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Asleep At The Wheel  

Country Western String Band & Nine-Time Grammy Award Winners

Asleep at the Wheel has seen miles and miles of Texas. They got their kicks on Route 66. And,in 2010, the band clicked another milestone on the odometer – their 40th anniversary. Now in their 44th year, the band continues to introduce the western swing genre to a new generation on tour and takes audiences on the ride of a lifetime with their play, “A Ride with Bob.”

It all started when Ray Benson, Floyd Domino, and Lucky Oceans, along with a Vermont farm boy named Leroy Preston, Virginian Chris O'Connell, and Gene Dobkin joined forces. They began with a simple goal: to play and help revive American roots music. Asleep at the Wheel landed a gig opening for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna in Washington,DC in 1970. But, the band’s big break came when Van Morrison mentioned them in an interview with Rolling Stone. The record offers started coming in and The Wheel got rolling.

The musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel has become the stuff of legends Taking a page from Bob Wills’ book, the band has constantly toured at a national level throughout its history; with anywhere from 7-15 of the finest players Ray Benson could talk into jumping in the bus to play a string of dates. The alumni roster includes an impressive list of musicians who have gone on to perform with artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams,and many more. A quick scan of awards, such as “Touring Band of the Year” (CMAs, 1976) and “Lifetime Achievement in Performance” (Americana Music Awards 2009), not to mention near dominance of the Grammy “Country Instrumental” category over the years, reflects the reputation of the band’s musicianship.

Over their history, Asleep at The Wheel has garnered nine Grammy Awards and released more than 25 studio and live albums, and there is no sign of slowing down any time soon. Just last year they earned a Grammy nomination in the newly minted Best Americana Album category for their critically acclaimed Willie & The Wheel, on Bismeaux Records. Most recently, another collaborative project paired the band with the legendary lead from Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, Leon Rausch. It was Leon who first suggested to Ray in the 1970’s that The Wheel record Get Your Kicks (on Route 66). The Wheel has now recorded the hit 4 times in 4 different decades, with this latest version featuring Leon.

The Broadway-scale musical that started as a commemoration of Bob Will’s 100th birthday in 2005 now marks its own milestone in 2010; 5 years. Ray Benson and Ann Rapp co-wrote the first-ever musical drama about Benson’s idol, entitled “A Ride with Bob: The Bob Wills Musical.” At the core of the story is the conversation Ray intended to have when he was invited to meet with Wills in 1974, fresh off the Wheel’s release of “Take Me Back to Tulsa.”

Unfortunately, that meeting never happened as Mr. Wills took ill and never recovered. For the last five years, the play has presented an inspired look into the life, loves and music of the colorful Bob Wills in performances across Texas and from San Francisco to Washington DC.Immediately embraced by western swing fans, this unique presentation has achieved cult-status among fans who can’t get enough.

True to Asleep at the Wheel’s original vision, the play isn't just appealing to core fans. A 2007 interview with The New York Times noted, “the play had another advantage. ‘We were reaching a completely new audience,’ Mr. Benson said — theatergoers who might never set foot in a beer joint, or even in a cowboy boot.”

Originally debuted in collaboration with the Austin Symphony, the Wheel has since gone on to present their pops program in select performances across the country, and even released a CD in 2006 of their performance with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

Throughout their four decades the Wheel has driven the genre to the edge, explored new territories, picked up new passengers along the way and crisscrossed the country to the delight of fans and critics alike. And, even though they’re doing “forty,” there’s no chance of slowing down now.

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