Forty-seven years in, Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel show no signs of slowing down. This summer the Western Swing standard bearers are crisscrossing the nation’s highways and byways, and living out the lyrics of a country song on their Texas Dance Hall Tour.
Ray was kind enough to answer a few questions for us ahead of the tour’s stop at Arvada Center on August 5. Joining them is none other than Dale Watson. Ray covered everything from touring with Dale, his band’s place in history, the enduring legacy of Bob Wills, and more.
Denver and Arvada Center audiences are well-acquainted with Asleep At The Wheel, what can they expect from the Texas Dance Hall Tour?
Yes, well we have been very lucky and grateful to be able to make Denver and the Arvada summer series an annual stop for AATW. Each year we have a new act to share the evening with us. This year we are bringing a taste of what it’d be like musically to be in a Texas Dance Hall, and there is no one better to represent that than Dale Watson and ourselves, so we are very excited to bring this show to Arvada, and there will be a few surprises so gonna be a great show.
What has it been like to share the stage with Dale Watson?
It’s a blast, we have a lot of fun and enjoy pushing each other musically and tellin’ jokes. Both bands get along well, and we all have played music together for many years. We always try and do something fun and new when we get to do shows together.
Why do you think the music of Bob Wills endures to this day?
Bob took Texas Fiddle music, that was mainly played in rural communities in Texas and Oklahoma, electrified it, mixed it with Jazz, Blues and Rock n Roll, and took it all over the world. He is one of only a handful of people in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame. To me that shows how important he was/is in the history of music. Bob was an amazing band leader, he hired the best singers and players, and brought the best out of them. The music they created made you smile, tap your feet, make you wanna get up and dance, it was and still is infectious. I think that the younger generations nowadays have been able with the internet and YouTube, to not only hear Bob Wills, but see videos of him and the band, and become inspired to start learning or playing this genre called “Western Swing”. Its been great to see lots of young artists and western swing bands popping up all over the world.
Texas is known as a great crossroads of American music – a place where traditional music can evolve and present itself anew. How does Asleep At The Wheel fit into that continuum?
Probably gonna be known as the band who reinvented Western Swing music, introducing it to a whole new audience, with a different look and sound. Its our 47th year this year and its been amazing to continue to be able to represent the State of Texas and Western Swing.
Are there any up-and-coming artists that Asleep At The Wheel might have influenced that have caught your attention?
Sure, I feel comfortable saying acts like Pokey Lafarge, The Quebe Sisters we probably influenced a bit. An Americana artist named Sam Outlaw just did an article about how the first Bob Wills tribute record we did, is why he plays country/roots music. So it’s fun to see a new generation reaching back to the past and putting their own spin on it.
Who is an artist that influenced you that fans might be surprised to learn had such an impact on you?
Hmm, probably Bob Dylan. We got to do a tour opening up for him in the early 2000s, definitely a highlight in our career. I think we played the Fillmore in Denver with him.
What are some of your earliest memories of touring in Colorado? Do you still encounter fans from those days?
I believe our first shows in Colorado would have been late 72/73. I’m pretty sure that Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs were the first towns we played. Definitely have folks that come up and share their stories from Red Rocks to The Hogan etc… We’ve played ’em all
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Come on out to Arvada on August 5th. Gonna be a special night with Dale and the band is sounding great with new members and can’t wait to play!
This Q&A was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Music Content Marketing & Publicity Manager Barry Osborne.