Includes footage from the band’s eleven appearances on the show
All of the greats were ahead of their time; Archimedes, Nikola Tesla, The Beatles. The Grateful Dead meshed string band music and rhythm and blues to create an entirely new scene and the Rolling Stones carried a rock and roll torch into stadiums and onto television screens worldwide, but in the world of Americana music and Texas’s cosmic outlaw country, there was one group telling old stories and rallying new fans well before those genres even had a name — Asleep at the Wheel. On October 31st, ACL Presents: 50 Years of Asleep at the Wheel, a special retrospective of the band’s appearances on public television’s beloved Austin City Limits program will premiere nationwide on PBS. From performing on the series’ very first episode to modern-day collaborations with legends like Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett. In total, the band has appeared on eleven episodes. Asleep at the Wheel have woven a 50-year thread through Texas and American music history, and Austin City Limits played quite the part in it. Fans can experience the journey right from the beginning this Halloween when ACL Presents: 50 Years of Asleep at the Wheel airs; more information including a full broadcast schedule is available at acltv.com.
ACL Presents: 50 Years of Asleep at the Wheel is only the kickoff of a coming year-long celebration of the band’s five-decade milestone. This past week, Asleep at the Wheel’s fearless leader and founder Ray Benson took part in “Thriving Roots,” AMERICANAFEST’s virtual conference, announcing the coming special and screening an hour-long interview and documentary produced by the Texas Music Office for all digital festival attendees to enjoy. Additionally, Benson and Asleep at the Wheel are currently being featured in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Outlaws and Armadillos exhibit and as part of the Whitliff Collection at Texas State University’s museum.
Fans, new and old, should stay tuned in to asleepatthewheel.com in the coming months because Benson and Asleep at the Wheel are just getting started with their big celebration.
The stars aligned in 1970 when three friends Ray Benson, Lucky Oceans, and Leroy Preston moved to Paw Paw, West Virginia (it’s not a made-up place, you can look it up). It was there that their dream of forming a band began after a mutual friend gave them access to his uncle’s cabin on an apple orchard just outside of town. The three friends began to — quite literally — woodshed and found others who would join them in their mission to play old-style roots/Americana music. This was long before the genre even had a name. After a trip to the outhouse, Lucky lived up to his name and suggested the band be called Asleep at the Wheel and so it was to be for the next 50 years.
Since inception, Asleep at the Wheel received ten GRAMMY Awards, was cited by the Country Music Association as 1976 Touring Band of the Year and were given the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Americana Music Association. They have released 31 albums and charted more than 20 singles on the country charts. Billboard commented on the band’s catalog most succinctly: “Everything this act has ever released is simply spectacular.”
Most recently, Asleep at the Wheel has been in the studio working on a new record to be released in early 2021. Asleep at the Wheel have demonstrated convincingly that they are more relevant, enjoyable, and musically nimble than at any time in the band’s 50-year history. The 6’7” Ray Benson has been the one constant in Asleep At the Wheel since 1970. He notes, “I’ve been told that I’m relentless, so I guess I am… I’m just doing what I believe I’m meant to do—I’m singing and playing and writing better than I ever have. My role and concept of leading a band has never changed. It’s gathering the best musicians I can find or convince to play to the best of their ability, and I just try to make the best decisions possible and kick some ass every night onstage. I’ve made it this far and don’t feel like I or the band will be slowing down anytime soon.”