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Asleep at the Wheel Marks 50 Years With George Strait, Willie Nelson & More on New Album: Exclusive

Asleep at the Wheel montage
Courtesy of Ray Benson Archives, edited by Ellie Newman

Asleep at the Wheel montage

As Asleep at the Wheel heralds 50 years of bringing western swing to the masses, some famous friends are helping the seminal band celebrate the milestone.

George Strait, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris and Lee Ann Womack are among the artists appearing on Half a Hundred Years, out Oct. 1 through Home Records/Thirty Tigers.

The 19-track album, which includes new tracks and remakes of Asleep at the Wheel classics, also brings back original members Chris O’Connell, Leroy Preston and Lucky Oceans for the first time in 40 years.

Frontman Ray Benson started working on the album, and the attendant making-of documentary, before the pandemic put everything on pause.

“To finally get this album finished and out feels like the end of a long strange trip, to coin a Grateful Dead phrase,” Benson tells Billboard. “From full speed ahead to a dead stop in March 2020 navigating the new landscape of pandemic recording was a new challenge for sure! From Perth, Australia, to Rome, Italy, from Vermont, California and Nashville to Austin, Texas, the recordings were a triumph of creativity and technology that we had to reinvent every day!  Having the original band members interacting with current and former band members brought some of the most talented musicians playing the wide variety of musics that is Asleep at the Wheel! Looking forward to the summer and fall tours to get folks dancin and boogieing again!”

In 1970, Benson co-founded the band as a 19-year-old in Paw Paw, West Virginia. Based in Austin since 1974, through the next five decades, Asleep at the Wheel has earned eight Grammy Awards and experienced more than 100 personnel changes.

Over the half-century, Benson has taken his role as musical custodian seriously. “The one reason that I kept going is that every week a fan would come up and be so appreciative, saying, ‘Don’t ever stop. You’re the only band that goes out on the road and does this old, cool music,’” Benson said in a statement. “That’s when I knew it was more than just a living–that I was blessed with caretaking a form of music.”

Asleep at the Wheel scored only one top 10 on the Hot Country Songs chart, 1975’s “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read,” but has been a near constant presence on the road and has released more than 25 studio albums, most recently 2018’s New Routes.

Half a Hundred Years track list:

Half a Hundred Years
It’s the Same Old South feat. Chris O’Connell
I Do What I Must feat. Leroy Preston
There You Go Again feat. Lyle Lovett
My Little Baby feat. Chris O’Connell
Paycheck to Paycheck feat. Leroy Preston
Word to the Wise feat. Bill Kirchen
That’s How I Remember It feat. Chris O’Connell
The Photo feat. Leroy Preston
I Love You Most of All (When You’re Not Here) feat. Lucky Oceans
The Wheel Boogie
Take Me Back to Tulsa feat. George Strait & Willie Nelson
The Letter That Johnny Walker Read feat. Lee Ann Womack
Bump Bounce Boogie feat. Chris O'Connell, Elizabeth McQueen, & Katie Shore
Miles and Miles of Texas
Get Your Kicks on Route 66 feat. Leroy Preston, Johnny Nicholas, & Ray Benson
Marie Feat. Willie Nelson
Spanish Two Step feat. Johnny Gimble & Jesse Ashlock
The Road Will Hold Me Tonight feat. Emmylou Harris And Willie Nelson