|Ray Benson in France. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber|
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have been touring in Europe for 35 years.... They first played in then-Czechoslovakia in 1988, when the country was still under communism and before it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Ray reflects on this experience in an interview with my Czech friend Petr Mecir, who is a passional country music fan and runs a country music web site. They spoke in Mannheim, Germany, where Ray was playing as part of a big touring International Country Music Festival that had big concerts in England, Germany and Switzerland.
"Oh, the western everything, you know, the cowboy image is very big and we know about Karl May, the author in Germany. And we've been playing, of course, for 35 years and coming to Europe whether it's the UK, Czechoslovakia and Switzerland especially. They know and they seem to like it. The western swing, I think, came as one of the last kinds of country music there, it was like bluegrass and the songs, folks like Jim Reeves and now they're getting into western swing. First time we came 35 years ago a Dutch interviewer said we were a jazz band cashing on country music (laughs). They had no idea what the hell we were, so we put on cowboy hats to make it in the country."
Well, at shows in Europe you can see those European cowboys wearing denim shirts and leather suits with fringes. They appreciate the traditional music, so western swing should be exactly what matches the musical taste here.
"We played in Denmark a couple of years ago. They had a big cowboy festival and they were all dressed up and they said 'play more of your cowboy country, not so much 'Chu Chu Boogie' and your jazz and swing stuff.' They didn't like that so much, but I think they progress."