By Per Ole Hagen, Rock At Night Oslo, Norway correspondent
The GSD&M building, Austin, Texas, March 14th 2017
Ray Benson has played western swing for almost 50 years, is the singer and the leader of Asleep At The Wheel, which is the band that keeps the legend of Bob Wills alive. The band was formed in 1969 in West Virginia, subsequently moved to Oakland, California, and was persuaded by Willie Nelson to move to Austin in 1974. Here, they set up their headquarters inside a big recording studio in South Austin. During these years the band had approximately 20 hit singles on the Billboard country charts and won 9 Grammy Awards and numerous other music awards.
Every year for some years now, Ray Benson has celebrated his birthday with a concert where he plays with Asleep At The Wheel along with lots of musical friends. I have attended the birthday parties more or less regularly for 13 years, and they are great fun–and with some high-profiled guests. Last year George Strait came on stage, together with Dale Watson, and many others. This year the secret guest was Willie Nelson. But before that, the party featured Carolyn Wonderland, Sunny Sweeny, Shannon McNally, Charlie Sexton, Marcia Ball, Brennan Leigh, Randy Rogers plus the Avett Brothers.
Ray Benson’s birthday party is arranged as a fund raiser for HAAM, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and it has raised a lot of money for this worthy cause the last few years. The first party I attended was held at the now defunct Austin club La Zona Rosa but in previous years it was featured as an outdoor event, located behind the GSD&M building on West 6th Street.
The last time I saw Willie Nelson was in Norway in 2008, and before that in 2003. He will be 84 in April, but his voice is still perfect. His guitar playing has always been a bit rough, but he has no problem playing his songs. Backed by Asleep At The Wheel and the Avett Brothers, he gave us songs like “Whiskey River”, “As Time Slips Away”, “Crazy”, “You Were Always On My Mind” and “On The Road Again”. Willie Nelson is not like other 83 year olds, two days after the party he hosted his own festival at his ranch, Luck, with many of the same artists.
Below are photos of ray Benson, Willie Nelson and the other artists at the party.
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