Asleep at the Wheel

Half a Hundred Years

Fifty years, hundreds of personnel changes, and multiple Grammys later, the “hippie country band” Ray Benson and steel guitarist Lucky Oceans organized in rural West Virginia in 1970 is now a beloved American institution, revered for preserving and expanding interest in Western swing. With the pandemic making it impossible to record face-to-face, Benson relied on remote technology to finish a project that celebrates past and present, blending new originals and covers with longtime band favorites.

The early lineup is featured on Count Basie’s 1941 anti-bigotry anthem “It’s The Same Old South,” expressively sung by veteran Chris O’Connell complete with her famous rhythm guitar “chunking.” Cindy Cashdollar’s lap steel adds the perfect retro feel to Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” from the Wheel’s 1973 debut LP, sung by Benson with guests George Strait and Willie Nelson.

Bill Kirchen joins Benson and other early members for the Kirchen-Dan Hicks swinger “Word to the Wise,” he and Benson both playing unplugged. The instrumental “The Wheel Boogie” features Benson and former Asleep steel players: current member Flavio Pasquetto and veterans Oceans, Cashdollar, Eddie Rivers, and John Ely. Oceans explodes vocally and instrumentally on his original shuffle “I Love You Most of All (When You’re Not Here),” complete with blazing, Speedy West-style bar chattering.

This article originally appeared in VG’s January 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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