"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"