Ray Benson was the gangly leader of an unlikely band of long-haired, western swing revivalists based, of all places, in the California Bay Area when he met Willie Nelson in the early seventies. In those years, big band country-jazz fusion was an all-but-forgotten style to much of America, though not to Willie.

Like Benson, he’d grown up idolizing and emulating the sound’s founding father, Bob Wills, albeit twenty years earlier, in the thirties and forties. The two true believers quickly bonded, and in 1973, Willie advised Benson that his band, Asleep at the Wheel, could find a larger, more reliable audience if it moved to Austin, backing up his suggestion with a promise of show-opening slots at his own gigs. Soon thereafter, Benson and the Wheel made the move, kicking off fifty years of tight friendship and wildly productive musical collaboration.

(Read a transcript of this episode below.)

On this week’s One by Willie, Benson focuses on one of his and Willie’s finest moments together, a cover of the 1974 Wills classic, “Goin’ Away Party.” Willie and Benson’s version was the closing track on the Wheel’s Grammy-winning 1999 album, Ride With Bob: A Tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and after describing how they came to record it, Benson goes on to detail the even more impressive backstory to the song. It was written for Wills by the great Cindy Walker, the country songwriter from Mexia who composed dozens of the swing and singing-cowboy songs that Willie grew up on. With well-considered and experienced authority, Benson calls Walker one of the single greatest influences on Willie’s own creations.

We’ve created an Apple Music playlist for this series that we’ll add to with each episode we publish. And if you like the show, please subscribe and drop us a rating on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

One by Willie is produced and engineered by Brian Standefer, with audio editing by Jackie Ibarra and production by Patrick Michels. Our executive producer is Megan Creydt. Graphic design is by Emily Kimbro and Victoria Millner.


John Spong (voice-over): Hey there, I am John Spong with Texas Monthly magazine, and this is One by Willie, a podcast in which I talk each week to one notable Willie Nelson fan about one Willie song that they really love. The show is brought to you by Still Austin craft whiskey.

This week, eight-time Grammy winner Ray Benson—who’s been best friends with Willie since right about the time Willie talked him into moving to Austin with his western swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, back in 1973—talks about a song that Willie cut with the Wheel back in 1998. It’s the Bob Wills classic “Goin’ Away Party.” Wills was, of course, a huge influence and a hero to both Willie and Ray, as was the song’s composer, the great Cindy Walker. According to Ray, Cindy Walker was one of the single greatest influences on Willie’s own songwriting. And he’s going to explain where he hears that, who Cindy Walker was, and what it’s been like for him to get to play with Willie on the regular for more than fifty years. Oh, and there’s a cameo appearance by Robert Duvall, of course. So let’s do it.

John Spong: Well, then that’s it.

Ray Benson: Press “record.”

John Spong: Yeah. Hit “record.” Red light’s on. So, what’s—

Ray Benson: Roll tape.

John Spong: [Laughs] Is this thing on? So, what’s so cool about “Going Away Party”?

Ray Benson: Well, this is a Cindy Walker tune. Cindy Walker being, in my mind, one of the great songwriters of all time—and I can back that up. It was written as a goodbye to Bob Wills, by Cindy Walker. And it was recorded by Jody Nix, Hoyle Nix’s son, on For the Last Time record in 197—when I met Bob Wills. Anyway, so just for that alone, it’s this incredible masterpiece of a song that has such an emotional connection to Bob Wills and Cindy Walker, who were both basically in their twilight years.

John Spong: Wait. And then, the version we’re talking about, then—because that was recorded, I think in December of ’73. And so then you do it for your Bob Wills tribute record—the second of three, Ride With Bob, which you made a musical of—but you recorded it with Willie in ’99, or at least that’s when it came out. And as you described it just now, it almost seems like there was no song you could do with Willie for that record but “Goin’ Away Party.”

Ray Benson: Yeah, I don’t know. No, actually what it was—here’s the actual story, is that I wanted to do the song, yes, with the Manhattan Transfer.

