"Comin' Right At Ya!" Celebrating 50 Years of Asleep at the Wheel
In the history of music, an artist or band continuing to perform and create music at a high level for 50
years is a rare feat. In 1970 three friends Ray Benson, Leroy Preston and Lucky Oceans moved to Paw Paw, West Virginia to start a band. After a mutual friend gave them access to his Uncle's cabin on an apple orchard just outside of town, the 3 young friends started to "woodshed" and find others to join them in this adventure to play old style Roots/American music. After a trip to the outhouse, Lucky Oceans came up with the unconventional name that would stick with the band now for 50 years, Asleep at the Wheel.
Soon after the move to Paw Paw, Asleep at the Wheel soon landed a gig opening for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna in Washington, DC and also met and played with Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. A year later, they were coaxed into moving to the bay area in California by Commander Cody and band. While creating a name for themselves in the bay area playing clubs like The Longbranch and Freight and Salvage, the band's big break came in 1972 when the band signed their first record deal after Van Morrison mentioned
The Wheel Gets Rolling "there's some relatively unknown group around that I really dig.
Asleep at the Wheel plays great country music."
Van Morrison Rolling Stone Interview (1973)
Their debut record, Comin' Right At Ya, was released in 1973 on United Artists. Soon there after, Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm recommended the band move to Austin,Texas. After playing their first show in Austin at the famous Armadillo World Headquarters, the band never left has made Austin their home for over 45 years. The release of Texas Gold in 1975 brought the band national recognition, with the top-ten country hit single "The Letter That Johnny Walker Read" The band was also showcased on the first ever episode of "Austin City Limits" which the band has gone on to tape 11 episodes. The musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel has become "the stuff of legends." Reuters They pegged The Wheel as "one of the best live acts in the business." 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. The alumni roster is over 100 members, and includes an impressive list of musicians who have gone on to perform with artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Merle Haggard, George Strait and many more.
For 50 years, Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel have been the chief practitioners, conspirators and caretakers of Western swing, carrying the tradition of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys well into the 21st century, reaching both their contemporaries and the next generation of artists inspired by the great bandleader. The band has released 3 Bob Wills tribute albums "A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills" "Ride with Bob" and "Still the King" winning five Grammy awards and selling over 600,000 copies collectively. These records featured a wide range of musical guests from country legends like George Strait, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Garth Brooks, to young roots artists like The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show & Amos Lee.
On the Records "Everything this act has ever released is simply spectacular."
2018 brought a fresh new lineup and the release of the bands newest record "New Routes" a bracing blend of original songs and vibrant cover material and some unanticipated new musical tangents, Asleep At the Wheel demonstrates convincingly it's more relevant, enjoyable and musically nimble than any time in its 50 year history! The 6'7" Benson has been the one constant in Asleep At the Wheel since the band's founding in 1970 in Paw Paw, West Virginia. "I'm doing what I'm meant to do - singing and playing and writing better than I ever have. A bandleader is just someone who gathers people around them to play the best music they can play. I just try and make the best decisions possible and kick some ass every night onstage."
Asleep at the Wheel Timeline
1951 Bandleader Ray Benson born in Philadelphia, PA. (March 16)
1970 Band forms in Paw Paw, WV. Play first "big show" opening for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna.
1971 Band moves to California at the invitation of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
Van Morrison helps the band to get first record deal by mentioning them in an interview in Rolling Stone Magazine - "there's some relatively unknown group around that I really dig. Asleep at the Wheel plays great country music. They're really good musicians."
1973 Debut album Comin' Right At Ya released by United Artists (includes single "Take Me Back to Tulsa").
At invitation of Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm, band moves to Austin, Texas.
1974 "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" from their second album Asleep at the Wheel is their first chart single.
1975 The release of Texas Gold on Capitol Records elevates the band to one of the most popular country acts of the decade, with "The Letter That Johnny Walker Read" becoming a top-ten country hit.
Band stars on the premier episode of "Austin City Limits" television show (and has performed 11 times since then).
1977 Voted Best Country & Western Band by Rolling Stone.
The Wheel awarded "Touring Band of the Year" by Academy of Country Music.
Band tours Europe with Emmylou Harris.
1978 Their sixth nomination turns out to be their first GRAMMY win for the country instrumental "One O'Clock Jump." The Wheel will go on to earn nine more GRAMMYS to date.
