There are few musicians that work harder than Ray Benson– he’s been touring with his band, Asleep at the Wheel, for thirty-eight years. I’m a Bakersfield, CA native – birthplace of the country and western style known as the Bakersfield Sound and home of the legendary Buck Owens—so I know a thing or two about country music, but Ray Benson’s unique brand of Western Swing had mostly eluded me. Now I’m an expert: producing Bob’s interview with Ray Benson, schooled me in a genre of country music that is often forgotten. Ray – a founding member of the band – has an unique vantage point on how the band, the music, and the genre has progressed since Asleep at the Wheel first took the stage in1969.
With nine Grammys and two movies under his belt you’d think Ray would be satisfied; touring with the band and working on new material. Nope: he’s also devoted to preserving the memory of the original King of Western Swing, Bob Wills.
He’s put together three Bob Wills tribute albums with some of the heaviest hitters in the country music business: Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, Lee Ann Womack, Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, The Dixie Chicks and Dwight Yokum.
If the tribute albums weren’t enough, Benson has taken his love for all things Wills to new heights. In 2005 he helped write, produce, and he starred in the musical, A Ride with Bob– the show is the imagined conversation that Benson was never able to have with his musical hero. Since its debute it has played all over the country – and it’s been a smash success.
Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel came through my home town to play every so often – so I’ve seen them live before. Their music is so infectious, it’s impossible not to leap out into the middle of the dance floor. As I reacquainted myself with their music for Bob’s interview – I couldn’t help but sing along and tap my feet. (A few times I wished I we had dance floor so I could dance in the middle of the office.)
It was really fun having Ray in the studio and watching him talk to Bob. Those two are two peas in a pod – they couldn’t get enough of talk of Bob Wills and country music. Ray Benson has carried the torch of Western Swing into the 21st century -- and if you listen to the interview I think you’ll agree – he’s not stopping anytime soon.
Check out the band’s website for more info; it’s got all of their albums on it – as well as their tour schedule, if you want to get your dancing shoes on.
-Taylor Barnes (intern)