John Spong: Okay.

Ray Benson: Because they’re the slickest, greatest vocal group in a long time. And they were friends of mine, and we had worked on an album together. And I said, “Would you do this?” They said, “Absolutely.” And I said, “Okay. I want Ray Price to do this.” The object is a very slick—and I mean that in a good way—

John Spong: Yeah.

Ray Benson: It’s a big production. And Price has that incredible voice. Well, Ray was a little cantankerous and didn’t want to drive down to Austin. He lives in Greenville. I went, “Okay, Ray. Well, thanks. Hey, Willie, what are you doing?” And Willie has always said yes to me on records, and he’s just . . . What can I say? I’m a lucky guy. So we did. And the combination of the slick—and, I mean, the Manhattan Transfer are slick. They’re wonderful—of that and Willie’s, whatever you want to describe his voice as, to me on this song was just classic. And it did turn out to be a—I played it for somebody the other day, before you and I talked. I was on the bus; I can’t remember where we had been traveling . . . Oh, I was in Bakersfield, and they were one of Buck Owens’ guys. He went, “That’s an incredible cut.” I said, “I know.” I just sat in the chair, and I played guitar.

John Spong: That is the perfect lead. And can I play it with you? That is awesome. 

[Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel playing “Going Away Party”]

Ray Benson: Yeah.

John Spong: That’s so good.

Ray Benson: I always loved well-overproduced records. By that I mean, you know, that record, you should have a drink and a joint, depending on your proclivity, in a dark room. It’s just one of those songs, and I felt it needed that treatment. And these are legends: Willie Nelson and that voice—this is at his height, I think, of his vocal abilities. And I know, because I was there. You know . . . listen to the progress of his voice over the years, and it’s an incredible journey. And the fact that he is singing nowadays still, with totally diminished capacity, but yet still the most soulful singer around.

John Spong: Yeah.

Ray Benson: It’s pretty amazing. So I always wanted—that’s why I love this song. And, of course, the Cindy Walker aspect of it. Cindy, they’re now working on the documentary on her and—

John Spong: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Ray Benson: Oh, yeah. And doing a thing on her hometown of Mexia. They’ve got her house—this foundation, this gal put this all together, and they bought the house, and they’re going to have a Cindy Walker museum.

John Spong: Oh, nice.

Ray Benson: Yeah. About time.

John Spong: And Mexia’s right by Abbott. That was one of the things that I’d always wondered, because Willie’s always described her as a hero. He’s in the middle of nowhere, Texas. She’s forty-five minutes away, in middle of nowhere, Texas. She wrote all those singing-cowboy songs.

Ray Benson: Thirty-nine of Bob Wills’s songs.

John Spong: Thirty-nine of Bob Wills’s. And so he grows up on western swing, but also going to the Bijou, either in Waco or Fort Worth, to watch singing cowboys every chance he gets.

Ray Benson: Oh, yeah.

John Spong: And she’s, like, ten years older. She was doing exactly what he wanted to do.

Ray Benson: Yeah. She was in L.A., because that’s where she went. But, of course, she was a Texas songwriter. And, of course, he knew her songs—as I like to say, Willie Nelson’s songwriting was forged by Cindy Walker, Floyd . . .

John Spong: Tillman.

Ray Benson: Tillman, and the Great American Songbook.

John Spong: Yeah.

Ray Benson: Gershwin, et cetera. And that’s what was so interesting about him, is that he came from this place where the craft of writing songs was at its height, on all genres. And so he emulated them, but he did them in his own way. And that’s Willie Nelson for you, because only Willie can take a song that is not his, and everybody thinks it is. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” being the most obvious selection. But he must have written that song.

John Spong: Yeah.

Ray Benson: And the reason is is because of the change that he does, whatnot, which is the Willie Change, which was learned from Paul Buskirk. Paul Buskirk is credited with cowriting “Night Life.”

John Spong: “Night Life,” right.

