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Asleep at the Wheel Celebrates Bob Wills and Western Swing

In a sense, Asleep at the Wheel can be defined as an ongoing tribute to the western swing music made famous by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. It is a generational band in which players are expected to come and go over time. Of course, many rock bands have become the same thing due to unexpected longevity. It seems part of Asleep at the Wheel’s overall strategy than something that happened by accident.

The discography at Wikipedia lists 32 albums, eight current members and 33 alums. The band was formed in Paw Paw, West Virginia in 1969 and played the rock circuit: Early on, it opened for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna. Five years later – supposedly at the suggestion of Willie Nelson – Asleep at the Wheel moved to Austin, TX. The profiles note that Van Morrison was an early proponent and that the band got important help from Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen.

Western swing is a lot of fun. Here is AllMusic’s definition: “Western Swing was the most eclectic form of country music and in its free-wheeling diversity, it set the stage for rock & roll. Based in traditional string band music, Western swing also incorporated traditional pop melodies, jazz improvisation, blues, and folk, creating a wildly entertaining and eclectic form of American music.” Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys are the kings of western swing. Asleep at the Wheel pays continual homage to the band. Click here or on the image for the band’s greatest hits at Amazon. Here it is at iTunes.
The bio simply is too long and exhaustive to dive into. It covers decades and features a small army of people, a lot of albums, a lot of guest performances and a lot of changes.

AllMusic credits “The Wheel,” as Steve Huey (and probably others) calls the band, with keeping alive and updating western swing, which is an enjoyable and important music. It’s a big band, Huey writes, usually featuring 11 to 13 players. So far, it has released three albums celebrating Bob Wills.

Western swing, according to Wikipedia, developed in Texas, Oklahoma and California in the late 1920s. It is an up tempo mix of jazz, rural and cowboy music, polka, folk, Dixieland and blues. In other words, it is deeply American music. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys is the best remembered western swing band. Others, according to Wikipedia, include some great names: The Light Crust Doughboys, Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, Spade Cooley and His Orchestra and Hank Thompson And His Brazos Valley Boys. The article adds that The Hot Club of Cowtown is a current western swing band.

Above is “Take Me Back to Tulsa” and below is a tremendous swing version of the blues standard “Hesitation Blues.”

AllMusic was cited in the blue box.