A fiddler from West Texas,
named Bob Wills, was The King
A Ride With Bob is an original musical drama that relives the story of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, starring nine-time Grammy winners Ray Benson, Asleep at the Wheel, and an all-star cast of actors, dancers and musicians.
Those who experienced Wills perform have never forgotten him. For decades on radio, in dance halls and on the silver screen, he was the most popular entertainer in the American southwest. Although he passed away in 1975, his legendary music keeps growing, and is today accepted as a defining cultural achievement of this region.
The two-act play includes performances of Wills most famous songs, including “San Antonio Rose,” “Faded Love,” “Cherokee Maiden,” “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” and many more!
“The most entertaining night in Texas”
- Liz Smith, New York Post
“…as raucous, spirited and joyous as the music that inspired it”
– John Wooley, Tulsa World
“…Bob Wills is the undiscovered icon of 20th century American music. A Ride with Bob is his story.” - Ray Benson
Ray’s one regret is that he never got a chance to talk to Bob before he died. In this new musical drama Benson finally gets to have his conversation with the ghost of Bob Wills and set the record straight.
A Ride With Bob began in the spring of 2005 with six sold out shows at the State Theater in Austin, TX. After an overwhelming success, including several theatrical nominations from Austin Circle of Theaters, the play began to branch out over Texas and Oklahoma. 2006 brings a year full of opportunity as the play has gone nationwide with several dates confirmed and more on the way. The play continues to be refined and reflects Ray’s drive for perfection.
Over the course of the last 36 years Benson and the Wheel have boldly defied the fickle lures of the mainstream -- and thrived -- by sticking to their noble cause of keeping that distinctly American of art forms, western swing, alive and kicking. Along the way, they've entertained thousands and won praise and admiration from everyone from Willie Nelson to Bob Dylan, George Strait to Van Morrison.
Theater isn’t the only new adventure the band has taken recently. After three plus decades in the music industry Asleep at the Wheel began playing their dance music with pops orchestras to an overwhelming response in Fort Worth, Dallas and Austin. After numerous packed houses the Wheel is eager to do it again.
Asleep at the Wheel is not just your typical dance band, they're an institution: an ever-shifting lineup (over 80 members to date) of like-minded musicians united under Benson's crusade to carry the torch of big band Western Swing music into the 21st Century. If you want to hear what Texas sounds like, all you need to do is pop in an Asleep at the Wheel CD.
For Ray Benson, the will to play the guitar began in Philadelphia, PA -- far, far away from the city of Austin, Texas, which the Wheel has proudly called home for the last thirty-three years. "I was born in 1951, and big band music was still very much around, and in my community it was still very much the thing," Benson explains. "I played bass in my school stage band in tenth grade, and my musical director introduced us to Count Bassie. My friend Lucky Ocean’s parents were sort of like beatniks, and his dad gave us some Lester Young records when we were still in high school. But I just happened to be a weird kind of guy: I was also into folk music, Chicago blues and country. My goal was to be more different than anybody, and that's what Asleep at the Wheel was all about: doing roots music that was different and eclectic."
"I've been told that I'm relentless, so I guess I am," he says. "Every time that I figured I was going to quit, we'd have a wonderful, incredible show where the people were so appreciative that we were doing this music that it's like, 'Well, hell -- this beats working, so why not keep doing it?' Honestly, I would like to see this go on forever. If I'm not here, I think there are some capable hands being developed right now. Western swing ain't going away."
The band's biggest success was in 1999 when their critically acclaimed album Ride with Bob struck gold on the charts and at the Grammys. But Ray felt that there was something missing with his music, “After the Ride With Bob album was done and it was doing real well, I was sitting in my office reading the sales reports on Asleep at the Wheel that the record company had sent me," says Benson. "And I looked at all the 'Best Of' Asleep at the Wheel albums, of which there are many, and none of them contained all of the songs that are our top requested songs night after night on the road. Every night the fans ask for certain songs, and there's not a package out there representing what our fans want. So that's what we set out to do."
The result is The Very Best of Asleep at the Wheel, the very first album to round up every single one of the legendary Western swing band's most requested songs after thirty-six years of rolling on the road. "It's not ballad heavy," states the 6'7" bandleader and guitar slinger with a deep laugh. "We're a dance band. That's what we're about. And that's plenty."
"This is improvisational music, which I think is the whole ball of wax, because that's where the rubber really meets the road -- and it's why we play it," says Benson. "I think it's interesting to listen to updated versions of what people do, hearing how they have evolved. People change, and I love to have the luxury of having a career this long to do it. Part of the impetus was touring with Bob Dylan a couple of years ago. Every night, Dylan would do those songs a little differently, and it made it very exciting to see where they were going to go each night."
Their importance in today’s music cannot be understated as they have continued to carry the torch of western swing and pack venues across the globe.