Archive for the ‘Willie and the Wheel’ Category

Happy Birthday, Ray Benson (He wasn’t born in Texas, but he got there as soon as he could)

Saturday, March 16th, 2013


On March 16, 1951, Ray Benson, of Asleep at the Wheel, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Best wishes to Ray Benson, of Asleep at the Wheel, born March 16, 1951, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Willie and the Wheel

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012
by Joel Fowler

“You couldn’t make this story up if you wanted to,” admits Ray Benson in a recent telephone interview from his home in Austin, “but, it’s beautiful.”

Six years ago, Wexler, the influential man who coined the term “rhythm and blues” and helped discover acts like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan, sent Benson a box of old-time country swing compilation albums knowing that they wouldn’t go to waste.

“Jerry called up me and says ‘I’m getting’ old, these things got dust on ‘em, and I’m giving away all my records,’” Benson said. “Jerry Wexler was a good friend and a supporter of our music. He ‘got’ what we were trying to do. Jerry was kind of like us – a guy from New York who fell in love with music. Roots, blues, country — [it] didn’t matter.”

Just like every good fairy tale, a little coincidental magic was needed for events to be set into motion. For such an odd story, the mystical flashpoint was just as unusual: public television.

“Then a couple of years ago, Wheel was backing up Willie Nelson, Ray Price and Merle Haggard on their Last of the Breed tour,” Benson said. “Well, one of our shows was filmed as a PBS special, Wexler saw it, and he called up Willie’s manager and said, ‘You gotta do this record!’”

It was an idea that Jerry Wexler had been sitting on for more than 35 years. Wexler started dreaming of pairing Willie Nelson and classic Western swing back in 1973, but after Nelson left Atlantic Records for RCA, the project never took off. The time for redemption had finally arrived.

“So, after the PBS special,” adds Benson, “Jerry tells us to get that list of songs from the box of records he sent me. Sure enough, tucked away in that box was a piece of paper on which he’s written ‘WN’ next to 39 songs, which were the ones he was considering for Willie back in the 70s. Between me, Jerry and Willie, we got the list down to 12, and those are the ones that made up the album.”

While such a project doesn’t sound like a stretch for a professional musician like Nelson, Benson likes to point out that looks can be deceiving.

“Sure, this was the music Willie grew up listening to, but even he didn’t know the particulars of it,” he said. “He’s not a musicologist; he’s a musician. He hadn’t even heard Hesitation Blues or Fan It — before we played them for him. He grew up playing music you could dance to.

“It’s also important to note that [Asleep at the Wheel] finally got good enough to do this record,” claims the native Philadelphian. “In 1973, we wouldn’t have been able to do it, since we’d only been together for three years at that point, and [Wexler] wouldn’t have asked us to do it, because the older guys were still around.

“But then, over the years, we became the old guys,” the 58-year-old adds with a laugh, now that Asleep at the Wheel will celebrate their 40th anniversary next year.

As a final product, Willie and the Wheel, with its daring mix of moody — if not depressing — lyrics and bouncingly happy rhythms, is garnering high critical praise, with terms like “Best of 2009? being thrown around from multiple sources. Yet, for Benson, this record will serve as a final testament for a close friend.

“Jerry passed away a week after the final tracks were finished,” he said. “He got to hear them all before he left us …  He was just an amazing guy.”

Happy Birthday, Ray Benson

Friday, March 16th, 2012


On March 16, 1951, Ray Benson, of Asleep at the Wheel, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Willie and the Wheel II

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

by:  Nancy Dunham

Willie & The Wheel’ was such a success, they’re doing it again.

When Willie Nelson and Ray Benson, leader and founder of Asleep at the Wheel, teamed up in 2009 for the ‘Willie & The Wheel’ album and tour, they said the collaboration was 30 years in the making. Their sequel, ‘Willie & The Wheel II’ will roll out a little quicker, with a May 2011 due date.

“We’re calling it WWII and we’ll have a World War II theme,” Ray tells The Boot, sharing an early version of album artwork that showed the players in military uniforms. “We’re going to have a lot of Western Swing and cuts from the ’30s and ’40s.”

In fact, Benson, the Wheel and Willie have just about finalized seven of the 12 tunes planned for the record. The album is not only a lot of fun for the players, but satisfies a need for country music fans who want to hear more diverse sounds — such as Western Swing, Honky Tonk, and even songs more in the style of Johnny Cash’s music — than are played on country radio.

“One of the great things about country [music] was always the diversity. Nashville doesn’t know how to honor the diversity of country music now,” says Ray noting that such luminaries as Alison Krauss, Gretchen Wilson and Willie aren’t included in honors such as the CMA Awards often in favor of younger, more pop-oriented musicians. “It’s now more of a business. Maybe it always was.”

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Willie Nelson sings on new Asleep at the Wheel Album

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

willie nelson,asleep at the wheel,leon rausch,austin,texas


Asleep at the Wheel’s 40 Years Celebration, with Willie Nelson (11/5/2010)

Saturday, November 6th, 2010
by Chris Cowan

If Austin has music ambassadors, then they undoubtedly are Willie Nelson and Ray Benson, leader of the band, Asleep at the Wheel. The Wheel moved to Austin in 1974, at the request of Willie Nelson, and they helped create the Austin music scene. They were fixtures at Armadillo World Headquarters, and they were the very first act to appear on Austin City Limits. Since their arrival, nothing has ever been the same.

