Funded! This project was successfully funded on November 15, 2012.

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A documentary film about the legendary 9-time GRAMMY-winning western swing band, now in its 42nd year.

The Film

This documentary is designed to precede an Asleep at the Wheel concert performance, giving longtime and new fans a thrilling ride through the 4-decade history of the band. Video of rare performances, photos and present day interviews all paint the picture...from the early days of formation in Paw Paw, West Virginia to the first gigs and big breaks in San Francisco, settling permanently in Austin, and then on to each of the improbable come-backs that have breathed new life into the band just when things seemed darkest. Through the film it becomes clear that the band has thrived because of an intense love of this music that is shared by the talented musicians who make it and the audience that cannot get enough of it. That, and the force of nature that is Ray Benson.

"With this film we can take audiences on a trip down memory lane, and then bring up the lights and play a show. I can’t think of a better way to present this music and our history. Help us finish this film project so we can get this show on the road." -Ray Benson 

It will take $25,000 to cover post-production costs which includes the labor to find, prepare and then weed through all of the footage, edit it all down, pay the music clearance fees, and finalize the finished product. 

As in the past we could ask a big corporation for this funding and in exchange sign away copyrights and artistic control, but we want to do it differently this time. Each of you collectively can provide us with the means to tell this story the way it should be told as only we know how to tell it, resulting in a film you want to see. It is a win-win for all of us. And with any support no matter how small, you become an official part in this amazing journey of 42 years (and counting). 

The Rewards

To thank you for your help we’ve put together an entertaining choice of rewards that are available exclusively to those who help us out here. For example if you support us with a modest gift of as little as $15, you will receive a digital download of the film, or instead you can choose two tickets to a future performance, or if you’re a more impassioned backer you could gain access to an Asleep at the Wheel recording session or even enjoy a gourmet meal that Ray Benson will personally cook for you one fine evening. Take a look at all the options here on our project page and make your choice today! 

And for all of our backers we will be releasing sneak peeks and other goodies along the way so you will feel right there in the co-pilot seat for this ride. 

The Clock is Ticking

 The hurdle is that we only get a fixed number of days to raise at least $25,000. If we fall short of this goal on the completion date, everyone gets the money they pledged returned to them and we all go home. But we think we can all pitch in and make this work. So take a look at the film trailer we have prepared above and then jump in and back us today. Thank you.

The full story of Asleep at the Wheel

 “It’s been an amazing ride. From Paw Paw to San Francisco to Austin, we’ve seen it all,” says Wheel front man Ray Benson. “But, rest assured, there is still so many exciting projects in the works. The Wheel keeps rolling!”

Asleep at the Wheel has seen miles and miles of Texas. They got their kicks on Route 66. And recently the band clicked another milestone on the odometer – their 40th anniversary. Since 1970 this 9-time GRAMMY-winning ensemble has toured non-stop, with fearless leader Ray Benson at the helm, sharing their talent and passion for western swing. In the process they have become both a Texas legend and an American treasure. 

 “...there's some relatively unknown group around that I really dig. Asleep at the Wheel plays great country music.”  Van Morrison Rolling Stone Interview (1973) 

An early 1970s photo of the band (Chris O'Connell, Gene Dobkin, Floyd Domino, Ray Benson, LeRoy Preston, Lucky Oceans)
An early 1970s photo of the band (Chris O'Connell, Gene Dobkin, Floyd Domino, Ray Benson, LeRoy Preston, Lucky Oceans)

It all started when Ray Benson, Floyd Domino, and Lucky Oceans, along with a Vermont farm boy named Leroy Preston; Virginian Chris O'Connell; and Gene Dobkin, a bass player and fellow classmate of Benson's from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, joined forces. They began with a simple goal: to play and help revive American roots music. Asleep at the Wheel landed a gig opening for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna in Washington, DC in 1970. At the height of Vietnam, many Americans were using their choice of music to express their stance on the conflict in southeast Asia. “We wanted to break that mold,” said Benson. “We were concerned more with this amazing roots music, which we felt was being lost amid the politics. We were too country for the rock folks and we were too long-haired for the country folks. But everybody got over it once the music started playing.” A year later, they were coaxed into moving to California by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. But, the band’s big break came when Van Morrison mentioned them in an interview with Rolling Stone. The record offers started coming in and The Wheel got rolling. 