Band appears in the film Roadie with Meatloaf, Blondie and Art Carney.
1979 Their first live album Served Live is recorded at the Austin Opera House.
1987 The album 10 scores big with the GRAMMY-winning single "String of Pars."
1989 Against the advice of most music insiders, Ray establishes Bismeaux Studio and Bismeaux Records where he'll go on to produce projects for Willie Nelson, Pam Tillis, Carolyn Wonderland, Aaron Watson, James Hand, Suzy Bogguss, Don Walser, Dale Watson and many others.
1991 Ray directs the music and co-stars in the film Wild Texas Wind with Dolly Parton and Gary Busey.
1993 Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills for Liberty Records, including guest artists Garth Brooks, George Strait and Vince Gill amongst many others, is an instant hit, earning two GRAMMYS and a live performance on the Country Music Awards telecast with Lyle Lovett.
1997 Old Silver Eagle tour bus retired with over 3 million miles.
1999 Ride With Bob CD is released by Dreamworks and includes guest performances by the Dixie Chicks, Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Manhattan Transfer and others. The ensuing long form documentary The Making of Ride with Bob earns a regional Emmy Award. The album wins two GRAMMY Awards.
2000 Stadium tours with Bob Dylan & George Strait begin (2000-2001).
2002 Ray hosts the CMT special Stars Over Texas in Austin, going toe-to- toe with Dolly Parton and Vince Gill.
2003 Ray releases his first solo record Beyond Time while at the same time managing to make two records with the band (Live at Billy Bob's Texas and Asleep at the Wheel Remembers the Alamo).
2004 Ray is named the official 2004 Texas State Musician.
2005 "A Ride with Bob: The Bob Wills Musical," co-written by Ray Benson and starring Ray and members of Asleep at the Wheel, debuts in Austin to coincide with Wills' 100th birthday. Through the year, further performances in 4 cities sell out and garner critical acclaim.
Band chosen for opening performance at inaugural Austin City Limits Festival and carry on the tradition annually.
2006 "A Ride with Bob" sells out the Kennedy Center, with President and Mrs. George W. Bush in attendance.
2007 Band hits the road for "Last of the Breed" Tour, featuring Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard & Ray Price. Performance filmed for broadcast on PBS.
2008 Ray Benson awarded the TEC - Les Paul Award honoring individuals or institutions that have set the highest standards of excellence in the creative application of recording technology.
Ray joins Carrie Underwood and Johnny Gimble for a musical tribute to Bob Wills on the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast on CBS.
Then Presidential candidate Barrack Obama joins Ray Benson on stage for a performance of "Boogie Back to Texas" at an Austin Fundraiser.
2009 Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel release Willie & The Wheel and earn a GRAMMY nomination for Best Americana Album - the first time this category has ever appeared.
Americana Music Association honors Asleep at the Wheel with Lifetime Achievement Award.
2010 Band releases It's a Good Day with original Texas Playboy Leon Rausch.
2011 Ray Benson named Texan of the Year.
2015 Band makes their 11th appearance on "Austin City Limits."
2015 Band releases Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys,
featuring 22 acclaimed collaborations.
2015 Band is inducted into the "Austin City Limits" Hall of Fame, alongside Loretta Lynn, Guy Clark, Flaco Jimenez and Townes Van Zandt.
Ray releases autobiography "Comin' Right At Ya"
2016 Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys wins the GRAMMY for Best Recording Package at the 58th annual awards ceremony.
2018 Band releases "New Routes" featuring newest members including new female vocalist Katie Shore
2019 Ray and Band are featured in Ken Burns PBS documentary "Country Music"
With his unique voice, more unique song writing, and even more unique double necked "Guit-Steel" guitar, there has absolutely never been ANYONE like Junior Brown. He's an American Original. Born in 1952 in Cottonwood, Arizona, Junior Brown showed an affinity for music at an early age when the family moved to a rural area of Indiana near Kirksville. In the following years, Junior began to experience Country music and remembers it as "growing up out of the ground like the crops - it was everywhere; coming out of cars, houses, gas stations and stores like the soundtrack of a story, but Country music programs on TV hadn't really come along much yet; not until the late fifties." Discovering a guitar in his grandparent's attic, he spent the next several years woodshedding with records and the radio. Junior was also able to tap into music he couldn't hear at home which older, college aged kids were listening to. This was possible due to his father's employment at small campuses throughout the next decade as the family moved twice again. As a young boy he was able to experience the thrill of performing before live audiences, at parties, school functions even singing and playing guitar for five thousand Boy Scouts at an Andrews Air Force Base jamboree; then while still a teenager, getting the chance to sit in with Rock and Roll pioneer, Bo Diddley. Armed with this broad spectrum of influences, he began to develop a storehouse of musical chops.
