Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jew­ish Yan­kee Hip­pie Went Coun­try or the Often Out­ra­geous His­to­ry of Asleep at the Wheel

Ray Ben­son and David Menconi
  • Review
By – January 18, 2016

Asleep at the Wheel would nev­er have come into being, won six Gram­my awards, or last­ed more than 40 years as a crazy coun­try west­ern swing band with­out Ray Ben­son. The first per­son to tell you that would be Ray Benson.

Ben­son may have start­ed out as a Jew­ish Yan­kee hip­pie, but his lev­el of brag­gado­cio is true Tex­an. This larg­er-than-life char­ac­ter pulls no punch­es as he recounts his jour­ney from a sub­ur­ban Philadel­phia upbring­ing to life on the road with his rol­lick­ing crew. Asleep at the Wheel and coun­try music fans will have trou­ble putting down this book, which bar­rels for­ward with all the ener­gy of a Sat­ur­day night show at a dance hall in Austin.

From the open­ing scene, Ben­son makes it clear this will be not be a sug­ar-coat­ed mem­oir. On the night Asleep at the Wheel won its first Gram­my, the band was play­ing a gig in Lub­bock to an eight-per­son crowd. We played for an emp­ty room that was cold­er than a prison guard’s stare,” Ben­son recalls.

The book fol­lows Asleep at the Wheel’s growth from a rag­tag group of col­lege dropouts scrap­ing by in Paw Paw, West Vir­ginia to play­ing on the White House lawn for pres­i­dents and dig­ni­taries. Like the best Asleep at the Wheel albums, the cameos in Comin Right At Ya are wide rang­ing — from George Strait to George Bush and every­where in between.

The big names sprin­kled through­out the book are impres­sive, but the tough-talk­ing Tex­an reveals he still has plen­ty of yid­dishkeit buried beneath the hard exte­ri­or. Some of the most touch­ing pas­sages of the book are Benson’s trib­utes to his par­ents and sib­lings, who helped shape his world­view and musi­cal future. Less­er known artists also appear, rub­bing elbows with coun­try music leg­ends and Texas roy­al­ty on the pages of Benson’s mem­oir as he pays trib­ute to those who gave him a leg up along the way.

In 2005, Ben­son co-wrote A Ride With Bob” as a trib­ute to his hero and inspi­ra­tion, West­ern swing king Bob Wills. The musi­cal, nat­u­ral­ly per­formed with Asleep at the Wheel as the pit orches­tra, plays out as a con­ver­sa­tion between Ben­son and Wills on a tour bus wind­ing aim­less­ly down the inter­state. In Comin’ Right at Ya, the tables have turned and Ben­son is the wily old vet­er­an, spin­ning yarns and impart­ing wis­dom learned from years on the road. We’d all be wise to listen.

Relat­ed Content:

Ben Freed is a gen­er­al assign­ments reporter for The Ann Arbor News. In his spare time he moon­lights as a Bar Mitz­vah DJ, Uber dri­ver, yoga teacher and writer/​curator of www​.The​More​JewKnow​.com

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