Bob Dylan was a luckier young man than Ray Benson. Dylan got to speak with his idol, Woody Guthrie, a few years before Guthrie passed away. Benson wasn't so fortunate with his muse, Bob Wills. Benson met the king of western swing in December of 1972, during the recording of the last album by Wills and his Texas Playboys. Wills was tired, and Benson was told to come back the next day. Wills suffered a stroke that very night and didn't speak to anyone for the last two and a half years of his life.
So it might've been as therapeutic as it was profitable for Benson to stage A Ride With Bob: From Austin to Tulsa, a play about the conversation he and Wills never had -- the show sold out all four nights of its run at Austin's State Theater in March (in conjunction with Wills' 100th birthday). Benson co-wrote the script with Austin author Anne Rapp and starred in the show with both professional actors and members of his 35-year-old band, Asleep at the Wheel. AATW fiddler Jason Roberts plays a young Wills. Singer Elizabeth McQueen portrays country comic Minnie Pearl. And though there's been no report on whether the show will hit the road, for decades Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have taken Wills' place as the finest purveyors of western swing. Quite an accomplishment for a band led by a Jewish fellow raised on jazz in suburban Philly.