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ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL KEEPS WAKING UP TO ITS COUNTRY ROOTS

Ray Benson, founder/guitarist for country roots band Asleep at the Wheel, is sitting in a car - which he refers to as his office - talking on a cellular phone in Austin, Texas.

"Cellular phones are better than not speaking at all," he chirped when the connection became weak. "The tour's been going and going good."Asleep at the Wheel will perform Sunday, Aug. 27, at Red Butte Garden. Bob Willis' Texas Playboys will open the show at 6:30 p.m.

"We've gone up to Alaska, to Texas, to Wichita (Ks.) and Denver," Benson said. "After Salt Lake, I'm going to be filming a movie with Christopher Lloyd, my favorite actor. The title's changed so much, but I think they've decided on `Mustang Sally.' It's going to be a comedy/drama sort of thing."

Benson formed Asleep at the Wheel more than 25 years ago, because he wanted the music of the past to stay alive.

"I consider ourselves amateur musicologists," Benson said of the band. "We started out doing roots music. You know, hillbilly stuff, country swing, country blues, styles like those. We originally wanted to revive some of the music that was played back in the 1920s. We just liked the way is sounded and in a time where rock 'n' roll reigned as king, we felt it was important to get the roots out. We're sort of like a musical rearview mirror."

Likewise some of Asleep at the Wheel's contemporaries have done the same revival work in other styles, said Benson who cited the Manhattan Transfer, Ricky Skaggs and the psycho-billy of the Rev. Horton Heat.

"Actually, it goes further than them," Benson said. "The new crop of country singers are looking back to the early Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, who in themselves were musicologists."

Benson nurtured his talent from the beginning with old-style finger-picking. Then the rock of Lonnie Mack and the blues of B.B. and Albert King stole his heart.

"It didn't stop there," Benson laughed. "I got into the jazz of George Cordova the southern blues of Stevie Ray (Vaughn) and Eric Clapton."

In 1988 Asleep at the Wheel garnered a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Group. This year marks the band's 25th anniversary and things are looking real good.

"We plan to be here, whether it be as amateur musicologists or performing artists," Benson said. "I got to go, let's do it."