Posted October 5, 2007 in

Western Swing is easily the deadest of dead 20th-century country music idioms, but for a brief span—roughly 1930 to the mid-‘50s—it provided hillbilly with a jazz-like legitimacy and widespread, mainstream appeal that rated the sound as a straight-up phenom. From its earliest days as a non-stop running battle—back and forth across the Depression-blighted sands of Texas—between Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys and Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies (Brown’s sudden car-wreck death settled the good-natured rivalry), Western Swing, with its hot fiddles, drawling hep-cat vocalists and unparalleled twin steel and guitar heat, drastically raised the artistic ante amongst the agrarian set. From Hank Penny in Alabama to Spade Cooley in California, it was a brilliant flare-up of black-influenced expression, but after Elvis, television and drive-in movies came along, it withered up and blew away (along with the Dorsey and Goodman bands). When Asleep at the Wheel bandleader Ray Benson took up the cause back in 1970, it seemed like an against-all-odds proposition, but almost 40 years later, the band still rages coast to coast, with no fewer than nine Grammy awards on their shelf and no intention of going away. Benson combines the tradition with an expansive, modern Texas dancehall kick and an emphatic greasy-boogie delivery that, while it doesn’t approach the virtuosity of the Wills model, still has more than enough rhythmic ka-pow to flip plenty of lids. (Jonny Whiteside)


Asleep at the Wheel at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, 777 San Manuel Blvd., Highland, (800) 359-2464; Thurs., May 31, 8 p.m. 21+.






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