Asleep at the Wheel is a Texas-based Western swing group led by the multi-talented Ray Benson. They have received much praise throughout their career for reviving and preserving the freewheeling, eclectic sensibility of the Western swing sound. Over the last four decades, Asleep at the Wheel has had over 80 members pass through its ranks, and has produced fresh, inventive recordings and performances all the while.
Ray Benson grew up in Philadelphia listening to a variety of music styles. He formed Asleep at the Wheel in 1970 with two longtime friends and guitarists Lucky Oceans and Leroy Preston. Initially playing straight country in local clubs and dives, the band switched to Western swing after being introduced to the music of Merle Haggard. After moving to San Francisco in 1971, the Wheel added keyboard player Floyd Domino, and booked a residency at Longbranch Saloon in Berkeley. A subsequent Rolling Stone article featuring praise from Van Morrison led to a record deal with United Artists and their 1973 debut album, Comin’ Right at Ya.
The Wheel relocated to Austin, Texas in 1974 and switched to Epic label. Their cover of “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” became their first single to hit country charts that same year. Switching again to Capitol Records in 1975, they released Texas Gold, which reached Top Ten charts and served as a breakthrough for the band. Throughout the 1970s, they put out a string of successful albums: Wheelin’ and Dealin’ (1976), The Wheel (1977), and Collision Course (1978), which won them a Grammy award for their instrumental cover of Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump.”
In 1980, the band moved to MCA and released Framed while experiencing major personnel changes and heavy debt, which forced them to work on movie soundtracks and commercials. The band was largely ignored for a few years until their 1987 comeback album Asleep at the Wheel 10, which brought them back into the Top 20 charts and won them a second Grammy for Best Country Instrumental. Their success continued with 1988’s Western Standard Time, winning another Best Country Instrumental Grammy for “Sugarfoot Rag.”
The early 1990s saw another tumultuous personnel shift for the Wheel, but resulted in new members Ricky Turpin, David Miller, and Cyndi Cashdollar. They picked up another Grammy for 1983’s “Red Wing” and released The Wheel Keeps on Rollin’ in 1995. Their next major project was a tribute to Bob Wills entitled Ride with Bob, which achieved critical and commercial success.
Asleep at the Wheel released two albums documenting their entertaining stage performances, Miles and Miles of Texas (2012), and Having a Party Live (2014). In 2015, Asleep at the Wheels released a third Bob Wills tribute album, Still the King, which included a variety of prominent guest performers such as Merle Haggard, The Avett Brothers, and Old Crow Medicine Show, and went on to win a Grammy for Best Recording Package. Asleep at the Wheel regularly performs and is often booked for private parties and corporate entertainment events. Their latest album, New Routes, was released in 2018 to positive reviews.