Up front with Elizabeth McQueen
A few minutes with Asleep at the Wheel’s girl singer
By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor
Oct 17, 2007 - If you’re a fan of Western Swing, the music made famous by Bob Wills and the Light Crust Doughboys, then you’re probably familiar with Asleep at the Wheel, the band that keeps the Wills sound alive.
In the past 30 years, a lot of girl singers have played with the group led by “Big Ray” Benson, but none of them has had quite the sparkle that Elizabeth McQueen brings to the stage.
McQueen took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions about her musical influences, her own band and being a girl in the rough-and-tumble world of popular music.
News-Telegram: Though you were born in Arkansas, you spent your formative years in Maryland. How does a girl from the home of the world’s most famous crab cakes end up living in Austin and playing at Threadgill’s — home of the world’s most famous chicken fried steak?
Elizabeth McQueen: I came to Austin because I got a crazy idea to try and pursue music as a career, and I thought Austin sounded like just the place to do that. I visited here once and fell in love with the city.
NT: Who were some of your early musical influences?
EM: I grew up listening to a lot of show tunes and standards. When I was a teenager, I became really interested in bands like the Pixies, PJ Harvey and the Cure. Around that time I also discovered Elvis Costello and The Band, and I just fell in love with them. In my early 20s I started listening to country music. Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, George Jones and Bob Wills were revelations for me.
NT: Did you always plan on making music your profession?
EM: Absolutely not. I didn’t even consider music as a profession until after I graduated from college. I worked for a year in a job I wasn’t crazy about, and figured that I might as well try to make a living playing music. If it didn’t work out, at least I could say I tried.
NT: Your MySpace site says you’d like to meet Elvis Costello or Levon Helm, even though you might turn into a “blathering fan girl.” Why them?
EM: Both Levon Helm and Elvis Costello just speak to my heart. They always have.
NT: You have a band called The Firebrands. How did that happen?
EM: The Firebrands are some of the best musician I know, and my best friends. Andrew Nafziger, Lindsay Greene, David Lazaroof and my husband, Dave Sanger are the core of the group.
NT: Talk a little bit about your two CD’s “The Fresh Up Club” and “Happy Doing What We’re Doin’.”
EM: “The Fresh Up Club” was a great snapshot of where the Firebrands were at the time we made it. “Happy Doing what We’re Doing” is a collection of pub rock songs. It’s basically a record where I got to perform a bunch of songs that I really dig.
NT: How did get the gig with Asleep at the Wheel?
EM: When Haydyn Vitera left the band, they had an opening. I sat in with the band during Ray Benson’s birthday party, and it had been a good fit, so when the space opened up, they asked me to join. It didn’t hurt that Dave Sanger, the drummer, and I are married!
� NT: Had you covered Bob Wills or Western Swing prior to hooking up with Ray and the boys?
� EM: I had done some Bob Wills songs, but nothing like what Asleep at the Wheel does.
�NT: Do you have a favorite cut from the Wheel�s latest CD, �Reinventing the Wheel�?
EM: I love “I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine.” I think we really nailed the arrangement, and I like the groove!
�NT: Your vocals with Jason Roberts� on �Am I Right or Amarillo� and �You�re My Sugar� sure sound happy.� Just how much fun did ya�ll have laying down those tracks?
�EM: We had a great time making the record!
�� NT: Some say the music scene is no place for a lady, yet you seem to be doing just fine. Have you hit any major obstacles along the way? If so, what were they and how did you get around them?�
�EM: I can�t say I�ve experienced too many obstacles, other than my own fear.� That�s really been the biggest hurdle, overcoming the voice in my head that tells me that it�s no good trying, and I should just give up before I begin.
NT: What do you think makes Texas music so unique, colorful and long-lasting, despite the lack of much air time on the radio?
EM: I think Texas has a really ingrained music culture. It’s really deep, and it’s unique. I don’t see that other states have the same kind of culture.
NT: What’s new on the Texas music scene? Anyone we should be listening to?
EM: I really love Doug Moreland. I think his songs are cool and his band sounds great. Kyle Park is an amazing songwriter and also has a killer band. Matt Skinner is a great player and a fabulous singer. I think he has a new record coming out, too!
NT: What’s on your iPod? Who do you listen to when you’re kicking back?
EM: Lately I’ve been listening to Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Julie London and Peggy Lee, and I really like the new Beyoncé record.
NT: You’ve said this about your music: “The real authenticity comes from the joy of doing it.” You seem to radiate joy when you’re on the stage. What a gift to your audience. Have you always felt that way when you’re playing?
EM: I think I feel it more now that I’m more comfortable performing. But I’m just ecstatic to be up there. It’s the best way of making a living that I can think of!
NT: Anyone else ever say you and Lisa Loeb could be related?
EM: I think a lot of people think I look like singer Lisa Loeb because we both wear glasses, but that’s as far as the similarity goes, I think.
Don’t miss a chance to see McQueen’s special brand of light and magic on tour.
They’ll be in Texarkana at the Perot Theater on Jan. 26-27, performing in the play, “A Ride With Bob.”
They’ll be back in concert at the Whatley Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Northeast Texas Community College in Mt. Pleasant on Jan. 29.
McQueen’s CDs are available at www.TexasMusicRoundup.com and amazon.com.
Follow McQueen’s career at: www.elizabethmcqueen.com.
Learn more about Asleep at the Wheel at their website: