Who wouldn’t want Ray Benson to be their Grandpa? The man is tall and imposing enough to scare the biggest neighborhood bully, yet has a heart of gold and can turn a tale with the best of storytellers, as well as play banjo rolls so smoothly on his guitar that Chet Atkins would smile in appreciation. The Vinyl Music Hall audience was more than willing to play the role of grandchild as Benson and the other members of Asleep at The Wheel drove through a night of song and stories in Pensacola, Florida.
Opening the show for the 9-Time Grammy winning group were Pensacola’s Betsy Badwater & The Hillbilly Chrome featuring Lang Hollowman (guitar), Jeff Glickman (drums), Joey Harrison (bass), and Devon Coon (percussion). Debuting new material from their upcoming CD and performing crowd favorites, Badwater and company lit up the loyal faithful and won over some new fans over the course of their set.
Asleep At the Wheel made their Vinyl Music Hall debut and entered the stage to a round of warm applause and cheers from the crowd. Accompanying Benson on this musical journey were Jason Roberts (fiddle/vocals), Elizabeth McQueen (guitar/vocals), Dave Sanger (drums), Dave Miller (bass), Dan Walton (piano), and Eddie Rivers (steel guitar).
With a mixture of supreme musicianship, storytelling and well-crafted songs, Benson warmly played the part of ring leader and shared stories of a music career that has spanned over four decades and has included close friends such as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
With pleasant surprises at every turn, the group even threw in a Django Reinhardt cover and Benson showed off his juggling prowess. It’s safe to say that any venue where Asleep At The Wheel perform is transformed into a musical, magical place called Home.
Interview with Betsy Badwater and Lang Hollowman.
TCAS: It’s 2011. What’s in store for you now? You’ve opened up for Grammy winners, country legends and tonight you’ve opened up for 9-time Grammy winners Asleep at The Wheel. What’s in store this year?
BB: We’re going to make a new record and we’re going to do festivals and we’re going to do theatre shows, radio shows and play with a lot of friends.
LH: A lot of the songs on the album are what we played tonight. We’ve been playing a lot more of the newer songs just because that’s how we do it. And that’s what the record will be and a whole lot of other things that we haven’t been playing out.
TCAS: So who are the new players in the band now?
BB: We’re always changing players. The thing is that Lang and I create the core of the situation and Jeff (Glickman) is the driving force. We’ve got PBS/WSRE’s Studio Amped coming up and Jeff isn’t going to be with us due to a show with his band, Jeff Glickman and The Panhandle Allstars. So we looked to our friends to get a little help and see what happens. Devon Coon is on all of the good hobo percussion stuff and is a seasoned drummer. Joey Harrison is on the bass and has been playing for 20+ years. Both of these guys are in a couple of other bands and we’re very excited to have them in the ‘Chrome’.
TCAS: When is the next show?
BB: We’re going to Mobile…
LH: That’s next Sunday..the 27th (of February.)
LH: Come out to Studio Amped. Friday March 4th. And it’s a live PBS show taping that WSRE does. And they replay it again three months from now. They have DVDs of it. But I think it’s going to be much quieter, intimate setting. And playing stuff like this (at Vinyl) is like playing a rock show. But when we can sit around and quiet it down and really play it as more of a…I wouldn’t say “unplugged” but at the same time it is…because the audience is really quiet and really focused on listening and not making a lot of noise, at least in my experience of being there. That I think we’re going to pull off some things that we would normally sit around and play. I’d say come out to that.
TCAS: How did you meet and start collaborating?
BB: I was on tour in Texas and Lang emailed me because he was a friend of my friend. Said we should play together. I was all real cautious pants. I had been breaking stages through Texas with my high-heeled shoes and by the time I came back, he was like “Hey, we’re doing a show at a motorcycle festival. Will you come play with us at our show?”
LH: But play her stuff. We would do whatever she does.
BB: I said, “Alright then. Let’s do that.” So for a couple of days he came over. But what happened was he picked up his guitar and I listened and it was like…(jaw drops)
BB: Like the channel was open. The channel is open. The biggest ship could go through it.
LH: And if you listen to the album….
BB: We’re connected.
TCAS: As far as the creative process, how do you juggle what’s going on…..
BB: It’s new now.
LH: That was the burning moment that came out and after that…..
BB: It was all me writing, writing, writing, but now it’s me and him.
TCAS: You two have a powerful chemistry.
LH: Yeah, it’s been a totally different thing for me. Because, although I was always a writer with music, but I never lyrically engaged that part of the process, the storytelling. Now there’s that part, which gets thrown back and forth constantly and however it is that we do it…10 o’clock in the morning…10 o’clock at night.
BB: The record for 2011 is going to be fabulous. But the one that’s probably either going to happen in the late 2011 or early 2012, that’s going to be straight Betsy and Lang. And I think it’s going to be dangerous.
LH: And the reason why is because this one coming up, we’ve got all these songs that we’ve just kind of accumulated over the past 9 months. So we got to get those taken care of and just…
BB: What is it like….68 songs we’ve written over the time that we’ve met?
TCAS: Anything that you would like to add?
LH: Show by show, song by song. Can’t get any more than that. We’re completely grateful for every person that calls us.