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Asleep at the Wheel two steps ahead

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Asleep at the Wheel founder Ray Benson likes to remind fans that the 40-year-old band has not only won nine Grammy Awards but lost 28 times.

Not that any of the almost capacity crowds that flocked to the band's recent shows seemed to care. During the recent concerts, the crowds were incredibly enthusiastic as Benson and his group worked their way through a set of Western swing.

"I don't really know much about all the Nashville stuff," said Benson. "But the young swing bands coming up are pretty cool. There are great singers on every corner. Cody Canada, the Eli Young Band, the Randy Rogers Band -- these are all groups that draw big, big crowds."

Benson and the group are as enthusiastic about other groups' music as they are about their own. Think of the praise they heap on others as a way of paying back those who gave Asleep at the Wheel a boost when it started.

Onstage
Asleep at the Wheel
» Where: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
» When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
» Info: $35; 202-397-SEAT; ticketmaster.com

Back when Benson and co-founder Leroy Preston were up and coming, making music inspired by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Willie Nelson became a fan. After Nelson and then Van Morrison heaped praise on the group during interviews, including with Rolling Stone, Asleep at the Wheel was born.

At Nelson's urging, Benson relocated himself and his band to Texas. Ever since that time in the '70s, the band has been a fixture on the Texas music scene.

Don't think that Benson and his band only play Western swing, though. Sure, the band made its name playing the music of Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb, but expand to such formats as jazz with songs styled after Count Basie, boogie and even old-time Doc Watson.

If Benson and his fans wish that they had won acclaim like those groups, it's a well-kept secret.

"To me, I'm just blessed for this long run, and our music is better than ever," he said. "Artistically and commercially we have been very blessed. I, personally, have been very fortunate to play music all my life. Blame this all on Willie. Without him, none of this would have happened."

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