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Jerry Wexler's long-overdue concept album takes Willie Nelson back to his musical roots. Teamed up with Ray Benson and the master musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel, this instant classic celebrates the timeless appeal of a most unique and spirited American music genre. Fall in love with Western Swing...again.
Bismeaux Records is very pleased to announce that Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel have teamed up to release an album collaboration. A concept thirty years in the making, Willie and the Wheel is a collection of classic western swing songs hand-picked by the late Jerry Wexler.
"Jerry wanted us to do this album and I'm glad we got to do it for him, "says Willie Nelson. "And that he heard it before he passed on."
Willie Nelson and Asleep at the WheelWillie and the Wheel is a CD whose time has come," says Ray Benson. "Jerry Wexler originally came up with this concept back when Willie was on the Atlantic label. But, before the record could be made Willie left Atlantic for CBS records and so the idea was shelved."Better known as 'Mr. R&B', Jerry Wexler was a great fan of the original Western Swing bands like Bob Wills, Milton Brown, Cliff Bruner -- all first introduced to him while he was studying journalism in Kansas City. Willie Nelson also had grown up on western swing and it has always figured heavily into his approach to music. Finally Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel (hailed as the modern kings of western swing) were added, resulting in a sublime album, surefooted in its mastery but still as playful and daring as the originals. Such a fitting collaboration certainly begs the question as to why this hasn't happened already.In 2003 Jerry Wexler, who was retired and living in Florida, called his old friend Ray. "'Ray!'" Benson recalls, "'I'm getting rid of my LPs! They collect dust and it bothers me. I have recorded them all and I am sending you all my western swing albums!' I told Jerry thank you very much and how much I appreciated him thinking of me. Well, a few weeks later a box arrived with twenty or so LP's from Jerry. They were collections of the music originally on 78 rpm records reissued on 33 1/3 rpm LPs and although I had a few of them they were a welcome addition to my collection. I noticed that a number of the song titles had two initials next to them: 'WN.' I didn't think much about it but when I talked to Jerry to thank him I asked what they were. He explained that 'WN' stood for Willie Nelson."In 2007, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price and Asleep at the Wheel set out on the wildly successful Last of the Breed tour and PBS television broadcast -- showcasing classic western swing and Texas country music. Not long after, Ray Benson got the call from Willie and his manager.According to Ray, they asked, "'Jerry Wexler thinks now's the time to do the western swing CD. You've got the LPs don't you?' It took me a second to realize what they were talking about and once I put two and two together I answered 'Yes of course!' I went to the shelf and pulled out the LP's. Sure enough there were the penned-in 'WN's' by certain songs and so I went to work."From a catalogue of nearly 40 selections Jerry and Ray painstakingly narrowed the list down to twelve. Always the producer with a vision, Jerry was involved in every way. He insisted that some of the tracks should include horns as well as a return to traditional fiddles and lap steel guitar associated with western swing.As the sessions concluded and Willie finished his vocals the tracks were sent to Jerry."To my delight and relief," says Ray, "he loved them."Not yet satisfied with the collection, Ray determined that an instrumental piece was -- instrumental. For Ray, one tune kept coming up: "South," originally done by Bennie Moten, it was also the song that Bob Wills opened his shows with for a number of years."I called Jerry up and he was in total agreement. He also informed me that "South" was a million seller when it came out in 1927. We recorded the song about the same time we were doing a benefit for Habitat for Humanity with David Letterman in Austin so it was natural for our good friend Paul Shaffer to join us for the session. We were also fortunate enough to have the talented Vince Gill lend his electric guitar licks on this track.""It was a sad day indeed when the news came in that Jerry Wexler had passed away," says Ray. "We're so proud to have had this opportunity to make this record with him."
For as open-armed Willie Nelson has proven to be with his music over the decades - pairing up with everyone from Waylon Jennings to Ryan Adams, and Wynton Marsalis to Stephen Colbert - it's no doubt the Outlaw has been approached for more collaborations than even his expansive catalog lets on. As it turns out, one pitch from producer Jerry Wexler, during Willie's transformative years with Atlantic Records in the '70s, to create a western swing concept album has only now been picked for recording...The resulting album, Willie and the Wheel, shows Willie teamed up once again with trad-country powergroup Asleep at the Wheel for a retrofitted look at some country swing staples. Spanning 12 tracks, the album includes such remakes as "Corrine Corrina," "Right or Wrong" and "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World." Vince Gill and Letterman's right-hand keymeister Paul Schaffer guest on one cover of "Shame on You," originally penned by '50s fiddle guru Spade Cooley...A pall may have been cast over the album's February 3  release on Bismeaux Records - to coincide with a 10-stop joint tour - due to Wexler's death last August , but shortly before, he was able to produce his long-awaited album. "I'm glad we got to do it for him, and that he heard it before he passed on," said Nelson.
The set is so authentic that one almost feels guilty listening to it on modern speakers instead of seated around the old Victrola.
Garden and Gun
No, western swing certainly ain't dead, as Asleep at the Wheel likes to remind us. In fact, it sounds as lively as ever.
Nashville City Paper
Both Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel are in prime form on this magnificent effort.
SF Country Music Examiner
Fiddles and steel guitar blaze away, while Willie and friends sound relaxed but musically tight while delivering vocals and guitar licks.
The Washington Post
Bright, playful and exploding with verve, Willie and the Wheel is one of the first great albums of 2009.