Hanging With The Wheel

In 1975, I was asked by Frank Rasor to help him videotape a concert. Frank was a tall Texan, who was the resident engineer at University Community Video, a center to help students and community folks create videos and allow them to reach an audience. It was funded by student fees at the University of Minnesota, and me and some of my pals learned how to shoot and edit on Sony Portapaks and editing decks.

Being from Texas, Frank was always keen to bring the culture of his home state to those of us in the Frozen North. I learned about what Frank referred to as “real chili”, and he showed me a small Lebanese/Mexican grocery in South St. Paul where he could procure the necessary ingredients.

Most of the UCV crowd were activists interested in doing projects on feminism, government outrages and various other important and serious issues. I was more interested in sophomoric comedy, so me and my cohorts were outcasts of a sort. But Frank liked what we did and was always willing to help us out.

Frank did his own videos, too, and he often asked me to help him out as a camera operator. Frank was six-eight, and I worked on one video that highlighted the problems the world presented to tall folks. We shot him ducking under doorways and signs, trying to fit into bathtubs, and visiting several stores looking for beds that could accommodate his long frame.

So, one day he said that his favorite Texas band would be playing at the Whole Coffeehouse, and asked if I would help him shoot it. The Whole was a dungeon in the basement of Coffman Union with the requisite black walls and bad lighting, so as I recall the final product was sort of dark and dingy…much like the Whole itself.

But the music was just the opposite. The band was Asleep At The Wheel, and they instantly became one of my favorite bands. Prior to that night, I didn’t know anything about Western Swing or who Bob Wills was. But that night, I became a devotee.

In the years since, I’ve had the chance to catch the Wheel live in Minneapolis, at the Cabooze, the State Fair and other venues. And then last week, I finally saw them in their native habitat: Austin, Texas.

As always, an amazing night of music and dancing (against my will, but I was up there for Cotton-Eyed Joe after being informed it was Texas State Law that everyone participate.) And I got to meet and briefly chat with Ray Benson, the band’s founder and leader for the over 40 years they have been swingin’.

Some music comes and goes in your life; you’re crazy about it for a while, then lose interest. But it’s been me and the Wheel since 1975…with no end in sight.

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