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Asleep at the Wheel dishes out the hits

By Jon Weisberger, July 2001

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"I play the bass lines and the rhythm lines and all of the accents on the guitar," notes Benson, "and I think it's one of the reasons why we get such a full sound. Most of the time, the fiddle player and the steel player and I play not just single notes, but numerous notes, so you get the effect of about eight people playing.

"The reason for that, really, is that we're a dance band. The Hot Club Of Cowtown, The Lucky Stars, Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys, I think they're all wonderful, and I applaud them, but we're a dance band, and we came up playing in dance halls, and we still play dance halls on occasion. So to us, success is a full dance floor.

"First of all, if I'm playing a concert, I have to play to the audience, and one chorus of instrumental is about all I'm going to get away with. If I'm playing a dance, I can play two or three choruses and they could care less; they're just dancing. And so you get to stretch out, be creative musically you have to. Improvisation is an art that has to be practiced on a daily basis, you can't just jump into it, so playing for dancers really provides you with the opportunity to do that."

That focus on improvisation has had an impact, too, on the new album. Though the songs are evergreens from the Asleep At The Wheel catalog, the arrangements have changed over the years, even if not dramatically.

"We're just a jam band," Benson laughs. "We'll just say, 'let's try this,' and we'll just work it up, mess with it and boom, there it is. I don't have set list onstage. Sometimes I'll pull out songs and just start playing them and the band just has to follow. I learned that from Willie Nelson: don't do a set list, because you might change your mind. I've got a million songs in my head, and I love singing them. To me, improvisation is the reason we're going to stay around."

"Every night, I feel like I've got to be on my toes. I feel like I've got to be at my best. I've got to warm up. I've got to practice so that I can play well and improvise. And that, I think, is the key to longevity: you just stay on your toes and you learn every day and produce something at the moment that is exciting and interesting and technically challenging."

"You never know what's going to happen in the music business. That's why I've said just stay the course, do what you do, and do it well, and the merry-go-round will stop at your stop one of these days."

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