Early on, Junior realized he had to keep his interest in Country music a secret; "it was like a secret friend I carried around, being careful not to tell anyone (especially girls) about my love for it because I thought they would laugh at me." It wasn't until the late 1960's that Junior Brown would proudly explore the passion for the music he had loved since his early childhood in Indiana. With many prominent figures as his inspiration (Country legends, some who he would work with years later), he spent his nights in small clubs across the southwest. "I played more nights in honkytonks during the Seventies and Eighties than most musicians will see in a lifetime... I did so many years of that, night after night, four sets a night, fifteen minute breaks; I mean after that, you've gotta get good or you gotta get out. The early 1970's California Country dance club scene was particularly competitive, but I learned professionalism and stage demeanor which has served me well to this day." More recently however, Junior has shown himself to be equally adept at a wide variety of American music styles beyond Country. These include Rock and Roll, Blues, Hawaiian, Bluegrass and Western Swing.
There is a dependable consistency in Junior's writing style (he writes nearly all his material) yet he's always full of pleasant surprises. Though Junior always knew he could sing and play what he wanted, he had yet to explore his potential as a songwriter. "I realized no one was going to walk into a club and discover me...so I started hanging out with some songwriters who I'd played some jobs with, and they showed me how to support myself by writing and publishing." With his writing coming together by the mid-Eighties, Brown upgraded his gear in a way that no artist had ever done. Struggling through each show, going back and forth plugging and unplugging guitar to steel guitar while singing, he had a dream one night about the two instruments mysteriously melding into one. The result was Brown's unique invention, the "Guit-Steel", a double necked instrument combining standard guitar with steel guitar. Built by Michael Stevens of Stevens Electric Instruments, the Guit-Steel allows Junior to switch instruments quickly in mid song while singing. According to Brown, his guitar and steel guitar playing became more his own around this time, with less imitation of others and more his own original ideas and licks. This maturation coincided with the development of a completely "Junior Brown" style of songwriting which employs subtle dry wit to some songs - others can be more overtly humorous, or just plain dead serious; like his playing, there is a wide range of styles that when combined can only spell Junior Brown.
In the early nineties Brown and his band (including wife Tanya Rae) relocated to Texas to the active Austin music scene and landed a weekly gig at the Continental club. Having worked as a sideman for many of the Austin-based acts over the years, Junior was already well familiar with the town. His unique and entertaining combination of singing, songwriting, instrumental and production skills led to a seven record deal with Curb Records that began with "Twelve Shades of Brown" in 1993. He later released two albums on the TelArc label. There were several Grammy nods, a CMA (Country Music Association) award for "My Wife Thinks You're Dead", movie and repeated TV appearances like Letterman, Conan, Saturday Night Live, Austin City Limits, SpongeBob, X Files, Dukes of Hazzard, Me Myself and Irene, Tresspass, Still Breathing, Blue Collar Comedy Tour 1 and 2, and more recently, Better Call Saul. And there were the Ad Campaigns; The Gap, Lee Jeans and Lipton Tea. As Junior became more well known, he began to collaborate on projects with some of his heroes. These include a duet with Ralph Stanley for which Junior received a Bluegrass Music Association Award (IBMA), a duet and video with Hank Thompson, as well as duets with video and record collaborations with the Beach Boys, George Jones, Leon McAuliffe, Ray Price, Leona Williams, Lynn Morris, Lloyd Green and Doc Watson. He even played guitar for Bob Wills' Texas Playboys in a radio commercial.
Junior is currently finishing up recording on his latest album, "Deep In The Heart Of Me". Release date is slated for Spring 2017. Junior's performance on the promotional song, "Better Call Saul" was recorded and released both as a video on AMC as well as a flexible 33 1/3rd vinyl record included in the show's box set from Season One. Junior, Tanya Rae and the band continue to tear up the highways and no doubt will be appearing in concert near you one of these days. Seeing Junior live is a definite must, so GUIT WITH IT 'cause he's AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL!