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Asleep at the Wheel

Clay Cooper Theatre • 3216 W. 76 Country Blvd. • Branson, MO 65616
Asleep at the Wheel
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Asleep at the Wheel Peforms in Branson

For over fifty years, Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson has been traversing the globe as an ambassador of Western swing music and introducing its irresistible sound to generation after generation. More than 100 musicians have passed through the Wheel, but Benson remains the front man and the keeper of the vision, in the process racking up more than 30 albums, ten Grammy awards and literally millions of miles on the road.

Asleep at the Wheel has collaborated on records with genre-spanning friends, including Willie Nelson on 2009’s Grammy Nominated Willie and the Wheel and other critically acclaimed artists, including Brad Paisley, Jamey Johnson, Merle Haggard, George Strait, the Avett Brothers, Amos Lee, Old Crow Medicine Show and Lyle Lovett on Still the King, their 2015 critically acclaimed and Grammy winning tribute to Bob Wills. On their latest release, Half A Hundred Years, Asleep At The Wheel continued their contributions to the American music landscape when three original members of Asleep at the Wheel—Chris O’Connell, Leroy Preston, and Lucky Oceans—returned after 40 years to lend their voices and musicianship to a number of tracks on the album along with Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson.

The History and A Biography of Asleep at the Wheel

From the pen of a 19-year-old with a vision to a globetrotting phenomenon, Ray Benson has faithfully piloted Asleep at the Wheel, bringing the vibrant strains of Western swing to eager ears across generations. Through the years and countless lineup changes, Benson's unwavering commitment to his mission has kept the band's spirit alive and swinging.

Their latest offerings exhibit this timeless fusion with finesse. The 'Better Times EP' graces fans with three fresh tracks: "All I’m Asking," a spirited appeal for redemption; the hopeful "Better Times," nodding to post-pandemic aspirations; and a spirited take on "Columbus Stockade Blues." Come fall, a career-spanning album invites listeners old and new to join Asleep at the Wheel on their perpetual tour—a journey five decades strong.

"It’s my drive that keeps the band going, but it's the sheer talent of our members that's kept us loved,” Benson humbly shares. "I always tell new band members to learn the ropes, then chart their own path. What brings me joy is witnessing their interpretations. I'm a songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist, sure, but my real gift is galvanizing musicians to embrace and play this unique sound."

Benson, hailing from Philadelphia, embarked on his musical odyssey in 1969. Dropping out of college, he settled down near Paw Paw, West Virginia, alongside bandmates Lucky Oceans and LeRoy Preston, magnetized by honky-tonk and swing. Despite being a youthful dissident of the Vietnam War era, Benson sought to bridge generational divides through music.

"We wanted to resonate with different crowds," he reflects. "It wasn’t about political games—it was about capturing the essence of music and sharing it."

Their break came in 1970 when the Medicine Ball Caravan, captivated by tales of their sound, knocked on their doorsteps, extending an invite to kick off their show in D.C. As the Wheel trekked beyond their local venues, where their hippie image met with skepticism, their authenticity in country tunes ultimately won hearts.

After a cosmic nod from Commander Cody, Asleep at the Wheel ventured to Berkeley in 1971, quickly becoming local favorites and capturing Van Morrison's admiration. Soon enough, the spotlight turned their way, and record deals and tours followed at dizzying speeds.

The '70s saw the band's star soar, with hits like "The Letter That Johnny Walker Read" placing them on charts and awards podiums, including their first Grammy in 1979. Yet, it's the connection with audiences that Benson cherishes. "We're born to perform," he insists. "Creating records is one thing, but the real magic happens on stage—that's what keeps people coming back for more."

Confronted with the disco era's contrast, Asleep at the Wheel faced a crossroads in 1981. Regrouping with fewer members and no label backing, Benson leaned on commercial production to sustain the dream. Nevertheless, the band persevered, fueled by heartfelt fan gratitude urging them, "Don't ever stop."

This year, fans can anticipate another unforgettable moment as Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel take the stage for a one-night-only performance at the Clay Cooper Theater in Branson. It's more than a show; it's a testament to half a century of musical influence and the enduring charm of their unique sound.

Come witness a night of history, legacy, and toe-tapping tunes at Branson's Clay Cooper Theater. Join us in celebrating a living legend—Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel—for an exclusive evening where the roots of Americana music are brought to life. Don’t miss this journey through the soundscape of Western swing with the masters themselves.

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