He’s 6’7″, wears a long grey ponytail down his back, and was named Texas Musician of the Year in 2004. His name is Ray Benson, and in addition to being the founder of the country swing band, 9-time Grammy winners, Asleep at the Wheel, he’s also one of the only Jewish performers in country music today. (Another one happens to be his longtime drummer Dave Sanger!)
Ray Benson Seifert (he dropped the Seifert somewhere along the line) grew up in suburban Philadelphia, but headed down South as a young adult. He started Asleep at the Wheel in 1970 with some friends from Philadelphia, and over the years the band has played far and wide, from the White House to Austin City Limits. Along the way Benson has quietly combatted some prejudices in the industry, and briefly addresses how strange it is to be a Jew in country music in his 2008 musical, A Ride With Bob, based on the life of Benson’s musical hero, the Western Swing pioneer Bob Wills.
If you’re interested in Benson’s work, check out any of Asleep at the Wheel’s 20+ albums, or Benson’s new solo album “A Little Piece,” a poignant and personal look at the life of this enigmatic Jewish musician.
Watch Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel perform their hit “You Don’t Know Me”:
Watch scenes from Benson’s “A Ride With Bob”: