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Asleep At The Wheel

Since the early '70s, Asleep at the Wheel have been the most important force in keeping the sound of Western swing alive. In reviving the freewheeling, eclectic sensibility of Western swing godfather Bob Wills, the Wheel have earned enthusiastic critical praise throughout their lengthy career; they have not only preserved classic sounds that had all but disappeared from country music, but have also been able to update the music, keeping it a living, breathing art form. Typically featuring eight to 11 musicians, the group has gone through myriad personnel changes (at last count, over 80 members had passed through their ranks), but 6'7" frontman Ray Benson has held it together for four decades, keeping Asleep at the Wheel a viable recording and touring concern and maintaining their devotion to classic-style Western swing.

Singer/guitarist Benson was born Ray Benson Seifert and grew up listening to a variety of music in Philadelphia, especially jazz. He formed Asleep at the Wheel in Paw Paw, WV, in 1970, along with longtime friend Lucky Oceans (born Reuben Gosfield; steel guitar) and Leroy Preston (rhythm guitar). They soon added a female singer in Chris O'Connell, who was fresh out of high school. Initially, the group played straight-ahead country in local venues, but quickly switched to Western swing when they discovered the music through Merle Haggard (specifically his Bob Wills tribute album) and eclectic country-rockers Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. In fact, Commander Cody helped the group sign with his own manager, Joe Kerr, who convinced them to move to San Francisco in late 1971. They subsequently added keyboardist Floyd Domino, and secured a residency at Berkeley's Longbranch Saloon. Praise from Van Morrison in a Rolling Stone article helped them land a record deal with United Artists, which released their debut album, Comin' Right at Ya, in 1973.

In 1974, Asleep at the Wheel relocated to the roots music haven of Austin, TX, and also switched labels to Epic. Their self-titled label debut appeared that same year, and their cover of Louis Jordan's "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" became their first single to hit the country charts. Afterwards, they added fiddler Lisa Silver and trumpeter Bobby Womack, and hopped labels again to Capitol. Released in 1975, Texas Gold was their breakthrough album, climbing into the country Top Ten and producing their only Top Ten hit on the country singles charts, "The Letter That Johnny Walker Read." That year they performed on the first non-pilot episode of Austin City Limits, and although they continued to experience personnel shifts, they turned out a string of excellent albums over the rest of the decade: Wheelin' and Dealin' (1976), The Wheel (1977), and Collision Course (1978), the latter of which featured their first Grammy winner in the instrumental cover of Count Basie's "One O'Clock Jump."

Asleep at the Wheel moved to MCA for 1980's Framed, but all was not well: founding member Lucky Oceans left the group that year, and Chris O'Connell took a leave of absence to start a family not long after. Plus, the group was heavily in debt, forcing the bandmembers to work on commercials and movie soundtracks. The financial problems conspired to keep them off record for the next few years, and when they returned on Dot/MCA with a self-titled album in 1985, they were virtually ignored. Following the small-label release Pasture Prime later that year, Benson did some moonlighting as a producer, and soon managed to get a second shot with Epic. By now, O'Connell had returned, and the new lineup featured fiddler Larry Franklin, steel guitarist John Ely, pianist/accordionist Tim Alexander, saxophonist Mike Francis, bassist Jon Mitchell, and drummer David Sanger. This unit recorded the major comeback effort, Asleep at the Wheel 10, in 1987, which brought them back to the Top 20 of the country album and singles charts (the latter via "House of Blue Lights") for the first time in over a decade. Additionally, the album's "String of Pars" won them their second Grammy for Best Country Instrumental, and featured contributions from fiddle legend and onetime Texas Playboy Johnny Gimble. The 1988 follow-up, Western Standard Time, continued their momentum, winning another Best Country Instrumental Grammy for "Sugarfoot Rag."

In 1990, Asleep at the Wheel moved to Arista and recorded Keepin' Me Up Nights, which flopped in comparison to its two predecessors. Major personnel turnover ensued, with O'Connell leaving a second time, and Benson regrouped with Francis, Sanger, fiddler Ricky Turpin, bassist David Miller, and steel guitarist/Dobroist Cyndi Cashdollar. They issued two albums on Liberty/Capitol, the acclaimed, guest-laden A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys (1993; featuring the Grammy-winning instrumental "Red Wing") and The Wheel Keeps on Rollin' (1995). Their next major studio project, Ride with Bob, was released by DreamWorks in 1999 and featured fiddler Jason Roberts (a young relative of Johnny Gimble) and pianist/second fiddler Chris Booher. It was the group's second explicit tribute to Bob Wills, and it attracted even more positive attention than the first, winning multiple Grammys and drawing non-country collaborators like the Manhattan Transfer and Squirrel Nut Zippers. An album project with Willie Nelson, Willie and the Wheel, appeared in 2009, followed by It's a Good Day, a collaboration with Texas Playboy great Leon Rausch, in 2010. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Live At The Austin City Limits Music Festival 2009

