Voices of Texas is a sequence of unique conversations with the individuals who make the Lone Star State what it’s, discussing the vital matters of at the moment and looking out towards the long run.

AUSTIN, Texas — One of many nice voices of the Austin music scene, Ray Benson is a founding member of the seminal Nation Swing outfit Asleep on the Wheel, and, amongst different bona fides, a detailed, private buddy of Willie Nelson. He is additionally an actor and voiceover artist with some of the recognizable talking voices in all of Texas. 

Ray was recognized with COVID-19  in March, however he’s properly on his method to a full restoration. Spectrum Information caught up with him at his house to speak about that well being scare, his Texas historical past, and his imaginative and prescient for the long run.

Lots of people assume you are from Texas, however you are initially from Pennsylvania. What introduced you right here?

“What introduced me to Austin, Texas, was Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, and the form of music that I performed and Eddie Wilson from the Armadillo World Headquarters, and was fairly a triumph for it. Met Willie, we acquired a document deal out in California, and we’re dwelling in Oakland, California, and we performed the Armadillo, put out a document finish of 1972. Willie got here right down to see us in Dallas, to see us in early ‘73, by the top of ‘73 we moved right here.”

What’s modified within the music trade for you? You have been steadfast, Willie’s been steadfast. Sadly, Doug’s not round however his music lives on within the legacy.

“After I got here to Texas, Asleep on the Wheel was—it was fairly a cut up within the tradition. You had hippies and also you had rednecks. Hippies performed rock and roll, rednecks performed nation music and hastily there was a bunch of hippies, Asleep on the Wheel, that performed nation music… The primary gig we performed in San Antonio was on the Farmer’s Daughter, and the Farmer’s Daughter was a “redneck dance corridor” with a giant image of Bob Wills behind the stage and the identical recreation was on the Armadillo World Headquarters, so we had been the one band that might try this. And I believe that is why Texas embraced us.”

By the point you begin taking part in Bob Wills music, lots of people forgot about his historical past. What was it about Bob Wills that made you wish to play his model of groove?

“We cherished nation music, however I grew up taking part in jazz, swing, blues, rock and roll, every thing and Western Swing appeared to present me the chance to do the entire above. And I really like fiddle music… as a child I performed in sq. dance bands with Yankee Fiddlers. They had been fantastic males from Maine and Vermont and every thing. However Fiddling is an American custom, I believe it is probably the most American custom in music and it goes again to our founding. All of them introduced their fiddles over as a result of it was straightforward to hold a guitar and a fiddle versus a piano and a brass band, though there are many brass bands too.

That is how it began out and, it was an amalgam of swing music, blues music, nation music, fiddle music and I simply fell in love with it. We additionally wished to show that our child boomer technology of “hippies” might play nation music. So 1975, I had a high 10 Nation document me and Leroy wrote known as “The Letter that Johnnie Walker Learn.” They thought I used to be Porter Wagner and Chris was Dolly Parton and it was that form of document, and that basically threw a wrench in as a result of they went ‘huh’. And that is what we wished. And that is after we did not get actually severe as Bob Wills tribute form of Western Swing… till the 90s. We had large Nation Western hits and completely different rockabilly music…every thing. We simply explored American roots music.”

What’s it like for you’re taking that legacy and simply, I imply, it is an explosion of sound that continues to reverberate and journey the globe?

“Yeah, it is an honor. What can I say, , George Strait’s my good pal and has helped carry the torch of this music ahead. And it is simply an honor. Very hardly ever in a person’s life do you get to do one thing that has historic significance and that to me could be very historic. The truth that, once I got here to Texas in 72, we could not discover an working Western Swing band taking part in commercially anyplace. That they had all retired. All them previous fiddle gamers used to say to me ‘Oh yeah, when Elvis hit by 1958 I needed to go discover ways to play the guitar to get a job.’”

Ray Benson, heart, and different members of Asleep At The Wheel settle for the Grammy for greatest nation efficiency by a duo or group with vocals for “Cherokee Maiden” throughout the pre-telecast present of the 43rd annual Grammy Awards Wednesday Feb. 21, 2001, on the Staples Middle in Los Angeles. (AP Photograph/Kevork Djansezian)

Talking of historic perhaps maybe iconic in nature, Willie’s getting up there in age, however he nonetheless retains taking part in. What’s it about your buddy Willie that simply drives him to maintain going again to the stage and yr in, yr out?

“Effectively, Willie is a, , a power of nature, and all he desires to do is play music.”

What does Willie imply to you?


