After 46 years, Asleep at the Wheel isn’t ready to take a rest
Asleep at the Wheel founder Ray Benson is ready for his band’s return to Park City for a three-night run at the Egyptian Theatre next week.
"It’s been a while," Benson said during a telephone call from his home in Austin, Texas. "We’ve played Park City many times over the past 46 years, but it will be fun to be there for three whole days in this gorgeous theatre and being up in Park City is always beautiful."
The concerts will run from Thursday, June 23, through Saturday, June 25.
The Texas swing/roots Americana band is celebrating its 46th anniversary this year, and wants to show off the gems in the catalog, according to Benson.
"When people come to an Asleep at the Wheel show in 2016 they’ll see we’re essentially doing everything from day one to the present," he said. "I can’t say that we’ll cover all 25 albums, but we’ll get in a little from each era, including songs from the latest album."
That album, "Still the King: Celebrating Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys," was released last spring.
"It’s the third in a series, even though it took 15 years between it and the last one," Benson said with a chuckle.
The goal of the series was to reinvigorate the Texas Swing music of Bob Wills.
"He was such a huge figure in Western music, country music and popular music," Benson said. "So, we figured that every so often there is a new generation of music lovers who would like to experience this music with Asleep at the Wheel."
The album featured many guests including some of the old guard — Lyle Lovett, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Del McCoury, Robert Earl Keen. But it also featured new blood such as The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Brad Paisley and Devil Makes Three.
"When we do these albums, they are all done in Bob Wills’ Western swing style," Benson said. "So, the older folks come and do it with us because they love doing it. And then we get the younger folks who have discovered the music because we want them to experience the music on record, so they can be part of the tradition going forward.
"We’re almost at the 100th anniversary of this music and, yet, it’s not being played in the mainstream of certain parts of the country," he said.
Benson’s draw to Western swing and roots Americana took hold while he grooved on other styles in the 1960s.
"I listened to everything from the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Motown music, jazz and show music," he said. "I realized they all came from roots music that spanned back to the turn of the century to the 1950s, when this new thing called popular music happened.
" 1969, 1970, a lot of the roots music had been forgotten and put on the back shelf because everything had to be brand new and innovative," Benson said. "I was all for innovation, but we also had this rear view mirror, which changed the way I looked at things."
Benson began searching for roots music records.
"I had to search things out in junk stores and antique stores where you can find the 78 rpm records," he said. "Of course, as we got into the new millennium, all you need to do to access the music of the last 100 years is touch a button. But back then, I would go into these shops and meet the old guys and learn something from them."
Benson is thankful that he has been able to make a living playing this music for the past 46 years.
"The reward is getting to play music for a living, for crying out loud," he said with another laugh. "When I’m not on the road, I’m sitting on my sofa and playing, and I’m always writing music. It’s what I do."
That’s not to say things have always been easy for the band.
"You do have to put up with a number of years of poverty and ridicule," he said. "And your family life isn’t what many people call normal because we’re out on the road.
"I was 19 when we started and I could see 10 years and even then I thought I was forward looking," Benson laughed. "I figured after 10 years, I’d do some farming and that didn’t work out. Traveling 200 days on the road is hell on the farm."
Touring fit in to Benson’s mantra, which is "The show must go on."
"I’ve played with a 103-degree fever and could barely see and I have on occasion also missed shows because there is a point where you can’t do it and I couldn’t get up off the floor," he said. "But you need to do this to the best of your ability, because that’s the trade off. You have to be 100 percent committed to be successful and, in my terms, to be happy."
Looking down the road, Benson sees many opportunities that Asleep at the Wheel needs to tackle.
"There are music avenues we haven’t traversed," he said. "We’ll also go into the studio in January next year with our new vocalist Katie Shore, who sang on this last album. We’ve been breaking her in so she will be ready for original songs.
"Then 2020 is our 50th anniversary," Benson said. "So, we’ll have to do something crazy for that."
Meanwhile the band is focused on the Park City shows.
"This is a rare occasion for us because we haven’t been getting back to Utah like we used to," Benson said. "We’ve played in Park City with Emmylou Harris and Steve Goodman during the summer concerts at Deer Valley, and I remember when we opened the Zephyr in Salt Lake, the first club that was the first to serve liquor by the drink all of those years ago.
"We’re so fortunate the Egyptian Theatre gave us three nights, so those who can’t make it on Thursday, can make it on Friday or Saturday," he said. "It’s great to be able to come back."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present Asleep at the Wheel from Thursday, June 23, to Friday, June 25, at 8 p.m. Thursday tickets range from $35 to $55 and tickets for Friday and Saturday are $39 to $65. They can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com or by calling 435-649-9371.
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