Fans of western swing music in Arizona will have a chance to double their pleasure as the beloved Americana band Asleep at the Wheel rolls into Phoenix for shows at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) Aug. 17-18.
The latest Asleep at the Wheel album is twice as nice too, in a way; Still the King, comprised mostly of material originally recorded by the great Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, is an album of duets and songs featuring guest players such as Brad Paisley, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Old Crow Medicine Show and Carrie Rodriguez.
We sent the band’s Ray Benson and Emily Gimble some questions via email, asking about the new record and Asleep at the Wheel’s well-known affinity for the music of Bob Wills. Below are their answers, given exclusively to AXS.com.
AXS: Asleep at the Wheel has long had a fondness for the music of Bob Wills and your latest album is a tribute to him. Do you think there’s still Wills music out there that you haven’t heard? When was the last time you discovered a “new” song and what were the circumstances?
Ray Benson: I was amazed to see how many tunes Bob recorded. Every time I look at his discography I seem to find one I hadn't heard, especially the Tiffany Transcriptions! One of the tunes we did with The Avett Brothers, “The Girl I Left Behind Me”, is one I hadn't heard Bob Wills do till they pointed it out
Emily Gimble: I’m certain there is some Wills music I haven’t heard before. Not sure I could say the same for Ray; he’s been listening and digging a little longer than me. The last time I can recall being knocked out from a “new” Wills tune was a couple years ago when my buddy Jacob Jaeger played me “Pray for the Lights to Go Out.” The chugging rhythm section, big gang vocals, and the way Bob almost rapped over the band still blows me away every time I listen.
AXS: Can you share a memory of working with the late Dawn Sears?
RB: I had known of Dawn for many years for her work with Vince Gill and her husband Kenny (Sears, The Time Jumpers.) Along with Connie Smith, one of the most powerful singers of country music.
AXS: You have former Texas Playboys members Billy Briggs and Leon Rausch on the new record. Are they fond of telling stories from back in the day?
RB: I’ve known both of the guys, Leon and Billy, for 40-years or more. They have been collaborators and friends for a long time. So many stories.
EG: Is the Pope Catholic? Yes they do. The first time I had the pleasure of meeting and playing with Billy Briggs he told me that my grandpa, Johnny Gimble, was the one who called him up and asked him to join the Wills band.
AXS: Still the King features guest artists on every song. Was it sometimes tough to get down to business with all these great singers and players sitting in? Did you have days where multiple guests came by, or did they mostly not cross paths?
RB: All the tracks were cut at different times over a number of years so no, there weren’t people crisscrossing for the most part. We just had fun learning and arranging the songs in a relaxed atmosphere.
AXS: Is it true that a comment made by Van Morrison led to the band’s first record deal?
RB: Van heard us in 1972 and put us on a few shows with him and then mentioned us in Rolling Stone magazine as a band he really liked
AXS: You have two shows coming up in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum, which should mean you have time to tour the museum if you have not yet done so. Are there any rare or offbeat instruments that you’d like to see, and play if you could?
RB: I have toured the museum and was blown away by the completeness of the collection. No, I'll stick with trying to get better on guitar.
EG: I toured the museum a couple years ago when I was out with Hayes Carll and it was a lot to take in on one trip. So I'm just looking forward to soaking up a little more musical instrument knowledge this time. I do know our bass player, Dave Miller, would love to thump on the Octobass.
For Asleep at the Wheel band information and tour dates go here.