“Willie is the very best buddy I’ve ever had. And what can I say, that is that is it I am a fortunate man to have recognized him, Nonetheless know him. My life could be so completely different with out Willie Nelson.”

How did your Birthday celebration at South by Southwest come about?

“Effectively it was 20 years, I believe over 20 years in the past, and any individual requested me what I wished to do for my birthday. I mentioned ‘I wish to play music with buddies’, to paraphrase Willie Nelson’s On the Street Once more” music “My life is making music with my buddies,” in order that’s the way it began.

Oh my god. We have had unbelievable events, unbelievable jams, unbelievable raised cash on a regular basis for native Austin music charities. In order that’s the way it began me eager to have enjoyable on my birthday.

We had a giant occasion deliberate this yr going into South by Southwest. What do you’ve gotten deliberate earlier than COVID hit on your birthday?

“It was so unhappy. First it was Asleep on the Wheel’s 50th anniversary, which it nonetheless is, and we’ll be celebrating it in 2021. I had my whole regional band come again. Tony Garnia from Bob Dylan’s band, Chris O’Connor from San Francisco, Fortunate from Australia, and so on and so on. They had been coming in to make a document and a movie. Now for the occasion, John Prine was supposed to come back. I can not keep in mind all of the individuals I remembered Prine as a result of he handed and we had been simply so devastated. So we needed to cancel the occasion which was going to be on the 17th. My birthday is definitely the 16th, and truthfully, on the 16th of March, on my birthday, I used to be sitting in my home alone, quarantine, and going, ‘What simply occurred’?

Was the dying of John Prine a wake-up name for lots of musicians?

“Completely. When he, Prime died is once I turned public with the truth that I had COVID. There was no cause for me to turn out to be public aside from the truth that I went to get examined and couldn’t get examined… The individuals who had been on the tv going, ‘all people desires to check and provides checks,’ , and I am going ‘this isn’t true’.

And the opposite factor was as a result of my signs had been a lot completely different than what they had been broadcasting, which was I had no fever and no shortness of breath, however I had the illness and I used to be sick.

You had what are thought-about delicate signs, did it really feel delicate to you?

“No. I hit the mattress. I did that digital factor for Luck Texas, that we raised cash with Paul Simon and Willie Nelson, and so on and the subsequent day I hit the mattress for 2 days. Lastly I acquired up sufficient to go to the physician to attempt to get examined, they usually could not take a look at me. They mentioned you do not have the flu, go house. I went to the shop, acquired some meals, went house and I used to be out for an additional 4 days…simply drained, simply confused. I misplaced 30 kilos, I could not eat, after which I went again to my physician and she or he mentioned, ‘We have to take a look at you for COVID’ discovered a take a look at. And that is the way it all went down.

Earlier than you took the take a look at, do you know you’ve gotten coronavirus? Did you imagine you had it?

“Effectively since they informed me that, , ‘You are fantastic we’re not even gonna provide you with a take a look at.’ I went, ‘Effectively, perhaps it is one thing else’, , perhaps it is anemia, I do not know if that is why I went again a second time. And that is when fortunately my physician had a take a look at. I requested her final week once I went and acquired my antibiotic take a look at, I mentioned, ‘How did you get that take a look at?’ She mentioned, ‘We simply had so few of them’ and the protocol was provided that they’ve a cough or a fever, proper… and by chance she broke protocol.

Three weeks later, you get higher, you submit a video on April 7, I imagine. You did not look properly, you seemed drained.

“Oh yeah, no, it was, I misplaced 35 kilos the fallacious means. I’ve now saved it off and since I have been exercising, consuming proper that’s. In order that’s the very best factor I did…lose the load. I believe the rationale I look unhealthy additionally was as a result of I am rising my COVID beard, you see… I’m not shaving this sucker till we’ve got music again on the highway once more, so it’s gonna get fairly dang lengthy.

SXSW was canceled, your birthday was canceled, all of the music was gone.. What was going by way of your mind when every thing you knew was out of the blue taken away?

“You realize, I have been doing this 50 years, and I have been by way of lots. And all I felt was actually worry for the best way that we play music. Not for myself, not for my band, which I mentioned ‘Okay we’ll survive’, however how lengthy is it going to be when individuals get collectively, dance, congregate, and so on to music? That’s my largest worry, as a result of I have been by way of 9/11, Asleep on the wheel was speculated to play the White Home on 9/11. Asleep on the Wheel was, when Mount St. Helens erupted, we had been there and we had been caught in a volcanic explosion for 5 days. So we have been by way of so many disasters, however nothing that stopped the music like this has.”

