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From Hippie to Country: Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson Tells His Story

Bengt Nyman/Wikimedia Commons
Ray Benson's new memoir 'Comin' Right At Ya' details his time as lead singer of Asleep At The Wheel.

From Texas Standard: There are lots of musicians who can claim to be from Texas, but only a handful who are convincing enough to make you believe they're really from the Lone Star State — even though they're not. 

Ray Benson is smart enough to embrace the distinction. The subtitle to his book "Comin' Right At Ya" is How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel.

Asleep at the Wheel has never been a top-selling band, but they have earned Grammys.

"Most folks would have given up somewhere along the line," Benson says, "I just never did... I was able to put up with the inequities of some of the situations."

He says the band was trying to undermine what he and others saw as a "lack of realness" in rock at the time – "you have to go back and take the integrity of roots music and interpret it for yourself."

Benson says they started out doing Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard covers, taking on both the patriotic spirit running through much of country music and the rebellious stance of most rock bands.

"To play country music was very subversive for a long-haired band," he says.

The band ended up in Texas because Eddie Wilson, who ran Armadillo World Headquarters, told them they'd do well in Austin. They wanted to play at the first Willie Nelson Picnic in Dripping Springs, but they couldn't get the money together. After their record came out, they played shows in Texas and jammed with Nelson after a gig in Dallas.

"When Willie says come to Austin, you come to Austin," he says.

What you'll hear in this segment:

-How the band went on the road with Tammy Wynette after "The Letter That Johnny Walker Read" became a Top Ten hit

-How Benson navigated being a Jewish Yankee when most folks thought he was born and raised Texan

-What went into making the Western swing album "Willie and the Wheel" with the one and only Willie Nelson

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