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 more of Asleep at the Wheel’s overall strategy.
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.
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.”