It’s about Three Memories associated with the Texas Western Swing rock’n’roll band, Asleep at the Wheel. I’m not sure — music, yeah, and the leader of the band sometimes plays an electric guitar?
- Guess I was fifteen? Some really young age like that, and the nascent Americana band, Asleep at the Wheel was playing a place blocks from where my parents lived, at the time. That place was a bar and live music venue, think I snuck out and thought it was the greatest coup, convincing the doorman we were 21. Not even. Can’t remember much of the show itself, sort of a fog of hazy smoke, gel lights, and loud noise. My first exposure to the band, Asleep at the Wheel. The band must’ve been enjoying a certain amount of alt-country radio play, only it was “Progressive County” at the time. Rock’n’roll meets Texas country, the cosmic cowboys from Austin, &c. Sneaking out to see the band, the legend, the big deal, so close, and the rest of the memories are blurred about that escapade.
- One New Year’s Eve, in Tempe, AZ. I was in school, at the university. It was that dead — for me — time between the final exams and the new semester. Girlfriend at the time — The Virgo — and I wandered down to some kind of street festival, concert, music, dancing, and cowboys. The crowd control was horse-mounted cops. I recall, being in awe as it was Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, think it was a side stage, but there were several couples swing dancing, or two-stepping, or some variation thereof. I was pretty much a rock guy at the time, so “country” didn’t do it, but the blast from the past, the connection with Texas, and familiar tunes, it’s the haunting feeling that I know where I belong.
- Following the course of one lazy river after another, I drifted into Austin. Ray Benson, with “The Wheel,” at the Broken Spoke in old South Austin. This is also many years distant, think a trailer park along the banks of the river, me fishing some days. Most days, really. I can’t recall the excuse, but it was “The Wheel” at the “Spoke.” Not “The Broken Spoke,” which is the given name, and not “The Spoke,” or some variation, just the “Spoke.”
Buddy’s kid was reminiscing about “Remember when” to tell how long someone had been in Austin. His touchstone was “Remember when the Alamo (Drafthouse) was a single theater, upstairs, over a salsa bar by 4th?” Remember when the Spoke was all alone on the side of the road, south of town?
So to set the tone, it was in the dance hall portion of the place, and Asleep at the Wheel was playing, with Ray out in front, but the minimal riser? Ray Benson, I think he’s like six-foot three, and then add two inches for boots? He couldn’t wear a hat on stage, it would bump the ceiling. Maybe. Don’t recall, which makes this a lame memory, but what I clearly recall, he would theatrically strum his guitar, and on the upstroke part, showing off, he would bounce the back of his hand off the ceiling. In part, well, it was-is a low ceiling, and he’s a tall man. I know I’ve two-stepped around there, sort of a Western-shuffle, as I’m not a good dancer, and I’ll freely admit that. But part of that is the sheer magic of seeing Asleep at the Wheel in the old South Austin Spoke. Just magical. Then, the back of his hand hitting the low ceiling.
Three memories of Asleep at the Wheel
- Again, it’s Austin and a trailer park, and a different Virgo. Starting to see a theme here. Anyway, there was a big concert at Auditorium Shores with Asleep at the Wheel as one of the opening acts. Travis (something) was the headliner, maybe? That’s the “Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares” guy? I won’t claim to be a reliable narrator.
Never date someone who lives in the same trailer park as you do.
That Virgo neighbor warned, “You wait, by the time we get to (the headliner) trailer parks from all over will empty out.” I wasn’t even planning on staying for the final act, but I can’t resist a good show like that. The crowd, not necessarily the music. It was the (old) Derailers then the Wheel, and then some rock-country thing. Guitars, amplifiers, looks like a regular rock band, not really country and western. Maybe it’s just southern rock. I could easily see that fitting. Just adding hats to a rock kit doesn’t make it country.
But no one asked me.
- Floyd, the piano guy. I was standing in Waterloo Records, even though I don’t think they had records, and I was looking for music, Floyd — think it was him — says hello, we had mutual friends at the time, and I picked up an early CD from Asleep at the Wheel, and in its credits? Floyd played the piano. I could have that all wrong, might be steel guitar, but the guy standing next to me chatting about the weather? His name is on the first two or three records that Asleep at the Wheel did. I know I have that CD here, someplace. Just, too much trouble to dig up. So I’ll guess at the name.
Happens when Mercury is Retrograde.