Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Asleep at the Wheel - Way Down Texas Way
Asleep at the Wheel carries on the tradition of western swing.
Since forming in 1970 in Paw Paw, W. Va., Asleep at the Wheel has been the leader in keeping western swing – a danceable amalgam of country, jazz, pop, and blues – alive. Lead by deep-voiced mainstay Ray Benson, the local juggernaut has shifted lineups considerably over the years, and more than 80 musicians have passed through it. In 1971, Benson, joined by steel guitarist Lucky Oceans, rhythm guitarist Leroy Preston, and vocalist Chris O'Connell, moved to San Francisco, where the band added pianist Floyd Domino and strengthened an alliance with touring partners Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. 1973 brought their debut, Comin’ Right at Ya, on United Artists. The following year, at the suggestion of Willie Nelson, the Wheel relocated to Austin. Switching to Epic Records resulted in a self-titled release and some action on the country charts with a remake of Louis Jordan's "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie.” Another label jump, this time to Capitol, produced 1975's Texas Gold, a country Top 10 album and their only Top 10 hit on the country singles charts, "The Letter That Johnny Walker Read." In 1980, Chris O’Connell and Lucky Oceans left the band, and after some financial difficulties in the early part of the decade, Benson and friends signed to Dot with little success. Returning to Epic, 1987’s 10 brought them back to the Top 20 of the country album charts and, with “House of Blue Lights,” the singles charts. In 1990, a major personnel shift brought steel guitarist/Dobroist Cindy Cashdollar onboard. 1993’s A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and 1999’s Ride With Bobbrought western swing to a new audience and national acclaim and recognition to the band. The latter, which featured fiddler Jason Roberts who is now an important cog in the Wheel along with vocalist Elizabeth McQueen, was adapted for the stage and has been played to audiences nationwide. – Jim Caligiuri