The Austin Chronicle

Texas Book Festival Reviews

Asleep at the Wheel bandleader Ray Benson describes his long, strange, Western Swing trip

Reviewed by Doug Freeman, October 16, 2015, Music

There are two ways of considering Ray Benson's improbable career, or as the subtitle to his autobiography offers, "How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country." On one hand, his nearly half-century tenure as ringleader of Asleep at the Wheel unfolds as a series of unlikely circumstances and coincidences, with stories that seem as tall as the man himself. On the other, Benson (born Ray Seifert) proves a tireless hustler who makes opportunities against all odds and through sheer grit and determination. Both are true, a legend built somewhere between Wavy Gravy randomly showing up at the band's West Virginia outpost to offer them their first gig, and Benson's tireless work as producer, actor, label and studio head, and charity supporter. As the multi-Grammy winner and 2004 official Texas State Musician admits, "Ray Benson is a character I made up, bigger than Ray Seifert all the way around." That character has become a pillar of Texas and country music, and it's his voice that compels from the very start of Comin' Right at Ya, full of humor and humility and a truly iconoclast outlook on life. Co-author David Menconi keeps Benson's trail of anecdotes on point without sacrificing detail or worthwhile digressions. Neither glosses over the struggles of a life spent on the road in the music business, and since Benson started Asleep at the Wheel as a working-class country band, it's one helluva ride worth telling. (TBF appearance: Sun., Oct. 18, 4:15pm, Texas State Capitol Auditorium room E1.004)

Comin' Right At Ya

by Ray Benson and David Menconi
University of Texas Press, 200 pp., $24.95

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