 "We're a dance band. That's what we're about. And that's plenty." Ray Benson  

The musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel has become the stuff of legends. Reuter’s pegged The Wheel as “one of the best live acts in the business.” Taking a page from Bob Wills’ book, the band has constantly toured at a national level throughout its history; with anywhere from 7-15 of the finest players Ray Benson could talk into jumping in the bus to play a string of dates. The alumni roster is well over 80+ members, and includes an impressive list of musicians who have gone on to perform with artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams, and many more. A quick scan of awards, such as “Touring Band of the Year” (CMAs, 1976) and “Lifetime Achievement in Performance” (Americana Music Awards 2009), not to mention near dominance of the GRAMMY “Country Instrumental” category over the years, reflects the reputation of the band’s musicianship. Ray Benson fell in love with western swing because of its unique combination of elements of American blues, swing and traditional fiddling but also for its demanding musical chops. Western swing is what Benson calls “jazz with a cowboy hat,” is a thrill to hear live, and thanks in large part to the Wheel’s 40 years of promotion, is a living and creative genre of music today. 

1990s Grammy Success (f: Lucky Oceans, Cindy Cashdollar, Ray Benson, Michael Francis, b: Tim Alexander, Tommy Beavers, David Miller, Jason Roberts)
1990s Grammy Success (f: Lucky Oceans, Cindy Cashdollar, Ray Benson, Michael Francis, b: Tim Alexander, Tommy Beavers, David Miller, Jason Roberts)

“Everything this act has ever released is simply spectacular.” Billboard Magazine (2010) 

Over their history, Asleep at The Wheel has garnered nine GRAMMY Awards and released more than 25 studio and live albums, and there is no sign of slowing down any time soon. In 2009 they earned another GRAMMY nomination in the newly minted Best Americana Album category for their critically acclaimed Willie & The Wheel, on Bismeaux Records. Most recently, another collaborative project paired the band with the legendary lead from Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, Leon Rausch. The distinguished velvety vocals that voiced the King of western swing partnered with “post-modern kings of Texas Swing” on It’s A Good Day, which USA Today called, “swing from the heavens.” It was Leon who first suggested to Ray in the 1970’s that the Wheel record Get Your Kicks (on Route 66). The Wheel has now recorded the hit 4 times in 4 different decades, with this latest version featuring Leon. 

Ray Benson
Ray Benson

“The most entertaining night in Texas.” -Liz Smith 

A Ride With Bob is the Broadway-scale musical that started in 2005 as a commemoration of Bob Will’s 100th birthday and marks its own milestone in 2013; 8 years. Ray Benson and Ann Rapp co-wrote the first-ever musical drama about Benson’s idol, entitled “A Ride with Bob: The Bob Wills Musical.” At the core of the story is the conversation Ray intended to have when he was invited to meet with Wills in 1974, fresh off the Wheel’s release of “Take Me Back to Tulsa.” Unfortunately, that meeting never happened as Mr. Wills took ill and never recovered. For the last five years, the play has presented an inspired look into the life, loves and music of the colorful Bob Wills in performances across Texas and from San Francisco to Washington DC. Immediately embraced by western swing fans, this unique presentation has achieved cult-status amongst fans who can’t get enough. True to Asleep at the Wheel’s original vision, the play isn’t just appealing to core fans. A 2007 interview with The New York Times noted, “the play had another advantage. ‘We were reaching a completely new audience,’ Mr. Benson said — theatergoers who might never set foot in a beer joint, or even in a cowboy boot.” 

“A Swinging Symphony” -Fort Worth Star Telegram 

Any band that spends upwards of 250 days on the road each year is more than likely to have seen its fair share of dives, gin joints, biker bars, clubs, auditoriums, dance halls and the like. The Wheel is no exception. Another place Wheel fans have more recently discovered the music has been in symphony halls. Originally debuted in collaboration with the Austin Symphony, the Wheel has since gone on to present their pops program in select performances across the country, and even released a CD in 2006 of their performance with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Throughout their four decades the Wheel has driven the genre to the edge, explored new territories, picked up new passengers along the way and crisscrossed the country to the delight of fans and critics alike. And, even though they’re doing “forty plus,” there’s no chance of slowing down now. 

Asleep at the Wheel's Partial History of Notable Milestones

1970

Band forms in Paw Paw, West Virginia. Play first "big show" opening for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna. 

1971

Band moves to California at the invitation of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Van Morrison helps the band to get first record deal by mentioning them in an interview in Rolling Stone Magazine 

1973

Debut album Comin’ Right At Ya released by United Artists (includes single “Take Me Back to Tulsa”). At invitation of Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm, band moves to Austin, Texas 

1974

“Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” from their second album Asleep at the Wheel is their first chart single 

1975

The release of Texas Gold on Capitol Records elevates the band to one of the most popular country acts of the decade, with “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read” becoming a top-ten country hit. Band stars on the premier episode of “Austin City Limits” television show (and has performed 11 times since then). 

1977

Voted Best Country & Western Band by Rolling Stone. The Wheel awarded “Touring Band of the Year” by Academy of Country Music. Tours Europe with Emmylou Harris. 

1978

Their sixth nomination turns out to be their first GRAMMY win for the country instrumental “One O’Clock Jump.” The Wheel will go on to win eight more. Band appears in the film Roadie with Meatloaf, Blondie and Art Carney.

