Ray Benson

Ray Benson, frontman and co-founder of Asleep at the Wheel, discusses the challenges musicians face and the state of the music industry in the u201cLive Music Capital of the World.u201d

Ray Benson, frontman and co-founder of Asleep at the Wheel, discusses the challenges musicians face and the state of the music industry in the u201cLive Music Capital of the World.u201d

Ray Benson is the frontman and co-founder of world-renowned Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel. The band has released more than 25 albums and earned nine Grammy awards. Benson’s latest solo album, “A Little Piece of Me,” was released in 2014.


Born in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Benson said he was submerged in the arts at an early age when he performed in school and community choirs and bands. Benson is now an advocate and board member for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, which provides low-cost or free health care to musicians. Since 2010, Benson has hosted the “Texas Music Scene” TV series, which broadcasts weekly on KEYE-TV in Austin on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 p.m.



How do you continue to find your inspiration and joy?


The hallmark of what musicians should be, or what any artist should be, is that we live in a world where creativity and expression is our currency, and so that’s what we do. The trick is to figure out how to do it for a living and to satisfy your creative flow [and] muses.



What advice do you have on making it in the entertainment industry in Central Texas?


What I tell everybody is if you can do anything else, do it. I have skills that I could do, but I couldn’t be happy. Asleep at the Wheel has been my job for 46 years. … I did everything. I took over the business management of the band. I drove the bus. That’s the secret. You have to be able to do a lot of stuff if you’re going to survive. I did voice-overs and still do.



How does music play a role in the economic boom in Central Texas?


The reason so many of these modern-day technological and intellectual property firms move to Austin, Texas, is because of the cultural climate. I often quote a superintendent of the Austin school district in the 1920s who said, ‘Our currency is not in our strong backs, but in our strong minds.’ I think one of the most earth-shattering things to ever happen is the invention of the silicon chip on Research Boulevard by Texas Instruments. This is like the wheel being invented here and the way it changed [the industry]. … [Austin is] so different because it’s still demanding smart people as opposed to strong backs. The music community and the film community and the literary community were always here in one form or the other. I believe that attracts [the technology industry].



What are the biggest challenges facing the local music industry?


The entry-level is easy, but the attainment level is very difficult. I helped start the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians because they said, ‘Here’s something: Let’s help the mental and physical health of our struggling musicians.’ Who wouldn’t want to live in a city that gives health care, dental care, mental health care at a very, very low cost to struggling musicians? … The housing situation is so critical right now. It used to be where [musicians] could move to San Marcos and now San Marcos is expensive. Caldwell County seems to be the affordable area but then it’s a big drive.



With all those challenges do you still consider Austin the ‘Live Music Capital of the World?’


I think it certainly is, but whether it continues or not is whether young people can come here and exist. It’s also whether the city will do something about it and the surrounding areas. ... When we played in Round Rock at the Chalk Walk, it was so well-attended, so well-received that I have to figure it’s folks who would love to come see us, but I don’t blame them for not driving to South Austin.



Why do surrounding communities focus on the arts?


I’m an example of it. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra when I was 10 years old singing folk music. In the schools I sang in the choirs and choruses. … Then the school in the seventh grade, they said, ‘If you want to learn anything you can get lessons from the band guy.’ ... The grounding that I got through the community and through the schools enabled me to become a cowboy singer.



What effect will music venues closing have on the ‘Live Music Capital of the World?’


The biggest problem right now is sound ordinances, which are really convoluted. I have great sympathy for people who live in an area and all of sudden there’s a low-end, boom-boom bass going on. The larger halls, we’re fine. We have so many larger venues now that the [Austin] Music Hall, which was a disaster acoustically, is not really going to be missed. There’s new [venues] coming up, too. Especially since we’re able to do outdoor venues so much better than other cities, it’s a lot easier. It’s the smaller venues I worry about.



 Watch the full interview: 


https://youtu.be/4xqri6xOLxU

 
By Amy Denney
Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and then senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition and covering transportation. She is now managing editor for the nine publications in the Central Texas area.


MOST RECENT

Early voting for Travis County's May 1 local elections opened April 19. In this file photo, voters line up ahead of the 2020 primary elections at Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than 8,000 Travis County voters cast ballots on first day of early voting

Early voting for the county's May 1 election began April 19 and will run through April 27.

The Delco Activity Center in Northeast Austin is one of the locations where residents can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. (Jack Flalger/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin vaccine updates: Demand slows as state begins marketing push

Appointments are beginning to go unfilled, and local health officials say demand has caught up to supply. All adults in the U.S. are now eligible to be vaccinated.

Blue Corn Harvest Leander is located at 11840 Hero Way W., Bldg. A, Leander. (Taylor Girtman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Blue Corn Harvest opens in Leander; park, pizzeria launches social club and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Photo of two performers on an outdoor SXSW stage
South by Southwest sells ownership stake in company to Rolling Stone owner Penske Media Corp.

SXSW leadership called the sale a "lifeline" for the conference and festivals.

Photo of people receiving vaccines in a gym
Austin Public Health lengthens windows for vaccine appointment signups

Residents age 18 and up can now sign up for appointments with APH any time from Saturday to Tuesday morning.

Austin Anthem watch party
Crowds of fans converge on North Austin to watch inaugural Austin FC game

Breweries around Q2 Stadium in North Austin brought in large outdoor screens and new employees to host fans of Austin FC for the team's historic first match.

Austin Police Department
UPDATE: Loop 360 closed in both directions in Northwest Austin due to a shooting incident

Residents who live in the Arboretum area in Northwest Austin are advised to shelter in place.

Early voting for the May 1 election opens April 19 at a 7 a.m. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Early voting in Austin opens April 19: See what’s on the ballot, where to vote

City residents will be making decisions on eight propositions ranging from whether to adopt a strong mayor government system to whether to reinstate public camping bans.

Austin transportation officials said April 15 the range of corridor construction program projects initiated through the city's 2016 Mobility Bond remain on track for completion by late 2024. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Several Austin corridor mobility projects moving forward in 2021, program on track for 2024 completion

Transportation officials said some corridor program improvements previously planned along Guadalupe Street and East Riverside Drive are being reduced ahead of Project Connect expansions.

Jack Allen's Kitchen will be at 1345 E. Whitestone Blvd., Cedar Park. (Rendering courtesy Jack Allen's Kitchen)
7 restaurants coming to Cedar Park, Leander; new murals to go up in Georgetown and more top area news

Read the top business and community news from the Central Texas area from the past week.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Photo of a home for sale
Central Austin housing market remains steep as area median home price reaches all-time high

Home prices in the Austin-Round Rock area have climbed more than 28% in the past year.