Last night’s show was a 40th anniversary celebration of Ray’s 9 time grammy award winning band. The featured guest was, of course, Willie Nelson. I hemmed and hawed for several days about whether to go to this show, or the kickoff night of Fun Fun Fun Fest, with Weird Al Yankovic. The prospect of seeing some roots music, and more importantly, a legend, won out some time late yesterday afternoon.

In addition to popping my cherry for seeing Willie live, this was my first show at the Long Center. I arrived at 7PM, and it’s a good thing because the show started promptly at 7:30. As it turns out, the early start was needed since the show ended just after 11:00.

At 49 years of age, I felt like a spring chicken in this crowd, with most of the audience much better dressed than a normal Austin crowd. So, mixed in with the Austin Opera patrons, there was a smattering of dance-hall cowboys, and outlaw, biker types. Your typical Willie Nelson crowd in other words.

The first set went well over two hours, with Ray and his current fiddler, Jason Roberts (Ray’s musical director?), being the only constants on stage. The set was subdivided into sections, for each decade of their career, with a video segue projected on drop down screen.

Ray announced that over 45 musicians were present, who were either presently in the band, or were members in the past. At one point, I counted 32 musicians on stage, at one time. At various points they had 5 pedal steel players, 6 fiddlers, a 6 piece horn section, and 6 different piano players on stage at the same time. Although unlike the others, the piano players had to time-share between 2 full concert grands.

The highlights for the first set for me, were the first decade band with Leon Perkins, and Lucky Oceans, and Floyd Domino. Leon’s song writing extends far outside of the sphere of the Wheel, and it’s amazing how many hits the man has under his belt. Ray was lamenting how many hits they had made for other artists.

Other highlights, were the section with Chris O’Connell, and a special appearance by Leon Rausch, an actual member of Bob Wills Texas Playboys, who must be in his 90′s now.

At intermission, the band invited the entire audience out to the patio for a group picture, and free beer. In addition, they had a table with about 7 posters, and they invited everyone present to sign them. I thought this was a great personal touch, and explains why so many people love Ray and his band.

The last set was all Willie and the current members of the Wheel for the most part.  They played a combination of Willie’s hits, and a generous helping of the songs from Willie and the Wheel, an album that I love. Ray also mentioned that they were working a second Willie and the Wheel album, which he jokingly called WW2.

I don’t know what else to say, other than I was awe struck by Willie. What a performer! There’s something real and genuine about the man, that just oozes from the stage. This is something that you can’t fake. Perhaps next year, I will go to his 4th of July picnic, rather than punt like I did this year.

In closing let me say, I will follow other sites and update a complete list of musicians, and a setlist, if either materializes. And despite the no photos policy, I managed to get one shot at the very end.

Join Willie Nelson and help Asleep at the Wheel celebrate 40 years, in Austin (11/5/2010)

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010


Willie Nelson will join Asleep at the Wheel on Friday, November 5th to help them celebrate their 40th at the Long Center in Austin, Texas. The special concert will also feature a reunion of The Wheel’s founding members, and Leon Rausch.

Win Tickets to see Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel

Friday, October 29th, 2010


Willie Nelson will join Asleep at the Wheel on Friday, November 5th to help them celebrate their 40th at the Long Center in Austin, Texas.  The special concert will also feature a reunion of The Wheel’s founding members, and Leon Rausch.

 The band is giving away a free pair of tickets to the celebration.  To enter, visit their Facebook page  and post a comment your all-time favorite Wheel song and who you would most like to take to see this show.    Asleep At The Wheel will pick a winner next week.

Willie Nelson will help celebrate 40 years of Asleep at the Wheel (11/5/2010)

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010


Willie Nelson has been invited to be part of the festivities to celebrate Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel’s 40th anniversary celebration on November 5, 2010, at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin.  Lucky Ocens and Leroy Preston are also scheduled to perform, with more acts tba.

Few details available now, but stay tuned to the Wheel’s website for updates.

Watch this great video of ‘Hesitation Blues’.

Willie Nelson collaborated with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel and released an album, then toured for several months together.

Willie Nelson, Austin City Limits, with Mickey Raphael and Asleep at the Wheel

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

More from Willie and the Wheel

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

 Willie and the Wheel

Ray Benson, of Asleep at the Wheel, called in to talk with Bill Mack on Willie’s Place, Sirius/XM Radio today.  He told Bill that he and Willie were going to go into the studios in April to begin recording another Willie and the Wheel album.

Willie and the Wheel, ‘Hesitation Blues’

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Best Music of 2009: Willie and the Wheel

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

 Willie and the Wheel

by Jim Harrington
Oakland Tribune

3.    “Willie and the Wheel,” Willie Nelson and Asleep At the Wheel (Bismeaux): The country legend just doesn’t make many wrong steps. Nelson follows last year’s best musical surprise — the jazzy collaboration with Wynton Marsalis, “Two Men with the Blues” — with another delightful left turn. Nelson sounds so good on this batch of classic Western swing cuts that some fans are already praying for a follow-up.

To read the entire list:

Budrock’s Willie and the Wheel Tour Diary

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

I don’t know why I never saw this before.  Budrock “Buddy” Prewitt, lighting director for WN&F, made this documentary/ slideshow/ travelogue of the Willie and the Wheel Tour earlier this year.

Willie and the Wheel back on Billboard’s Country Albums Chart

Monday, November 30th, 2009

 Willie and the Wheel

Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheels’ Willie & the Wheel re-enters the chart fray at No. 64.