Asleep at the Wheel has seen miles and miles of Texas. They got their kicks on Route 66. And, in 2010, the band hit another milestone with their 40th anniversary. Now in their 41st year, the band continues to introduce western swing to a new generation on tour and takes audiences on the ride of a lifetime with their play, A Ride with Bob.
"Its 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's still many exciting projects in the works. The Wheel keeps rolling!"
The Wheel gets 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.
Asleep at the Wheel landed a gig opening for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna in Washington, DC in 1970. "At the height of Vietnam, many Americans were using their choice of music to express their stance on the conflict in southeast Asia. We wanted to break that mold", said Benson. "We were concerned more with this amazing roots music, which we felt was being lost amid the politics. We were too country for the rock folks and we were too long-haired for the country folks. But everybody got over it once the music started playing."
A year later, they were coaxed into moving to California by Commander Cody, but the band's big break came when Van Morrison mentioned them in an interview with Rolling Stone. The record offers started coming in and The Wheel got rolling.
80+ But Whos Counting?
"We're a dance band. That's what we're about. And that's plenty."
The musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel has become the stuff of legends. Reuters pegged The Wheel as one of the best live acts in the business. Taking a page from Bob Wills book, the band has constantly toured at a national level throughout its history; with anywhere from 7-15 of the finest players Ray Benson could talk into jumping in the bus to play a string of dates. The alumni roster is well over 80+ members, and includes an impressive list of musicians who have gone on to perform with artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams, and many more. A quick scan of awards, such as Touring Band of the Year (CMAs, 1976) and Lifetime Achievement in Performance (Americana Music Awards 2009), not to mention near dominance of the GRAMMY Country Instrumental category over the years, reflects the reputation of the band's musicianship. Ray Benson fell in love with western swing because of its unique combination of elements of American blues, swing and traditional fiddling but also for its demanding musical chops. Western swing is what Benson calls jazz with a cowboy hat, is a thrill to hear live, and thanks in large part to the Wheels 40 years of promotion, is a living and creative genre of music today.
On the Records
Everything this act has ever released is simply spectacular.
Billboard Magazine (2010)
Over their history, Asleep at The Wheel has garnered nine GRAMMY Awards and released more than 25 studio and live albums, and there is no sign of slowing down any time soon. Just last year they earned a Grammy nomination in the newly minted Best Americana Album category for their critically acclaimed Willie & The Wheel, on Bismeaux Records. Most recently, another collaborative project paired the band with the legendary lead from Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, Leon Rausch. The distinguished velvety vocals of the King of western swing partnered with post-modern kings of Texas Swing on Its A Good Day, which USA Today called, "swing from the heavens". It was Leon who first suggested to Ray in the 1970s that The Wheel record Get Your Kicks (on Route 66). The Wheel has now recorded the hit 4 times in 4 different decades, with this latest version featuring Leon.
The Play is The Thing
The most entertaining night in Texas.
The Broadway-scale musical that started as a commemoration of Bob Wills 100th birthday in 2005 now marks its own milestone in 2010; 5 years. Ray Benson and Ann Rapp co-wrote the first-ever musical drama about Bensons idol, entitled A Ride with Bob: The Bob Wills Musical. At the core of the story is the conversation Ray intended to have when he was invited to meet with Wills in 1974, fresh off the Wheels release of Take Me Back to Tulsa. Unfortunately, that meeting never happened as Mr. Wills took ill and never recovered. For the last five years, the play has presented an inspired look into the life of a true Texas music legend.