SAN MARCOS, TX – Ray Benson, co-founder of the legendary Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel, has announced he is donating his archive to The Wittliff’s newly-established Texas Music Collection. Benson’s archive will contain materials spanning his entire career, featuring records, photographs, instruments, wardrobe, awards and other memorabilia.
In a career that has spanned almost half a century, Benson has established himself as the modern king of Western Swing by being the driving force behind Asleep at the Wheel. In 1970 the Philadelphia-born Benson co-founded the band in Paw Paw, West Virginia along with Lucky Oceans and Leroy Preston. The band relocated to the Bay Area in 1971 upon the urging of musician Commander Cody, whose own band The Lost Planet Airmen was gaining prominence on the West Coast. Asleep at the Wheel quickly attracted fans, one of which was legendary rock and soul artist, Van Morrison. Soon after Morrison mentioned the band in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Asleep at the Wheel were offered a record contract by United Artists, and in 1973 their first album “Comin’ Right At Ya” was released.
Not long after that, the “cosmic cowboys” of Texas came calling, and on the advice of artists like Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm, Benson moved the band to Austin. The rest, as they say, is history. Almost 50 years, 25 albums and 10 Grammys later, Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel are still drawing crowds worldwide.
Benson’s honors include 2011 Texan of the Year, 2011 Texas Medal of the Arts Award for Multimedia, the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association, the 2008 TEC Les Paul Award, and the official Texas State Musician in 2004. He’s also an actor, writer and voice-over talent. A much sought after producer, he has worked with such artists as Willie Nelson, Aaron Neville, Aaron Watson and Suzy Bogguss, to name a few. Since 2010 Benson has hosted the highly successful “Texas Music Scene” television series which broadcasts weekly all across the country, showcasing live performances by today’s talent in the Texas and Red Dirt music circuit. Benson is also the host of the radio show “Austin Outer Limits” which appears on Sirius/XM’s “Willie’s Roadhouse” channel.
“Ray is a vast constellation of talents all by himself, and we are delighted that his shine now brightens our own new music collection for all to see,” said Bill Wittliff, who with his wife Sally founded The Wittliff Collections in 1986.
The Ray Benson archive at The Wittliff will provide a valuable resource to students of music and culture from all backgrounds, and it will historically preserve a piece of our culture to be enjoyed, studied and interpreted for decades to come. Select items are on display now at The Wittliff.
Benson’s donation is the latest in a string of major announcements that started with the establishment of the new Texas Music Collection on September 8 and was followed by the donation of Jerry Jeff Walker’s archive and the hiring of Hector Saldaña as curator of the collection.
The Texas Music Collection expands The Wittliff’s mission to collect, preserve and share the cultural legacy of the region. The collection will be built around the full range of Texas music, from classic and progressive country to Tejano, conjunto, folk, rock and roll, blues, hip-hop, zydeco, Western Swing and more. The Texas Music Collection will acquire a broad range of materials, from handwritten song lyrics and historical documents to audio and video recordings, artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, posters and interviews from music journalists and biographers.