Comments

That's your red wagon - love it. Got to see them in Lake City CO last summer, $50 got me into the show and a plate of BBQ.
amye45
Ray Benson is married to Ariel the little mermaid. I'm pretty sure they have a couple of guppies.
Saw Asleep At The Wheel last Friday night at the Broken Spoke in Austin. AWESOME SHOW

Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of your life. However if you don't read this you will die in two days. Now that you've started reading this don't stop. This is so scary. Put this on five songs in the next 143 min. when your done press F6 an your lovers name will pop up on your screen in big letters. Trust me it works
there is no music like country and Asleep At The Wheel is #1
They do an annual stage play on the life of Bob Wills in Ruidoso NM.
Get up and dance!
I love the song cotton Eyed Joe
What the #$@& are we going do when there (AATW) are gone !!!
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of you life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in 2 days. Now you've started reading so don't stop. This is so scary put this on at least 5 songs in 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lover's name will come on the screen in big letters. This is so scary because it actually work Kiss ur left hand Say ur crush name Say ur school day
It Don't get no more Western.Than ! Western Swing!
MIGHTY FINE! ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL! YOU MAKE BOB FROM TURKEY PROUD!
loved their Christmas show last year in Nashville, what a treat!
Asleep at the Wheel is comming to Carmel Valley, CA on july 21st.!! See Galante Vinyards, (Google), it is the most beautiful vineyard, rolling grass, good food and great wine! You don't want to miss this one!
ksgurlintx5
OH - I miss Austin SOOOO BAD.
nelson4wave
they have been a stable of my music library for years. may they live forever!
dclong
Just saw them in Oct. in SC...love that Texas Swang!!
mejyou
Went to college with Johnny Nicholas who just put out a really nice solo album...
beckpv
STARTED DANCIN TO AATW THE SUMMER OF '80 ON THE RI SHORE AS A COLLEGE KID. HEADING TO SEE THEM TONIGHT IN RAMONA CA. SAME AS IT EVER WAS.
This reminds me of String Cheese Incident -- live at Bonnaroo 2007
Fun entertainmen t on list of groups to see in austin
SU
robert.schur
My favorite record was titled "The Wheel" and it came out sometime in the late 70s, maybe '78? I can't find it anywhere, not even the band's web site shows it in their discography! Wish I had kept all those old LPs...
They are an awesome group! Makes you want to get up off your butt and dance (even if you can't dance!). Have them on my iPod and it is always obvious when they are on, as I go dancing through the house.
devorahlee
Will always love em. Makes me miss livin in Austin. Have seen them in Champaign-Ur b a n a a couple of times. Where are they now?
freon1mr
Load and proud !. Where's the Lone Star Beer? No... wheres the Pearl?
Been listening since I saw them at the OC fair back in 87 or 88. Great group.
I live in Tulsa and have seen the wheel at every venue from the State Fair to the Cain's ballroom and a lot of places in between. They never fail to give that good swing that only they can do. I was raised on western swing. Thanks to ya'll and come to Tulsa sometime. peace
Been listening to 'Wheel' since they hit Texas in the 70's.
If you get the chance, catch their play on the life of Bob Wills. Great acting and superb live music.

In Pandora, if you type -only- "Asleep At The Wheel", the selection is completely awesome. Randy Travis, Haggard and Jones, Willie, Ray, Junior Brown, Chris LeDeaux, Joni Harm.
The Wheel re-pioneerd Western Swing.
Country Swing isn't dead. it's just been "Asleep At The Wheel".
bakrsfldlc
I live on this stuff
"Since the early '70s, Asleep at the Wheel has been the most important force in keeping the sound of Western swing alive." said Steve Huey with the All Music Guide. Poor Stephen Never heard "Alvin Crow and the Plesent Valley Boys"
I have over 1000 cd's in my collection of all types of music. I swore I wouldn't buy another but thesse guys are making me want to make an exeption.
A great song by a really great group.

Paulette Le Pore Motzko
Best thing since Bob Wills.
rgspops
Great music to drive to from coast to coast!
sassyjan
love Asleep at the wheel... They have the Bob Wills sound that is still KING here in TEXAS!!!

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