Our featured story/post yesterday on Asleep at the Wheel dealt primarily with the band’s new Bob Wills tribute album Still the King. But founder and frontman Ray Benson had plenty more to say about his storied swing band.
On the musicians who inspired and helped him: “I was always helped by people coming up. Commander Cody was a good friend who helped us. Van Morrison got us our first notoriety, really. Without the help of people like that we wouldn’t have gotten to where we did. When we got to Austin, it was like we knew everybody. It was a small town then. It’s a big town now, though. It’s never been a competition, either. While we have been grateful to win a lot of awards, award shows also make me a little nervous because I don’t want to compete with my friends. I want to cooperate with them. I love working with other musicians.”
On Van Morrison: “We went to the Bay Area. Commander Cody helped us out there. We had this gig every Tuesday night. Van heard about it and said there was this great country band he had heard. He would come down and play with us and mentioned us to Rolling Stone magazine. That sent a flood of people from LA. He put us on a bunch of shows. Van is the man. He’s quite an artist. But that was a nice little kick in the butt. All of a sudden, this unknown little band had these people in LA looking for it.”
On the Austin, Tx. music community: “I’ve been in this town for 42 years, and it has always welcomed creative people and supported them – Janis Joplin and all those folks, rock bands, blues groups… Mother Earth, all those great bands. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys weren’t really an Austin band, but they certainly played here. So when I moved here, it was like a haven. Now, it’s grown considerably. You know, we have a thing here now called Health Alliance for Austin Musicians that gets health care for musicians who can’t afford it – health care and mental health care. We have a city council that supports the music community. We have hundreds of venues, small and large, that present music. I don’t think we could have done what we’ve done without the support of this town.”
On Asleep at the Wheel’s all-star alumni: “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘Hey Ray. I actually met somebody today who didn’t play in Asleep at the Wheel. That’s amazing.’ But yeah, Bob Dylan’s bass player Tony Garnier, was with me in the ’70s. Larry Franklin, of course, has done all done all those sessions in Nashville. Junior Brown was in the band in the ‘80s. It’s just been an incredible bunch of people that I’ve been honored to play with.”
On his lengthy string of performances on The Late Show with David Letterman: “We’re hoping to fit that in again before he retires. That would be fun. There is a great place for music on that show, I’ll tell you what.
On what Lexington audiences can expect from Monday’s performance: “Listen, man. Wait till you see the band we’ve put together. I’ll let it be a surprise, but it will be pretty cool. Hang on, strap into your seat belts, get ready. We’re Asleep at the Wheel.”
Asleep at the Wheel performs for the 800th broadcast of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at 7 p.m. March 23 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third. Tickets are $20, $30. Call (859) 280-2218 or go to lexingtonlyric.com.