It sounds like an opening to a joke with a great forthcoming punch line, but the President, the Pope and, yes, the legendary rock band Aerosmith all have something a bit unusual in common. True, they all have some form of reigning power: the President over our country, the Pope as head of the Catholic Church, and of course, Aerosmith over the hearts of rock ‘n’ rollers. More than that, however, they all have one very unique thing in common that places them as supporters of a business right here in Tennessee. They’ve all chosen to ride the same bus. Well, not the exact same bus at the exact same time, but they have all spent many an hour aboard a Hemphill Brothers touring coach.
In 2010, Hemphill Brothers was commissioned by the Secret Service to build two buses. These coaches were used by President Obama during his 2012 campaign and are continuing to be used as part of the presidential fleet. Hemphill Brothers also provides additional coaches to the Secret Service as needed.
Pope John Paul II was only in the States for a short month, but a Hemphill Brothers coach was chosen for a green room and as a place to wind down and find security and solitude when not in front of the masses.
It’s not a stretch for a touring rock ‘n’ roll band to need a motor coach, but Aerosmith chose Hemphill Brothers in a surprisingly commonplace manner. They simply took a fellow artist’s referral! The story goes that Steven Tyler was enjoying a rare opportunity to take in a fellow artist’s concert, and an artist-friend gave him the Hemphills’ business card. Trent Hemphill walked into his office one morning to find the iconic Steven Tyler waiting on the phone for him! Aerosmith has been a client of Hemphill Brothers Coach Company ever since that day almost 11 years ago.
Brothers Joey & Trent Hemphill own Hemphill Brothers Coach Company, and the 33-year-old company has been conducting business successfully ever since they first opened for business in 1980. Quite honestly, to say their client list reads like the “Who’s Who of All Time” is a complete understatement. Elite celebrities – from award-winning actors to famed country or rock artists, from blues and Contemporary Christian artists to TV crews, evangelists, Presidents, political leaders, and yes, even Popes, comprise the long list of famed clientele carried on the Hemphill Brothers’ roster.
With all the choices a celebrity could make in purchasing or leasing a motor coach, why is it that so many find themselves here on the outskirts of Nashville, Tenn. at the office of the Hemphill Brothers? Perhaps it has a lot to do with one thing that so many of us take for granted these days, especially in business. And that is…heart.
Joey and Trent Hemphill have a heart for what they do. Sitting down with the two brothers, it is easy to understand why they are able to attain and keep such a high-profile group of clients. It has everything to do with their genuine, unparalleled efforts to create a great product and to ensure the safety and satisfaction of every single client – no matter if the client is brand new or if they’ve been a client for many years.
How did this all happen, given that the two brothers started out as gospel singers touring with their family?
Trent Hemphill relates, “Our mother’s family was the group ‘The Happy Goodman Family,’” and Joey nostalgically recalls, “Trent and I would get off the school bus, and that bus (for the Happy Goodman Family) would be sitting in our front yard. It was fully customized. So we grew up around buses from an early age. We traveled with our mom, dad and sister as gospel singers known as The Hemphills until I was about 32, so we have a pretty good knowledge of buses and what you need to be comfortable.”
Trent adds, “We did everything. We did the performing, but we also set up our own equipment before every show and tore it down after every show. We were our own roadies! So we have knowledge of the kind of space needed for those things. We also did our own driving at times, so we’ve had experience in just about everything when it comes to actually being on the bus.”
Joey inserts, “It was a very natural transition for us to do this, because we had that knowledge, and we can really empathize with what’s involved in touring. We have buses for everyone – from crews and bands, to entertainers and actors, to evangelists, to those who are traveling with small children…and we can install almost anything on a bus. We’ve put tanning beds, steam showers, recording studio setups, and the list goes on. We can even put a TV as part of the bathroom mirror, so an entertainer could watch TV and shave at the same time. We’ve had a lot of special requests, haven’t we, Trent?”
Trent smiles and replies, “Yes, one time Harry Connick Jr. said he wanted a piano in one of the buses. Well, I played the piano a little bit, so I said to him, ‘Do you mean a keyboard?’ And he said, ‘No, I mean a real piano.’ And it was a Steinway, but it was an upright [piano]. They shipped it to us from New York – via FedEx, believe it or not – and we had to remove the front window of the bus in order to fit it in! The driver told us that it was so cool for him to be driving down the road with Harry sitting back in the back, playing the piano.”
Joey interjects, “Also, in 2004, ABC called and they needed several buses fitted with fully-functional television studios so they could broadcast live during the Presidential campaign. We actually turned three buses into roving television studios that included an interview area, a green room, a voice-over booth and everything they needed to report live from the road.
“Also in 2004, we got a call from the George Bush Presidential campaign, and we took several buses and turned them into ‘rolling White Houses.’ There were four of them so no one would know which one President Bush was on. They called them ‘Groundforce One,’ and they had the Presidential Seal placed in the coach. At that point, they became a federally-governed vehicle. We couldn’t even go on the buses then without the Secret Service. That was really cool for us. What was really special about that call was that when it came in, it was one of the Secret Service guys calling from Airforce One!”
Aside from Presidents and pianos, many other “cool things” have happened for the Hemphills.
Joey nostalgically recalls, “On 9/11, all the planes were grounded in New York. Michael Jackson had just played Madison Square Garden with his whole family there. We got a call for multiple buses to go to New York City and pick up the entire Jackson family and take them back to California. It was a lot of buses and a lot of people, but it was a great experience for us – and for our drivers, too, I think.“
“We did buses for ