Five Minutes With Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, Host of the Texas Dance Hall Tour

What do Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson and punk music band the Sex Pistols have in common?

Published June 11, 2019

Both have played at one of Texas’ most historic dance halls. And now, Texans can two-step their way through some of the most iconic of those Texas dance halls during an unforgettable weekend hosted by Benson and his award-winning band, Asleep at the Wheel. For four days in June, the Texas Dance Hall Tour will bring the truest form of dance hall experience to four historic and one-of-a-kind halls. With performances by Hot Club of CowtownJason RobertsBig Cedar FeverSummer Dean  and, of course, Asleep at the Wheel, the tour features the best in Texas music inside these cultural landmarks.

The Sons of Hermann Hall is the oldest free-standing wood structure and bar in Dallas and was made a National Landmark in 2000. Photo courtesy Texas Dance Hall Preservation

Over the last century, dance halls have represented the culture, romance, history and musical roots of Texas. During the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, dance halls flourished. At one time, there were over 1,000 halls in Texas but today, fewer than 400 remain. Texas, however, has more historic dance halls than anywhere else in the country. One of the dance halls on the tour is the Longhorn Ballroom which has played host to a variety of musical genres, including the iconic punk band, Sex Pistols, who played there in 1978.

Sex Pistols
The Longhorn Ballroom was built in 1950 by Dallas millionaire O.L. Nelms for country music legend Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Punk icons, the Sex Pistols (left to right: Sid Vicious, Steve Jones and Johnny Rotten), performed at the Longhorn Ballroom in 1978. The country music venue accentuated its western theme with a 21-foot statue of a longhorn with 18-foot-wide horns and murals of the Old West. Photo courtesy Longhorn Ballroom 

Asleep at the Wheel’s founder, Ray Benson, is hosting the upcoming tour. Benson has been keeping the spirit of western swing music alive since the 1970s, working with the biggest names in country music like Bob Dylan and George Strait. After playing at Austin’s legendary Armadillo World Headquarters in 1972, Willie Nelson convinced his friend to move to the capitol city. Heeding the red headed stranger’s advice, Benson relocated in 1973 and has never left. With the towering Benson at the helm, Asleep at the Wheel has gone on to become an Austin institution and one of country music’s most beloved acts, winning a host of Grammy awards along the way.

The legendary Ray Benson is the founder and frontman of the Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, which has won 10 Grammy awards with Benson at the helm. Photo courtesy Texas Dance Hall Tour

What do you attribute to Asleep at the Wheel’s longevity?

I guess me! Many hard times and good times but I just love to play music and refused to give up.

How did you become interested in music?

I started playing when I was 10 years old, I just loved to sing and play. I played in a group with my sister and two neighborhood friends and it just kept going from there. 

Why are Texas dance halls important to Texas music?

There wouldn’t be Texas music without our Texas dance halls. They’re like the Carnegie Hall of Western Swing and Texas Music. This is where Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and George Strait cut their teeth. We are losing this important slice of history and need to support the communities and these establishments.

Is there an artist you haven’t yet worked with but would like to?

Hmm… I’ve been very lucky to collaborate with so many amazing people but I would love to work with Tony Bennett. Tony, call me! 

How has your music evolved over the years?

The music of AATW has always varied a lot from lineup to lineup, obviously we are known for Western Swing, but we play all kinds of styles: boogie woogie, rockabilly, honky tonk, jazz etc. So, I’m not sure we’ve evolved much musically but I know that I’m singing and playing way better than I did when we started the band and that helps us play whatever we feel like playing.

The Texas Dance Hall Tour is June 13-16.


Cover photo courtesy Texas Dance Hall Preservation

Austinite Lisa Davis is the Editorial Assistant for Texas Lifestyle Magazine and honors graduate from Concordia University Texas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Public Relations.

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