What’s that you say? ‘What is Asleep At The Wheel?’ Oh brother, where art thou? Where have thou been? OK, let’s start with the beginnings, as per All Music Guid:
Since the early ’70s, Asleep at the Wheel have been the most important force in keeping the sound of Western swing alive. In reviving the freewheeling, eclectic sensibility of Western swing godfather Bob Wills, the Wheel have earned enthusiastic critical praise throughout their lengthy career; they have not only preserved classic sounds that had all but disappeared from country music, but have also been able to update the music, keeping it a living, breathing art form. Typically featuring eight to 11 musicians, the group has gone through myriad personnel changes (at last count, over 80 members had passed through their ranks), but 6’7″ frontman Ray Benson has held it together for four decades, keeping Asleep at the Wheel a viable recording and touring concern and maintaining their devotion to classic-style Western swing.
Singer/guitarist Benson was born Ray Benson Seifert and grew up listening to a variety of music in Philadelphia, especially jazz. He formed Asleep at the Wheel in Paw Paw, West Virginia in 1970, along with longtime friend Lucky Oceans (born Reuben Gosfield; steel guitar) and Leroy Preston (rhythm guitar). They soon added a female singer in Chris O’Connell, who was fresh out of high school. Initially, the group played straight-ahead country in local venues, but quickly switched to Western swing when they discovered the music through Merle Haggard (specifically his Bob Wills tribute album) and eclectic country-rockers Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. In fact, Commander Cody helped the group sign with his own manager, Joe Kerr, who convinced them to move to San Francisco in late 1971. They subsequently added keyboardist Floyd Domino, and secured a residency at Berkeley’s Longbranch Saloon. Praise from Van Morrison in a Rolling Stone article helped them land a record deal with United Artists, which released their debut album, Comin’ Right at Ya, in 1973. MORE
Forty-eight years, 33 albums and nine Grammy Awards later, they are still alive and swinging and sound like they were born yesterday. Literally. We have a pair of tickets to see Asleep At The Wheel perform at Ardmore Music Hall tomorrow night to give away to the 34th Phawker reader to email us at Phawker66@gmail.com with the correct answer to the following easy-as-pie Asleep At The Wheel trivia question: What is the name of the city where Asleep At The Wheel leader/founder/last charter member standing Ray Benson was born and bred? Put the words TAKE THE WHEEL in the subject line and include your full name as it appears on your photo ID along with a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!