Saturday, March 13, 2010

Berlin -- Asleep at the Wheel Turns 40 (and I'm at the Country Music Messe)

 I look into the somewhat distorting mirror at the Country Music Messe in Berlin. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

As I'm currently at the annual Country Music Messe in Berlin, Germany, country music is on my mind... and here's a nice, long piece in Billboard magazine about the Austin, Texas-based Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel celebrating its 40th birthday.
NASHVILLE (Billboard) - When Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson started a band in Paw Paw, West Virginia, in 1970, he had no idea that 40 years later he would still be at the helm of one of America's most adventurous musical outfits.

During a four-decade career, the band has earned nine Grammy Awards, launched a critically acclaimed theatrical production, performed with everyone from Willie Nelson to President Obama to the Fort Worth Symphony, released more than 25 albums and had an airport roadhouse named after its frontman.

"At times it feels like it was yesterday and at times it feels like a hundred years ago," Benson says. "If I look back to 1969 when I quit college and said, 'This is what we're going to do,' it's hard for me to believe that it all happened way beyond my expectations."
Read full article
I've know Ray since we were teenagers in suburban Philadelphia: he went to Antioch College for a bit while I (and Ray's brother) were at Oberlin, and we had a memorable time once hitch-hiking back to Philly together. We two hippies got a ride with a truck-driver who claimed to be "Col. Frank Savage" -- or General Frank Savage -- who was actually a character in the movie and TV show "Twelve O'Clock High". He scolded Ray when he said 'damn" or "hell" or something, telling him "not to use language like that in front of a lady" (i.e., me). He didn't like the fact that I was hitch-hiking (even if accompanied by a 6'7" man) but told me my Daddy should rest easy because Col (or Gen.) Frank Savage would take good care of me during the drive.

Ray Benson and me in Interlaken, Switzerland during the Trucker Festival, 2004

I've   seen Ray and the band perform many times over the years, most recently in Craponne, France in 2008 during the Country Rendez-vous festival. And I wrote a profile of him at that time -- click HERE.

Ironically, the fact that I knew Asleep at the Wheel became a factor, many years later, in my connection to the country music scene in Poland, and with Michael Lonstar -- whom I saw last night at the Berlin Messe.

Michael remembers that we first met in December 1982 at a party in Warsaw, where I was the UPI correspondent. I have to say that I don;t recall the occasion -- but Michael remembers that we "were sitting in the kitchen on stools, and we were talking about Asleep at the Wheel."

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