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Biography: Asleep at the Wheel

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With over thirty members over its four-decade (and still going) life, Asleep at the Wheel is one of the greatest Americana bands of all time.

 

Asleep at the Wheel currently includes Ray Benson, Elizabeth McQueen, David Earl Miller, Eddie Rivers, Jason Roberts, David Sanger, and Dan Walton in the line up.

 

The story of Asleep at the Wheel begins with two men: Ray Benson and Reuben Gosfield (aka Lucky Oceans).  Both Ray and Reuben were born to Jewish families in Philadephia, PA, in the spring of 1951 and grew up surrounded by music.  The young musicians, living about a mile apart, started playing together in junior high and even joined their local high school marching band.  After graduating, both went off to different campuses under the Antioch/Columbia banner, one in Maryland and one in Ohio.  The two boys kept in touch through written letters and it was during this time that Reuben took on the name Lucky.  Eventually, Ray and Lucky ended up squatting on a friend's family's apple farm in Paw Paw, WV.  Joined by their buddy Leroy Preston, the first iteration of Asleep at the Wheel was born in the early part of 1969.

 

An early 1970s version of the band included (left to right) Gene Dobkin, Lucky Oceans, Ray Benson, Chris O'Connell, Floyd Domino, and Leroy Preston.

 

By the warmer months, a few more members had joined the band: Gene Dobkin, Ed Angleton, and Truffy Angleton.  Kicked off of the apple farm, the band ended up living in a house by some railroad tracks.  Although the locals had warmed up to the long-haired hippies who played country music, the local law enforcement saw them as trouble.  After a few issues with "the man", they ended up on the west coast in East Oakland, CA, at the request of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, a country rock band that Benson had befriended the summer after high school.  Touring locally, they had their big break when Van Morrison mentioned them in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine.  Signed to United Artists, the first Asleep at the Wheel album would be released in 1973.  Called Comin' Right At Ya, the record did not chart - but it did impress Outlaw Country star Willie Nelson enough that he convinced the band to come make a home in Austin.

 

Texas Gold was Asleep at the Wheel's highest charting album at #7.

 

In 1974, the second album, Asleep at the Wheel, did much better than the first one and included their first single to break into the charts: a cover of Louis Jordan's "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie".  1975 would see some mainstream success for the band with the third album, Texas Gold, breaking into the Country Top 10 at #7.  The album included their first single to break the top ten as well, "The Letter that Johnny Walker Read".  Asleep at the Wheel would also play for the first time on the Austin City Limits program - a program that they now hold the record for performances on.  The rest of the 70s saw some modest successes and some big awards: the band would have the next three albums (Wheelin' and Dealin', The Wheel, and Collision Course) chart in the Country Top 50, be awarded the Touring Band of the Year award by the Academy of Country Music, and be named the Best Country/Western Band by Rolling Stone in 1977.  Meanwhile, they got to tour Europe alongside Emmylou Harris.

 

Asleep at the Wheel has received numerous awards, including multiple Grammy Awards, over its long lifespan.

 

The 1980s saw big changes in the line up of Asleep at the Wheel.  After the release of the non-charting Served Live in 1979, Lucky Oceans decided to leave the band and move to his wife's native homeland of Australia.  The band's next album, Framed, squeaked into the US Top 200 at #191 and no more material would be released for almost half a decade.  Having racked up some serious debt over the years, the band was forced to tour constantly and to work side-jobs in commercials just to stay afloat.  To make some extra money, the band produced the soundtrack to the movie Liar's Moon in 1982.  Another self-titled album was released in 1985, but it was mostly ignored and did not make the charts.

 

10 was the first Asleep at the Wheel album to hit the Country Charts after the loss of Lucky Oceans.

 

By 1986, things did not look well at all for Asleep at the Wheel.  Benson, who had been working part-time as a producer, secured one last chance at an album with Epic Records.  Featuring legendary fiddle player Johnny Gimble, who had been one of Bob Wills's Texas Playboys, the band released the 1987 record 10.  After almost a decade with nothing on the charts, 10 peaked at an impressive #16 and earned the band a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental.  1988's Western Standard Time climbed to #34 on the US Country Charts and solidified the band's comeback with another Grammy for Best Country Instrumental.

 

A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys featured many of the biggest names in country music - including Lucky Oceans!

 

The 90s saw Asleep at the Wheel take yet another turn.  They released the moderately successful Keepin' Me Up Nights in 1990 and kicked off a tour along Route 66 the following year.  1993 saw A Tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys which featured several guest musicians and garnered critical acclaim, peaking at #35 on the US Country Charts.  The Wheel Keep on Rollin' would be released in 1995 and was very popular in Canada.  Another tribute album to Bob Wills, Ride with Bob, would be released in 1999 and earn the band two more Grammy awards.

 

It doesn't get much better for country music fans than a live Asleep at the Wheel concert!

 

Since 2000, the band continues touring on an almost nightly basis.  They even put together a musical called A Ride With Bob, starring Benson as himself as a young man, which is an account of the life of Bob Wills.  The play was so popular that even former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush made a surprise appearance among the audience when it was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  Willie Nelson partnered with the band in 2009 for the very popular Willie and the Wheel, which reached #13 on the Country Charts.  The album, which also featured Paul Shaffer and Vince Gill, was was nominated for the 2010 Grammy for Best Americana Album.  Asleep at the Wheel is currently touring across the American south and you can even catch a live performance of A Ride With Bob if you keep an eye on their website here.

 

Discography:

(1973) Comin' Right At Ya

(1974) Asleep at the Wheel

(1975) Fathers & Sons

(1975) Texas Gold - #7

(1976) Wheelin' & Dealin' - #19

(1977) The Wheel - #31

(1978) Collision Course - #47

(1979) Served Live

(1980) Framed

(1985) Asleep at the Wheel [1985]

(1987) 10 - #16

(1988) Western Standard Time - #34

(1990) Keepin' Me Up Nights - #73

(1992) Route 66

(1993) A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys - #35

(1995) The Wheel Keeps on Rollin'

(1997) Back to the Future Now - Live at Arizona

(1997) Merry Texas Christmas, Y'all - #75

(1999) Ride with Bob - #24

(2003) Take Me Back to Tulsa

(2003) Wide Awake!: Live in Oklahoma

(2003) Live at Billy Bob's Texas

(2003) Remembers the Alamo

(2006) Live from Austin, TX

(2007) Reinventing the Wheel

(2007) Kings of Texas Swing

(2007) Santa Loves to Boogie

(2007) Asleep at the Wheel with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra

(2009) Willie and the Wheel (featuring Willie Nelson) - #13

(2010) It's a Good Day - #57

 

Songs on KBEC 1390:

"Blowin' Like a Bandit" - #59

"Boogie Back to Texas" - #53

"Cherokee Maiden"

"Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" - #69

"House of Blue Lights" - #17

"Keepin' Me Up Nights" - #54

"Miles and Miles of Texas" - #38

"Texas Me and You" - #75

"That's the Way Love Is" - #60

"The Letter that Johnny Walker Read" - #10

"Way Down Texas Way" - #39