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09 Mar 09 A Ride With Bob

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ridewithbobThe premise is simple.  You’re a very talented musician in your own right, and you have an opportunity to spend a few minutes talking to one of the greatest living legends in Texas music.  That gentleman, however, is too tired to talk to you that night, but you’re promised that he will be available the next day.   As fate would have it, the music icon has a stroke that night and passes into a coma from which he never recovers.  One can only imagine how Ray Benson must have felt that day, and how that loss may have inspired his music.

This is the genesis of the story that Asleep at the Wheel and a troupe of talented musicians and actors bring to the stage with “A Ride with Bob: The Bob Wills Musical.”  The show is a quick two and a half hours of wonderful music played by extremely talented musicians and actors, all focused on conveying the story of the life of Bob Wills.  It was co-written by Anne Rapp (“Tender Mercies”) and Ray Benson.

Benson uses a number of intriguing hooks to pull the audience into the program.  The story is told in flashback over Bob Wills’ life, by Bob Wills ( Marco Parella).  Throughout the story, super talented musicians such as Ruby Jane Smith, the Quebe Sisters Band, and, of course , Asleep at the Wheel, highlight the music on Bob Wills.  They even work Elvis and two astronauts into onstage cameos (trust me – it works into the story).

Jason Roberts (as himself and also as a young Bob Wills) and Steve Uzzell (Pappy O’Daniel) were integral parts of the entire show.  Uzzell really sold himself as Pappy O’Daniel, but with a comedic approach – something of a Snidely Whiplash character.  Jason Roberts showed that he is multitalented – fiddle player, singer and actor.  Whereas Benson and Parella told the story of Bob Wills’ life, Roberts kept the musical aspects of the show flowing.

Tim Curry playing the part of Old Man Bridges was a treat for the audience.  His acting was flawless; his singing was absolutely stunning.  His deep booming bass voice filled the Eisemann Center with notes that reached deep into your soul.  Curry, himself a multiple B. Iden Payne nominee and award winner, is recognized for both his acting and musical talents.

As the show opened to the strains “Bob’s Breakdowns” , the crowd was quick to join into the “swing” of things.  For every song, “Misery,” “Bob’s Barbershop,” “Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show,” “Milk Cow Blues” you could feel the anticipation building for the song that everyone was waiting for, “New San Antonio Rose.”  When the musicians started the intro to the song, it took the audience only a couple of beats to begin clapping and singing along with the band.   Audience participation was the order of the evening.

I sat in my seat pondering a question for most of the evening.  What must it have been like to hear Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys in their prime? As the show progressed, the question kept coming to me.  Apparently, Ray Benson anticipated this as he had one more hook for the audience – Leon Rausch.   Leon, pushing well north of 80 years of age, still has the strong dulcimer tones that brought him into the Texas Playboys fold.

Leon joined the Texas Playboys in the late ‘50s when the popularity of Bob Wills and Western swing were starting to decline.  However, Leon and the Playboys stuck true to the Bob Wills musical legend until the band’s final concert in 1986.  Though Leon may not have played with Wills in the heyday of Western swing, he gave us a vision of how the music must have felt – and it was a good feeling!

Another hook that Benson used in the show was to showcase young talent into the story.  The first musician to hit the stage playing the part of a young Bob Wills was Ruby Jane Smith.  Though still quite young (14 years old), the Mississippi fiddle player, singer and actress quickly showed that she is a bundle of talent.  We will see a lot more from Ruby Jane in the future.

The other group showcased by the show was the The Quebe Sisters Band out of the Fort Worth area.  To describe the band as good is an understatement of how you react when you first hear them.  Throughout the audience you hear one word, “Wow!”  Their magic is little bit 3-part harmony (much like the Andrew Sisters meet Sons of the Pioneers) mixed with 3-part fiddle accompaniment.  The band consists of Sophia, Grace and Hulda Quebe with Joey McKenzie on guitar (himself a world champion fiddler) and Drew Phelps on the upright bass.   The band is all ready making a splash in the Texas music scene recently being named the Group of the Year by the Academy of Western Artists.   Additionally, QSB has been honored with the Western Music Association’s Crescendo Award.

Asleep at the Wheel and the other musicians put on a great mini-show after “A Ride With Bob” ended.  One of the highlights, “Miles and Miles of Texas”, elicited spontaneous audience participation.   As the audience filed out, many were talking how much fun the show was; the rest were humming or singing something from the show.

Though living as a small boy in Fort Worth during the last years of Bob Wills’ active radio days, I can’t remember ever directly hearing his music.  However, Wills’ music must have been ingrained deep down into my subconscious.  As I listened to the show, I felt a strong sense of pride.  “A Ride With Bob: The Bob Wills Musical” presents the life and music of a true Texas music legend performed another true Texas music legend – Asleep at the Wheel.

The show performs next at the Long Center in Austin on March 13th and 14th.  Ruby Jane Smith will be appearing with Asleep at the Wheel.

The Quebe Sisters Band next plays at the Morris Theater in Lakeway, TX on March 13th (6:30 PM and 9:00 PM) and the Best Little Cowboy Gathering in Texas in Lagrange on March 14th.

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