100 Greatest Men: #65. Asleep at the Wheel

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

It’s an old saying that Ray Benson most certainly would agree with: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

Asleep at the Wheel has undergone many lineup changes since it was formed in 1970 by Benson, Lucky Oceans, and Leroy Preston.  They were joined shortly thereafter by Chris O’Connell, a female singer.  They started out as a country band, but their sound was forever changed by Merle Haggard’s tribute album to Bob Wills.  Since hearing that seminal album, they’ve been devoted to both the preservation and development of Western Swing.

Their debut album was released in 1973 by United Artists, but the band laid down roots in 1974 when they moved to Austin, Texas.  They recorded for a variety of major labels in the seventies and eighties, and had significant commercial success with four albums for Capitol.  The band became widely known for their outstanding live performances, and scored a few hits at country radio, too.

Early on in the band’s run, the lineup began to change, which has become a trademark of the band that has aided its incredible longevity.  The one constant has always been frontman Ray Benson, who has kept the band relevant through bringing in new talent regularly and through creative collaborations with other artists.  They’ve won a remarkable eight Grammy awards, including six for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

Their commitment to preserving the legacy of Bob Wills resulted in two widely hailed and warmly embraced tribute albums: 1993’s A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and 1999’s Ride with Bob.  The former earned a CMA nomination for Album of the Year, and the latter brought the band back to the country singles chart, thanks to unsolicited airplay for “Roly Poly”, a duet with the Dixie Chicks.

To celebrate Wills’ centennial, Benson starred in a touring musical called A Ride with Bob, where he played himself touring the life of Wills as his band plays along. The show received rave reviews, and one show was even attended by President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.

In 2009, almost three decades after the band first formed, they had the highest-charting album of their career with Willie and the Wheel, a collaboration with fellow Austin icon Willie Nelson.

Essential Singles:

  • Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, 1973
  • The Letter that Johnny Walker Read, 1975
  • Route 66, 1976
  • House of Blue Lights, 1987
  • Red Wing, 1993

Essential Albums:

  • Comin’ Right at Ya, 1973
  • Texas Gold, 1975
  • Asleep at the Wheel, 1985
  • Ten, 1987
  • A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, 1993
  • Willie and the Wheel (with Willie Nelson), 2009

Next: #64. Jerry Reed

Previous: #66. David Houston

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. I finally had the oportunity to see AATW about two years ago and was not disappointed. The current version of his band is as good as any he’s had, and their stage show is as good as any I’ve ever seen (other than Haggard’s stage show of the mid-to-late 1970s)

    One of Ray’s greatest strengths as a band leader is that he doesn’t hog the spotlight on stage. All of his musicians and singers received at least two songs spotlighting their abilities
    as well as instrumental solos during the various songs. I’m not sure how tall Ray Benson is, but I am 6’1″ and felt tiny standing next to him after the show

    You should have noted that AATW served as the backing band for the Haggard – Price – Nelson ‘Last of the Breed’ tour

    By the way, AATW’s website indicates that they’ve won 9 Grammys – an impressive feat

  2. I was only able to find eight Grammy wins for ASTW proper in the Grammy database. “Ride with Bob” won an additional Grammy for Best Recording Package, which was awarded to Ray Benson and the two art directors, so I’m assuming they are including that in the nine total on the website.

  3. When Suzy Bogguss decided to make a Swing album, she knew who to go to – Ray Benson. He co-produced her 2003 album “Swing” and sang a duet with her, “Cupid Shot Us Both With One Arrow”. In the liner notes, she thanked Ray for making her vision a beautiful reality and Asleep at the Wheel, past and present, for providing the “real stuff’.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Honored By Tennessee State Senate; Dixie Chicks Working on New Album; Free Mix From Blue Ridge Outdoors - Engine 145

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.