1979

Their first live album Served Live is recorded at the Austin Opera House 

1987

The album 10 scores big with the GRAMMY™-winning single “String of Pars” 

1989

Against the advice of most music insiders, Ray establishes Bismeaux Studio and Bismeaux Records where he’ll go on to produce projects for Willie Nelson, Pam Tillis, Carolyn Wonderland, Aaron Watson, James Hand, Suzy Bogguss, Don Walser, Dale Watson and many others. 

1991

Ray directs the music and co-stars in the film Wild Texas Wind with Dolly Parton and Gary Busey 

1992

Band featured on Route 66 Tour (66th Anniversary of Route 66)  

1993

Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills for Liberty Records, including guest artists Garth Brooks, George Strait and Vince Gill amongst many others, is an instant hit, earning two GRAMMYS and a live performance on the Country Music Awards telecast with Lyle Lovett. 

1997

Old Silver Eagle tour bus retired with over 3 million miles. 

1999

Ride With Bob CD is released by Dreamworks and includes guest performances by the Dixie Chicks, Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Manhattan Transfer and others. The ensuing long form documentary The Making of Ride with Bob earns a regional Emmy Award. The album wins two GRAMMY Awards. 

2000

Tour with Bob Dylan & George Strait Stadium Tours begin (2000-2001) 

2002

Ray hosts the CMT special Stars Over Texas in Austin, going toe-to-toe with Dolly Parton and Vince Gill. 

2003

Ray releases his first solo record Beyond Time while at the same time managing to make two records with the band (Live at Billy Bob’s Texas and Asleep at the Wheel Remembers the Alamo

2004

Ray is named the official 2004 Texas State Musician.   Asleep at the Wheel launches its Pops program in performances with Austin and Dallas Symphonies.

2005

“A Ride with Bob: The Bob Wills Musical,” co-written by Ray Benson & Anne Rapp, and starring Ray and members of Asleep at the Wheel, debuts in Austin to coincide with Wills’ 100th birthday. Through the year, further performances in 4 cities sell out and garner critical acclaim. Band chosen for opening performance at inaugural Austin City Limits Festival and carry on the tradition annually. 

2006

“A Ride with Bob” sells out the Kennedy Center, with President and Mrs. George W. Bush in attendance. (The play is still performed around the country today and has introduced many to Bob Wills.) 

2007

Band releases Reinventing the Wheel, their first feature CD in several years. Band hits the road for “Last of the Breed” Tour, featuring Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard & Ray Price. Performance filmed for broadcast on PBS. Ray serves as a judge on the ABC’s “Six Degrees of Martina McBride.” 

2008 

Ray Benson awarded the TEC - Les Paul Award honoring individuals or institutions that have set the highest standards of excellence in the creative application of recording technology. Ray joins Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts for a musical tribute to Bob Wills on the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast on CBS. Then Presidential candidate Barrack Obama joins Ray Benson on stage to sing “Boogie Back to Texas” at an Austin Fundraiser. 

2009

Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel release “Willie & The Wheel” and earn a GRAMMY nomination for Best Americana Album – the first time this category has ever appeared. Americana Music Association honors Asleep at the Wheel with a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

2010 

The band releases It’s a Good Day with Texas Playboy Leon Rausch. 40th Anniversary concert storms Austin’s Long Center with dozens of former members reuniting. 

2011

Ray Benson receives the Texas Medal of the Arts. Ray Benson named Texan of the Year. “Ray’s Backstage at the Rattle Inn” bar and music venue opens in downtown Austin. 

2012

The band tours Europe with Reba McIntire, Ricky Skaggs and others. “Ray Benson’s Texas Music Scene” TV show broadcasts weekly in 16 cities Ray’s Bismeaux Records wins Austin Music Award for “Best Local Label.”

2013

"Asleep at the Wheel Then and Now On Stage and On Screen" debuts

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Asleep at the Wheel and Bismeaux Productions have extensive history and experience in producing, distributing and marketing audio CDs and DVDs worldwide. We understand the unique challenges of bringing a documentary film to the screen and for these purposes we will engage the services of Dan Karlok, the filmmaker with whom Ray Benson shares Regional Emmy for the 1999 documentary "The Making of 'Ride With Bob'." Dan understands how to collect, catalog and synthesize the countless hours of content into a storyline. In addition to Dan's extensive work, the professional staff of Bismeaux Productions will be challenged with negotiating and securing clearances from a number of copyright holders (photos, video footage, personal appearance clearances), and then quarterbacking production and release of the actual film, DVD manufacturing and coordination of rewards with our backers. Ray Benson and his staff are confident that the scope of this project is appropriate for successful completion given the professional skills and experience of the team and the funding we are requesting.

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