“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’s still many exciting projects in the works. The Wheel keeps rolling!”
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”, says Ray. “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, 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.
The musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel has become the stuff of legends. Taking a page from Bob Wills’ book, the band has constantly toured at a national level throughout its history. The alumni roster is well over 80+ members, and includes an impressive list of musicians who have gone on to perform with artists including Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams and many more. A quick scan of awards, including 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.
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.
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.