Friday, August 5 • 8:00pm • The Bowl
Ray Benson founded Asleep at the Wheel in Paw Paw, West Virginia 46 years ago. Now based in Austin, Texas the band holds 10 Grammy awards, 20 studio albums and 20 singles on the Billboard country charts with over 1.5 million records sold. Grammy Award-winning Still The King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys is the band’s most recent release (2015) and marks their third full-length Bob Wills tribute album.
Asleep at the Wheel is bringing a fresh look and sound into 2016. Now traveling as an 8-piece band, recent additions Katie Shore (fiddle, vocals), Dennis Ludiker (fiddle, mandolin) and Connor Forsyth (keyboard, vocals) have instilled a newfound energy and their own unique style within the band. Between those Texas Twin Fiddles and Boogie Piano, you can bet you’ll be dancin’ down the aisles and swingin’ all night long when the Wheel rolls into town!
It all started over four decades ago when Ray Benson, Floyd Domino, Lucky Oceans, Leroy Preston, Chris O’Connell and Gene Dobkin joined forces. They began with a simple goal: to play and help revive American roots music. They 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,” said Benson. “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 by Commander Cody, leader of Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. 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. Reuter’s pegged The Wheel as “one of the best live acts in the business.” Taking a page from Bob Wills’ book, 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 a string of dates. The alumni roster is well over 80+ members, and includes an impressive list of musicians who have gone on to perform with artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams, and many more. A quick scan of awards, such as “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. 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 Wheel’s 40 years of promotion, is a living and creative genre of music today.
Any band that spends upwards of 250 days on the road each year is more than likely to have seen its fair share of dives, gin joints, biker bars, clubs, auditoriums, dance halls and the like. The Wheel is no exception. Throughout their four decades the Wheel has driven the genre to the edge, explored new territories, picked up new passengers along the way and crisscrossed the country to the delight of fans and critics alike. And, even though they’re doing “forty,” there’s no chance of slowing down now.