Ray Benson: Paul had a music store in Houston, and Willie taught guitar in it.

John Spong: Right.

Ray Benson: He got the beginners. And Buskirk was a four-string guitar player from West Virginia. He had played with Jim & Jesse, but he was a virtuoso kind of guy. And he taught Willie the change, which is a one, sharp one, one, sharp four, boom. It’s the thing you hear on “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” that is so unique. But it’s on every Willie Nelson song.

John Spong: Huh.

Ray Benson: It’s the Willie Change, for any musician that is astute enough . . .

[Willie Nelson playing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”]

John Spong: And Buskirk gets credited with introducing Willie to Django; it’s like [it] was supposedly either Buskirk or Freddy Powers, or both of them, did it in the late fifties, and Johnny Gimble was in the picture too—which, it’s Johnny Gimble playing on this song with you guys, and played with Wills.

Ray Benson: Yep.

John Spong: And it’s one of the things that’s been so cool to figure out about Willie and his career, because it’s all relationships. His friendship with you is what we’re really talking about today. But also Gimble, Buskirk—he brought those guys into the studio anytime there wasn’t something else to do, or sometimes to record specifically for a big label.

Ray Benson: Oh, gosh. Well, yeah.

John Spong: Because those were the old buddies.

Ray Benson: Yeah. We did a thing—he called it the Rainbow Band. It was—

John Spong: Oh, yeah.

Ray Benson: Deanie-Bird and Buskirk and Freddy Powers, et cetera. I can’t even remember.

John Spong: Gimble and Dean Reynolds?

Ray Benson: Dean was the bass player.

John Spong: Stand-up bass guy from Houston?

Ray Benson: Yeah, and Gimble. I was doing a soundtrack for a Horton Foote movie, and I had Robert Duvall and Willie singing World War I duets with that band. We did “There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding” and “Pack Up Your Trouble in Your Old Kit Bag.”

John Spong: Of course.

Ray Benson: And the one which—I got to find the one—was “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” with Willie. And now Willie, that day, had started drinking early, and we got to it, and I said, “We’ll go out and sing this. And then Bobby will come in and sing another verse.” He got in there and sang—I don’t know if you know the song; it was a huge hit for Bing Crosby. It was written in 1875 by a guy, and it’s one of those songs that’s been recorded forever in American popular music. Willie sang it—the hair on my head just stood on end. It was so incredible. And Duvall looked at me and went, “I ain’t going in after that. Are you crazy?” And I said, “You’re right, Bobby. Okay.” It was like . . . so Willie had that kind of power. But getting back to this, again, it was an epic performance; I knew that. And with Will—it’s just funny, we didn’t have to work on it.

John Spong: Yeah.

Ray Benson: He sang it once or twice and I said, “Thanks.”

John Spong: And out the door.

Ray Benson: Out the door.

[Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel playing “Going Away Party”]

John Spong: When we were listening together just now, we both were kind of geeking out over the lyrics, because for me, there’s these . . . It goes back to Cindy Walker’s art—there’s these great internal rhymes. “I’m throwing a goin’ away party. Or “Don’t worry, it won’t be a long party.” I mean, the craftsmanship—

Ray Benson: A “loud party.”

John Spong: But then the line you pointed out that killed me, that I hadn’t even noticed because I got so wound up about that—”Nobody’s coming, but a heartache and some tears will drop in now most anytime.”

Ray Benson: And if you listen to “Hello Walls,” by Willie, it’s the same thing.

John Spong: Yeah.

Ray Benson: It’s taking the double meaning of the window pain in that song. Oh, that’s just too heavy. Roger Miller was another one who could do that. But it all goes back to Cindy Walker, who is such a mysterious figure also. You know, I knew her. We would visit together, up in Mexia, and she loved the band because she loved us and Charlie Daniels and Willie Nelson. I mean, I’m talking about the contemporary—

John Spong: One of these things is not like the other.

