'Still The King': A Tribute To An Icon Of Western Swing Don Gonyea talks to Ray Benson, leader of the Austin-based band Asleep at the Wheel, about a new tribute to the late Bob Wills that features contributions by the musicians Wills helped inspire.
NPR logo

'Still The King': A Tribute To An Icon Of Western Swing

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/394299966/394334591" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Still The King': A Tribute To An Icon Of Western Swing

'Still The King': A Tribute To An Icon Of Western Swing

'Still The King': A Tribute To An Icon Of Western Swing

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/394299966/394334591" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Ray Benson (center) and his band, the Grammy-winning country outfit Asleep at the Wheel, have long been stewards of the sound co-pioneered by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Lisa Pollard/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Lisa Pollard/Courtesy of the artist

Ray Benson (center) and his band, the Grammy-winning country outfit Asleep at the Wheel, have long been stewards of the sound co-pioneered by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

Lisa Pollard/Courtesy of the artist

"The essence of the Bob Wills sound, and the reason he picked and did what he did, is that it was dance music — period."

That's how Ray Benson distills the mission of the man who helped create western swing, the uptempo country style that ruled dance halls in the 1930s and '40s. Benson and his band Asleep at the Wheel have helped keep that music alive in the four decades since Bob Wills' death — and according to him, they're not alone.

YouTube

"There are bands all over the United States — the world — playing western swing music," Benson says. "They're not on the radio, in terms of mainstream radio. They're not selling platinum records. But they're playing the music for people who want to hear it."

Asleep at the Wheel recently released Still the King, a tribute album to the music of Bob Wills featuring contributions from the musicians he helped inspire, including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, The Avett Brothers, Elizabeth Cook and Pokey LaFarge. He joined NPR's Don Gonyea to talk about it; hear their conversation at the audio link.