Asleep at the Airport

DMRayATXAustin is Asleep at the Wheel’s town and has been for 40-plus years, so it’s fitting that a manifestation of the group is one of the first things you encounter when flying into Austin’s Bergstrom International Airport. Just down the concourse from the food court, on your way down to baggage claim, you’ll pass by the Asleep at the Wheel Road House — which has cases full of artifacts from throughout the group’s history (including one of the nine Grammy Awards they’ve won) and a performance stage that has someone up and playing on it more often than not, at all hours of the day and night.

One of the AATW Road House’s more iconic tokens is a lifesize photo cutout of “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson. It’s an enduringly popular photo backdrop, one I’ve used myself more than once. The most recent was last month, when I was flying in for the  Texas Book Festival. And even Ray himself can’t resist it. Below was the scene Friday morning, a shot featuring Ray and pianist emeritus Floyd Domino, pausing to mug for a camera on their way to a show in Denver.


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DRA 1989: off the charts, but onto tape

DRA1989tapeThis week, DRA 1989 completes its chart run (or at least the initial leg of it) by disappearing, falling from last week’s No. 138 ranking all the way off the Dec. 5 Billboard 200 after eight weeks. It had a solid No. 7 debut in late September but then dropped every week thereafter — except for a brief one-week sales spike when the physical version came out a few weeks back. Except for that, it pretty much mirrored the chart performance of 2014’s Ryan Adams, which debuted at No. 4 and was gone after seven weeks.

But who knows, maybe DRA 1989 will get another bump up when it’s released next month on…cassette. Yes, that’s right, DRA 1989 really is being released on that outdated hair-metal-era artifact, the humble audiocassette tape, which is fitting given Ryan’s ongoing run of ’80scentric tributes.

Anyway, the DRA 1989 cassette is priced at $12.98 (which also includes an MP3 digital download) and will be available Dec. 11, according to Amazon. Sounds like a nice Christmas gift for Ryan completists, and it would even go well with this!


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Ray Benson leads the lit life

LSLLToday brings a very nice interview with “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson on Lone Star Literary Life, a website that carries the very helpful tagline reminder that, “Texas Books Make Great Gifts.” To which I say yes, they do!

Anyway, Ray talks about Asleep at the Wheel’s origins and history, as well the co-writing gig. He also mentions that he plans to do another book at some point — “So many other great stories of life, and we ain’t done yet” — as part of a lengthy to-do list of things to accomplish between now and the Wheel’s 50-year anniversary in 2020.

Check that out here.

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Western swing ukulele


The very tall Ray Benson with Jake Shimabukuro.

As I’ve discovered over the past few years, my “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson knows pretty much everybody in and out of the music business — and not just the country music business, either. This was Ray last night with Jake Shimabukuro, the great Hawaiian ukulele star, who played the final night of his latest tour in Austin and afterward posted this picture to his Facebook page (even calling Ray “My big bro”).

I’m sure it was a very fine show; I still love his version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” And Ray being Ray, he probably talked Jake into doing a cameo appearance on whatever next Asleep at the Wheel project he might be working on.

Thank you Austin!!!
My big bro Ray Benson came out to the show tonight!
Had a blast :) What a great way to end the tour! One of my high school friends came to the show tonight. Thanks Terry :)
Thanks to everyone for all the support this year!
Flying home tomorrow – looking forward to seeing my family :)
Good night…
Oh wait, I still have to pack. Haha!


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Home with the Armadillo

Always fun to run across artifacts that tie together threads from different quadrants of my world. Consider the video below, which has connections to my latest book as well as the first one I ever wrote. It shows Asleep at the Wheel onstage alongside Commander Cody on a hot version of the old Tex Williams classic “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)”; and there’s my “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson, sharing a microphone with Lost Planet Airmen guitarist Bill Kirchen.

That’s the new connection. As for the old one, that would be with my 1985 University of Texas journalism master’s thesis, “Music, Media and the Metropolis: The Case of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters.” This video is from the Armadillo’s final night, New Year’s Eve 1980, before the place went under the wrecking ball in early 1981 — undone by Austin’s boom-town growth, which continues to this day.

Cody figures very prominently in both these books. But while “Comin’ Right at Ya” is easy enough to find (and cheap, too!), I’m afraid the only place one can find my masters thesis is the University of Texas library.

HT Joe Nick Patoski

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It’s back! The “Losering” holiday special — expanded!

LoseringNovember is drawing on, with Thanksgiving approaching. And before you know it, the horror that is Black Friday will be upon us — the busiest, ugliest, most insane shopping day of the year. To that I say: Don’t go there.

Instead, I’d like to propose a sensible holiday-shopping alternative to getting trampled to death at your local Best Buy: Here are three music-related books perfect for holiday giving, which you can order without even leaving the peace and comfort of your own home. Better still, you can get ’em cheap if you order directly from me.

As I’ve done the last few years, I am once again lowering the price to a discounted holiday-season rate that will be good until the end of the year on copies ordered directly from me. But the 2015 model lowers the price further still, while also expanding the selection to more than just one book.

OTRcoverIf you’re in the continental U.S., prices below include shipping on copies you buy directly from me. Author signature is free if you want it, but it won’t hurt my feelings any if you don’t. So hit me up at and let’s do this.