SXSW was canceled, your birthday was canceled, all of the music was gone.. What was going by way of your mind when every thing you knew was out of the blue taken away?

“We’re in survival mode proper now, and each musician, properly not simply musicians, all people who has been affected by the truth that they can not carry out their job, or make an earnings due to this…all people’s affected. And to date, , the federal government made a great try at serving to and that helped. And I believe that is the one cause why proper now that we’re okay is that the federal government stepped in and helped individuals.

I imply I see it in all places … I am caring for one among our previous roadies who’s acquired most cancers, getting the healthcare professionals who’re overwhelmed, simply to do one thing due to COVID to do one thing for a man who’s dying of most cancers making an attempt to get that form of factor makes it twice as sophisticated… however that is conflict, and my dad and mom went by way of World Battle II. That is the form of mobilization that’s wanted to win a conflict.”

Do you assume that maybe the state authorities, federal authorities and the White Home acquired it fallacious in waging this conflict towards the lethal virus?

“Let me simply say this: 150,000 males died in World Battle II, 150 thousand males died in Vietnam. We’re approaching 140,000 at the moment as you and I converse. If that is not a conflict, by way of casualty loss, I do not know what’s. And so, after we’re at conflict. America has all the time labored collectively to defeat the widespread enemy, and our authorities, due to political variations, haven’t fought this conflict as a unified authorities. And that may be a reality. So, we have to appropriate that.”

What do you concentrate on your native leaders in Austin?

“Austin did the correct factor. I imply, it broke my coronary heart that Adler canceled South by Southwest. I did not query whether or not it was proper or fallacious, I simply was like ‘Okay, right here we go. It is gonna be that unhealthy. Let’s go’.

So Austin’s carried out nice… All wars are political, there have been individuals who did not need us to combat the Nazis, there have been individuals who did not need us to get in World Battle I, In order that’s actuality. However let’s get on with it as a result of we all know that these little issues and distancing, and all of this… such little issues to do for crying out loud to cease this.”

What do you assume could be carried out in a different way starting at the moment?

“Effectively clearly the masks factor is a no brainer. However that is not gonna cease every thing, that is simply gonna restrict it. The vaccination is vital and that is not gonna cease every thing. We’re simply going to should be taught to reside with it however we can not be taught to reside with a whole lot of 1000’s of individuals dying and whatnot. It should take examine.

My little brother… He is a genetic immunologist and these are the people who find themselves working every day to determine viruses. The individuals acquired to know viruses are right here. They’re everywhere in the world. Viruses are right here to kill us. And the one factor that may defeat viruses is our scientific developments and our life-style modifications, . That is two large issues and I hope that our authorities can get all people to unify on that and say, these are very particular issues. Let’s discover out what this virus is by learning it. And let’s alter our lives to accommodate the truth that we do not need it.”

Lots of people that simply do not imagine that this factor is actual. What would you like the individuals to learn about this virus?

“Individuals who do not imagine it is a menace have gotten their heads buried within the sand. Individuals who object to sporting masks as a result of it is their freedom, I requested them in the event that they use their seatbelt, I requested them in the event that they obey the legal guidelines once they’re on an airplane, ask them in the event that they obey legal guidelines and what’s the downside with this particular legislation, it’s not a political assertion…

I am a giant man. I am six foot, seven inches tall and I do not like sporting a seatbelt in my automobile as a result of it is actual uncomfortable, however the legislation says that I ought to, and doubtless will save my life if some drunken fool hits me. So it is the identical factor. It isn’t a political assertion. I do not like sporting a masks, until I am taking part in cops and robbers once I was seven years previous.”

The place do you see your self in 5, 10, 20 years?

“In the event you’d requested me that earlier than the COVID factor I’d say, ‘Effectively, we’ll be on the bus’ now, I do not know. I actually do not know. I am not gonna cease taking part in music nevertheless it’s gonna be completely different. The one good factor I have been capable of do is much more writing time. Writing music, time is your buddy. And whenever you’re on the highway it is like oh my god get collectively, go test the lodge, get cleaned up, do the interview. So, perhaps be much less highway, extra, extra studio, extra stuff. However I actually do not know.”

What does Texas imply to you?

“Effectively, as I informed you I got here to Texas to be a Texan, easy as that. I all the time felt simply such a welcome from the parents right here… The definition of a Texan is any individual lives in Texas. I do not imply as a Democrat, Republican, or Impartial it simply means he is right here, loves this land and needs to make it a greater place.”

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