Ray Benson: Yeah. Well, it’s because we all had cut her songs, and, of course, [she] appreciated the fact, because she was in her eighties and had been forgotten by the Nashville establishment, et cetera. Even though Heart cut “You Don’t Know Me” or, I don’t know, one of those . . . I can’t remember.

John Spong: Right. Yeah. Well yeah, I mean, Van Morrison did, everybody did.

Ray Benson: Somebody, you know . . . Everybody’s cut “You Don’t Know Me,” and everything. But still, I met her one year for the CMA Awards. They had me, BMI had me standing outside interviewing people as they walked in, Shania Twain, et cetera. You’ll love this. My big blunder—not blunder, but I planned it—I went, “So, Shania, Mark Twain, Shania Twain. What’s the connection?” And she just looked at me like, “Who the f— is this guy?” And with this blank stare. I go, “Okay . . . so how about the award tonight?”

But this lady walks up to me, and I look, and I go, “Holy s—. That’s Cindy Walker.” I never met her before. She said, “Mr. Benson, it’s such a pleasure to meet you.” And she had on the dress, you know the story of the dress? She had on this dress, and if you watch the CMA Awards, it’s this old, kinda weird-looking old dress. And she gets up, wins the award, and she goes, “Some of you might wonder, my mama gave me this dress in 1940-something, saying that someday you’re going to win this. You’ll be in the CMA Hall of Fame and you need a dress.” It was the most touching moment I’ve ever seen on an award show.

John Spong: That’s beautiful.

Ray Benson: Yeah. On television. Anyway, that’s when I met her. And then afterwards I would go visit with her in Mexia. Classic lady, she was married once, for a few months. That was it.

John Spong: That’s it.

Ray Benson: And her mother and her cowrote these songs.

John Spong: Oh.

Ray Benson: Cindy didn’t play an instrument.

John Spong: I’d heard that her mom recorded piano . . . played piano on every demo until her mom died in ’91.

Ray Benson: Yes.

John Spong: Or whenever the hell it was.

Ray Benson: That’s correct. And so how did this happen? Because she would sing the melodies, but her mother must have been incredible because she knew what chords to put with the song. Man, it blew my mind when I found that out. But this is a person who had this . . . She was a dancer.

John Spong: Right.

Ray Benson: She went out to Hollywood to become a hoofer; that’s with an f. There’s a great short film of hers dancing in a cowgirl outfit. We did a tribute at the Paramount one year. We all did songs, and they showed that film. It was incredible. I have this picture. She was in the front row, and she tried to get onstage, and I’m sitting there, and somebody was—she was very frail at that point. She’s trying to crawl onstage, and we had to f—ing basically pick her up . . . and she was just amazing. Thank you for doing it, because this is—I try to mention her pretty much every night in concerts.

John Spong: Oh, wow. Well, we’ll go there next. Because it’s like what you did in a sense with and for Bob Wills . . . but Cindy Walker, when I was doing some reading on her in the past, Harlan Howard called her the greatest country-western songwriter ever, country songwriter ever. And that was the tagline in all of Harlan’s obituaries.

Ray Benson: Yeah. “The greatest songwriter.”

John Spong: But he thought it was her.

Ray Benson: Yes, I know.

John Spong: That’s some s—.

Ray Benson: Harlan was a good friend of mine. He was the greatest. And he knew . . .

[Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel playing “Going Away Party”]

John Spong: Because western swing is such a big part of your life, and because you are such a big part of it, what is it in Willie’s life, especially when he is a kid and coming up? He didn’t stay within the genre like you have, but it’s always been something he goes back to. He revisits, but it also seems to kinda color everything he does, to an extent.

Ray Benson: Yeah. And that’s because it’s built on—all crafts are built on basic tools. I don’t care whether it’s music, I don’t care if it’s weaving, you have tools and then you express the artistic part of you using these tools. So the tools that he had is, instead of your basic one-four-five, what we would say, three-chord country songs, or three-chord blues songs, or three-chord rock songs, et cetera . . . he had the palette of the great masters, of Cindy Walker, of Gershwin, of Tin Pan Alley.

John Spong: Cole Porter.

Ray Benson: Cole Porter. Exactly. In fact, that’s when I first heard of Willie. He was called the Cole Porter of country music. That was the first phrase I ever heard of that, because he used diminished chords, he used chromatic stuff. It was different. He always said, “Oh, what happens if I go to this chord?” Some of that sixties stuff is very, very unique because he’s just trying to use all the different chords that he knows in ways that nobody else did.

John Spong: Right.

Ray Benson: So that’s the deal. He was able to have this palette that you get from being alive in the thirties, forties, and fifties.

John Spong: Okay. Well, I was thinking about it because when he becomes Willie, let’s say, or as we understand it, in the seventies, but he goes to reach for old Bob Wills songs—like one of the songs he played every night, and still does often, I think, is “Stay a Little Longer.”

Ray Benson: “Stay All Night,” yeah.

John Spong: And to listen to the Wills version and the Willie version. Just the intro to both—because obviously both are better than anybody but Willie.

Ray Benson: It has nothing to do with the original.

John Spong: Yeah, tell me the—where the contrast . . . Yeah, tell me where there’s a time where it is a complete departure because that’s that. And this is Willie doing it live.

Ray Benson: Yeah. It’s that lick . . . [Singing]

John Spong: That’s the chord you’re talking about, the Willie, the jumping you’re doing?

Ray Benson: That’s just the riff, and it’s Willie just going, “I’ll just start this thing and see what happens.” You know what I mean? And again, we were doing—the shows that we were doing back then in clubs and everything, we were playing three to four sets a night. So that was just a jam. And he was just jamming. That’s all Willie. And he is not—he is the most unique and one of the greatest guitar players ever. But he’s not accomplished in terms of . . . it’s all Willie. It’s amazing.

But you wouldn’t hire him as a session player. You hire him as Willie. Do what you do, Will. And so that song is, he just took a riff. He was trying to appeal to the younger rock audience, and what do they do? They riff, and that’s a riff. And the beat is, it’s a rocking kinda beat where it’s just not a swing beat. It’s just a song. It’s a song he knew. He did that with everything. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” instead of having the boom chuck, boom, chuck, boom, it’s this amorphous, beautiful song. He takes everything and makes it his own, and he don’t do it the way it was done.

John Spong: Right.

Ray Benson: Willie one time said to me the smartest thing I ever heard. He said, “If there’s a right way to do something, I’ll try the wrong way first, see what happens.”

John Spong: Right.

Ray Benson: In life, in music. And that’s his whole thing, is how to be different. That’s the most important thing that he brought to the world, was be yourself. And they all, I’ve seen a hundred people try to tell Willie what to do, and it’s hilarious.

John Spong: How’d that go?

Ray Benson: Sometimes I’ve seen him get mad. I’ve seen him just laugh. I’ve seen him just smile or just nod his head like that. I remember one time, some idiot producer pushed the button and said, “Willie, that last take was a little flat. Let’s do it again. Flat.” And he went, “Who the f— are you?” Because he’s usually very nice. But that’s just a no-no.

John Spong: Right.

John Spong: A couple more things. A couple more things. What were . . . Oh, one, because on the subject of western swing a little bit, but also y’all’s friendship—Wasn’t Willie instrumental in you guys deciding Texas is where you could live and Austin was where you ought to be?

Ray Benson: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

John Spong: Because you were a western swing band in West Virginia.

Ray Benson: We were in California.

John Spong: California by then. Yeah.

Ray Benson: Yeah, yeah. It was—Eddie Wilson said I could stay at his house, Doug Sahm said he’d get me pot, and Willie said he’d put us on shows, and we went, “S—, let’s get the hell out of California. This is incredible.” Seventy-three. Yeah, we would open shows for him at the clubs in Dallas, 57 Doors. That was Geno McCoslin’s place.

John Spong: Oh, right.

Ray Benson: Legendary.

John Spong: Ray Hubbard talked about that a lot a couple of weeks ago.

Ray Benson: Yeah. We would do, like I say, we would alternate sets. We’d do one at nine o’clock until two o’clock in the morning. And Gruene Hall . . . Not Gruene Hall, no. We would play Floore’s Country Store. It’s the first place I played with Willie in ’73. And, uh, Dallas. And then it started happening, and we would play shows all over.

John Spong: Wow.

Ray Benson: Everywhere. All kinds of, between the picnics—and I don’t even remember half the stuff we did, but it was really—it was—Willie got psychedelicized, is what it was, and people just don’t want to know this, I don’t think. But he’d take a lot of psychedelics and everything, and that’s why he became—his sensibilities changed, his world shifted, his music world shifted, and he believed in this—in a band. And it was such a unique band. The original band, with Mickey and Bee Spears and Jody Payne and Paul and Willie and Bobbie.

John Spong: Bobbie.

Ray Benson: And plus, Willie was playing amazing guitar then because he was playing every night, four hours a night.

John Spong: Yeah.

Ray Benson: It was pretty amazing stuff. I told Mickey the other day, I said, “Man, I watched that first Austin City Limits the other night,” and that would’ve been ’75 when they did it. Maybe ’74 when they recorded it even. And I said, “What I remember, it was every night, we would watch you guys.”

John Spong: Wow.

Ray Benson: Because they were creating this organic thing. They were some of the . . . Every one of those musicians, except Jody, couldn’t get a gig anywhere else.

John Spong: Wow.

Ray Benson: Paul was not a great drummer.

John Spong: Right.

Ray Benson: But for Willie, he was perfect.

John Spong: Right.

Ray Benson: Well, Bee could have. He worked for Waylon too at some point. But they created this thing, which was so organic, it was amazing. The way he does “Crazy.” I asked Mickey, I said, “Did you ever—,” and he said, “We never rehearsed. We would just play, and then all of a sudden you remember what you did.”

John Spong: Oh, wow.

Ray Benson: They never rehearsed once.

[Willie Nelson playing “Stay All Night”]

John Spong: We talked about it early, but then we didn’t go any further—this song, “Goin’ Away Party,” first appeared on For the Last Time. And I know it’s a story you’ve told a lot, but it’s such a powerful album, and how it got recorded, and how this song gets in front of Bob Wills that day. And you were there that day.

Ray Benson: Yeah. Well, it was funny. We had signed to United Artists Records.

John Spong: Right.

Ray Benson: And Dan Bourgoise, who started Bug Music, which is now a big publishing company . . . But anyway, Tommy Allsup went to him and said, “Hey, Bob Wills is in bad health, but how about if we put together a For the Last Time record with him and the remaining Texas Playboys; Haggard will sing on it.” And Haggard was the number one country star in America.

John Spong: Had just put out that tribute record, three years sooner, in ’70.

Ray Benson: To Bob Wills. Yeah. And he was huge, so they went, “Oh, okay.” So they did the record up there at Sumet-Burnet in Dallas, the studio. We went to meet him, and we get lost, of course. And we get in there and they’re about done that session . . . and there’s Bob Wills in a wheelchair. And they said, “Mr. Wills, this is Asleep at the Wheel. This is Ray Benson. They just put out “Take Me Back to Tulsa.” And he didn’t say anything. He was kinda slumped. And they said, “Mr. Wills is very tired, he’s been recording—we’re going to take him back to his hotel room. You can see him tomorrow.” And that night, he had a stroke, went into a coma, and died two years later. So we didn’t get to talk to him, but we did get to meet him. And they recorded that song the next day. 