First up is Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown”, the unauthorized (yet nevertheless award-winning) biography of the popular expatriate North Carolinia-born musician, now available at the rock-bottom loss-leader price of just $10. A single Hamilton — that’s half the publisher’s $19.95 list price, and also significantly cheaper than it can be had on amazon. I’m pretty sure this is the lowest new-copy price you’ll find anywhere, with the added bonus of the aforementioned free shipping. Think of that as Loserprime. ™

Cover by Lindsay Starr.

If you’re a Ryan Adams fan who has already read “Losering,” you might also be interested in my 2000 novel “Off The Record” because its rock-star protagonist is partly based on my memories (fond and otherwise) of young Ryan when he was coming up in Raleigh way back when. “Off The Record” got some quite nice reviews during its initial run, enough to qualify as something of a cult favorite. It goes for close to $20 from iUniverse, amazon or, plus another $5-$6 for taxes and shipping. But don’t pay that — I’ll send it your way for $15 total.

Finally, I have a limited number of copies of this year’s “Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel,”  the memoir I co-wrote with Ray Benson. It’s a hardback with a list price of $24.95, but available from me for $20.

I should also note that if you’d rather have your copy of “Comin’ Right at Ya” signed by the man himself, Ray Benson, you can get that from the Asleep at the Wheel store for $30. Check it out here.



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Desperately seeking Caitlin (not Caitlyn) Cary…

So a bunch of us had some fun the other day at this poor fellow’s expense, for misspelling Whiskeytown alumnus Caitlin Cary’s name in a craigslist posting. But I probably should not be so quick to ridicule because the poster, Eric from Portland, has owned up to the mistake and corrected it in a followup solicitation. And for all you fiddle-playing women singers out there — dude is still looking. Just sayin’.


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Big in Europe: The Connells’ “’74-’75,” updated to 2015


The Connells, 1993.

When Ryan Adams made his way from Jacksonville up to Raleigh in the early 1990s (as outlined in the “Before” section of “Losering”), there were a handful of big fish in the Triangle music scene — Corrosion of Conformity, blackgirls and Superchunk, among others. But one of the biggest was the Connells, who were part of a wave of jangly guitar-pop bands that followed in R.E.M.’s wake. While the Connells were a popular regional draw on the college-radio chitlin circuit of the Southeastern U.S., their music was accessible enough that they always seemed like a band that should have been bigger elsewhere, too.

By the time Ryan was hitting his stride with Whiskeytown in 1995, however, the Connells suddenly were bigger elsewhere. And not just big, either, but huge. In one of the Amerindie underground’s odder success stories, the Connells briefly hit the big time overseas in the mid-’90s with “’74-’75,” a pensive and moody ballad from the band’s 1993 album Ring.

“Big in Europe” is a well-worn joke in the music industry, but it really was true in the Connells’ case. Where Ring barely grazed the charts here in America (peaking at No. 199 on the Billboard 200), it made the Connells stars in Europe, with its “’74-’75” single going all the way to No. 1 in Norway and Sweden while cracking the top-10 in another nine countries across the continent. It even earned a platinum record in Norway to go with gold records in Germany and Sweden.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 2.51.17 PM

David Hoggard in 1974 and again in 1993 with his wife Susan and daughter Alison, from Mark Pellington’s video of the Connells’ “’74-’75.”

A major part of “’74-’75″‘s success was its evocative video, which juxtaposed then-and-now images of members of the class of 1975 from Broughton High School in Raleigh with yearbook photos and footage shot in the fall of 1993. Two Connells members had also gone to Broughton; all three of my kids in recent years, too. Anyway, “’74-’75” is the rare video that actually enhances a song, never getting too heavy-handed while implying more than it says. It remains a great curio of mid-1990s North Carolina music.


Alison and Susan Hoggard with a picture of David, who died in 2013. Still from video shot by N&O photographer Juli Leonard.

Back in 1994, when “’74-’75” was in the early stages of its run, I tracked down and interviewed all 16 people in it to do a story for the paper. In honor of the 40-year anniversary of Broughton’s class of 1975, we decided to update it again to the present day — but literally this time, by editing new footage of everyone into director Mark Pellington’s original video. The band’s representatives were kind enough to give us permission to do this; and we didn’t quite get full participation, but close: 15 of of the video’s 16 subjects agreed to be photographed again, as did the Connells themselves.

So here is “’74-’75” circa 2015, with superlative visuals and editing by two of my News & Observer photojournalist colleagues, Travis Long (whose work documenting local music in Raleigh has been referenced here before) and Juli Leonard; plus accompanying stories that explain a bit more about the video and where everyone in it is nowadays. Pulling this beast together was an immensely labor-intensive process, so we’re all somewhat relieved now that it’s finally done. But we’re also counting down to the 50-year anniversary in 2025.

We’ll see who all is still standing by then.

ADDENDUM: In response, nice Blurt essay by Fred Mills.

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Ray Benson, raconteur

Ray Benson has always been one heck of a story teller, which made “Comin’ Right at Ya” a pleasure to co-write. A large part of the gig was hanging out listening to Ray tell tales, which was always lots of fun. And here’s the next best thing, a University of Texas Press podcast interview where Ray holds forth at length about the book and his career. He gets into the nuts and bolts of how we handled the co-writing process at about the 10-minute mark.

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Bless his heart…

I think that this Eric fellow, who posted the craigslist solicitation below in Portland a week ago, might be a little more credible if he’d spelled Caitlin Cary’s name correctly. But I do wish him luck.

HT Thomas Cushman

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