Jay West, WireImage.com
When Willie Nelson and Ray Benson, leader and founder of Asleep at the Wheel, teamed up in 2009 for the 'Willie & The Wheel' album and tour, they said the collaboration was 30 years in the making. Their sequel, 'Willie & The Wheel II' will roll out a little quicker, with a May 2011 due date.
"We're calling it WWII and we'll have a World War II theme," Ray tells The Boot, sharing an early version of album artwork that showed the players in military uniforms. "We're going to have a lot of Western Swing and cuts from the '30s and '40s."
In fact, Benson, the Wheel and Willie have just about finalized seven of the 12 tunes planned for the record. The album is not only a lot of fun for the players, but satisfies a need for country music fans who want to hear more diverse sounds -- such as Western Swing, Honky Tonk, and even songs more in the style of Johnny Cash's music -- than are played on country radio.
"One of the great things about country [music] was always the diversity. Nashville doesn't know how to honor the diversity of country music now," says Ray noting that such luminaries as Alison Krauss, Gretchen Wilson and Willie aren't included in honors such as the CMA Awards often in favor of younger, more pop-oriented musicians. "It's now more of a business. Maybe it always was."
That's not to say that Ray doesn't like more pop-oriented country music and younger artists. He holds many younger artists -- including Brad Paisley, who often hangs out and plays music with Opry legend Little Jimmy Dickens -- in high regard.
"Brad is for real. He's the real thing," says Ray. "He is one of the brightest lights in country music today."
Asleep at the Wheel are currently on tour. For a complete list of dates and locales, check here.