[Bob Wills playing “Goin’ Away Party”]

Ray Benson: It’s so cool. It’s so classic. It’s so fitting. It’s great because it is a good—it’s the most amazing goodbye from somebody who was so close. You know, “Bubbles in My Beer” is one of the great songs she cowrote, and that was one of the only ones that has Bob Wills’s name on it. Because he said to her, “Write me a song about a guy sitting at a bar watching the bubbles in his beer and, you know, was just down and out.” So they had that kind of relationship where they trusted each other. And I have these great pictures of Cindy back in the fifties, going to award shows in Nashville. Her niece had, when she died, left me a whole box of incredible stuff of Cindy’s. And she was the only female. There were not female songwriters of that . . . She had thirty-nine of Bob Wills’s songs. She wrote I don’t know how many Jim Reeves songs—Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison . . . the list is incredible.

John Spong: She wrote “Dream Baby.”

Ray Benson: She wrote “Dream Baby.” Yeah. She wrote “Mockin’ Bird Hill.” [This was actually written by Calle Jularbo and George Vaughn Horton.] She wrote pop hits that you would never have thought, you know? Yeah. The best story, which I’m glad I remembered to tell you, was we cut a song called “Blues for Dixie” with Lyle Lovett. We recorded it, et cetera. It’s a Bob Wills song. So we recorded, and it says “O.W. Mayo,” the writer. O.W. Mayo was Bob’s business manager for many, many years. O.W. took care of all the Bob Wills business in the thirties, forties, and until the fifties. And I met Mr. Mayo because we had cut this song, so he came to see us at Cain’s Ballroom back in early seventies, and a nice man. So I’m with Cindy Walker, and I said, “Hey, you knew Mr. Mayo, didn’t you?” Said, “Oh, yeah. He introduced me to Bob.” I said, “We cut ‘Blues for Dixie’ . . . and I know he didn’t write it. He must have bought that from somebody.” She said, “Oh, I wrote that.” I went, “You wrote it?” “Yeah.” “Well, why isn’t your name on it, Cindy?” She said, “Well, I gave it to him as a present because he introduced me to Bob.” And I was like, that’s the kind of relationship and world that they lived in. And she just said, “Oh, no, I just gave it to him because he had been such a good friend.” 

[Lyle Lovett and Asleep at the Wheel playing “Blues for Dixie”]

Ray Benson: But the thing about Willie that I treasure in my life is that he always trusted me to do it. I’d have a stupid idea—”Hey, would you come in and sing this thing with the Manhattan Transfer?” “Sure, you know . . .” I did an incredible thing with Del Castillo, that great band, we did—

John Spong: “I Never Cared for You.”

Ray Benson: “I Never Cared for You.” Just an amazing cut. He did, Willie and the Wheel did a whole record with me and a TV show where we had a twelve-piece band, the opposite of what Willie has usually done, which is get smaller and smaller and now it’s down to . . . I play with him on July Fourth. And I’ll go usually—go play guitar with him, because all the other guitar players had passed away, unless Lukas is there, and Micah. But anyway, he’s always trusted me, and it’s been really one of the greatest gifts of my life.

John Spong: When do you see Willie now?

Ray Benson: Well, I didn’t see him during the whole pandemic. We just text each other. So I just see him. They kept him away from everybody, rightfully so.

John Spong: Yeah.

Ray Benson: So I’ll see him on July Fourth, and I played with him out at Luck, Texas.

John Spong: Oh, I saw that. Yeah.

Ray Benson: Yeah. For one of those things. So we text and—he still tells funny, funny jokes. And I always tell people that. They say, “Well, Ray, you’ve been smoking pot for fifty-two years. You’re on the road on the thing.” I said, “Yeah, well, my canary in the mine is that old guy Willie Nelson. So I’m just going to keep doing it.”

[Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel playing “Going Away Party”]

John Spong (voice-over): All right, Willie fans. That was Ray Benson, talking about Bob Wills, Cindy Walker, and “Going Away Party.” A huge thanks to him for coming on the show, a big thanks to our sponsor, Still Austin craft whiskey, and a big thanks to you for tuning in. If you dig the show, please subscribe, maybe tell a couple friends, and visit our page at Apple Podcasts and give us some stars. And please also check out our One by Willie playlist at Apple Music. We’ll see you guys next week.