right At Ya, was released in 1973 on United Artists. The release of Texas Gold in 1975 brought the band national recognition, with the single “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read” becoming a top-ten country hit. The band has been awarded “Touring Band of the Year” (CMAs, 1976) and the “Lifetime Achievement in Performance” (Americana Music Awards 2009). In 2010, they earned a GRAMMY nomination in the newly minted Best Americana Album category for their critically acclaimed Willie & The Wheel. 

Owned by Ray Benson, Bismeaux Records has won “Best Local Record Label” three years consecutively in the Austin Music Awards. Between 2005 and 2012, Ray Benson wrote, produced and starred in the Bob Wills musical A Ride With Bob. The production sold 70,000 tickets in 18 cities nationwide including the Kennedy Center in 2006. In 2007, Benson performed with Carrie Underwood & Johnny Gimble on the GRAMMY Awards Telecast in a special GRAMMY Salute to Bob Wills. 


On March 3rd, 2015 the band will release their forthcoming tribute album Still The King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys on Bismeaux Records.