Willie Nelson's upcoming western swing project has been 30 years in the making. Producer Jerry Wexler had the idea for Nelson to do an album of swing tunes when the country outlaw recorded for Atlantic Records back in the 1970s. The new album, aptly titled 'Willie and the Wheel,' features Nelson and the western swing band Asleep at the Wheel.

Wexler, who passed away in August, is listed as executive producer. According to Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, Wexler did get to hear the final project and was delighted with it.

"Jerry was hands-on with the album," Benson told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. "He had all sorts of great suggestions."



Benson recalls how the project came about after such a long period of time. He says that Wexler sent him a box of western swing albums, and he noticed that next to some of the titles were the initials WN. Turns out, they were the songs the producer had picked for Nelson to record when the idea first came up 30 years ago.

Last year Benson and his group toured with Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price on the Last of the Breed trek, and discussions about doing an album emerged as they traveled together.

It wasn't hard to convince The Redheaded Stranger to do an album of swing tunes. Nelson grew up on groups like Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Spade Cooley, Hank Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys and Milton Brown and his Brownies. In fact, one of his earliest gigs was playing guitar in a western swing band called The Texans, founded by his sister Bobbie Nelson and her husband, Bud Fletcher. The band played dance halls and also had a spot on a local radio station in Hillsboro, Texas, near Nelson's hometown of Abbott.

Via phone conversations, Benson and Wexler decided on 14 songs for the project. Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel went in the studio and recorded some of the old tunes made famous by Brown, Cooley, Wills and Cliff Bruner. Special guests include Vince Gill and Paul Shaffer of 'Late Night with David Letterman,' who recorded the instrumental 'South!' with the Wheel.

'Willie and the Wheel' is scheduled for a February 3, 2009 release on Bismeaux Records. Nelson is already working on his next project, to be produced by T-Bone Burnett of the Grammy-winning 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' soundtrack fame.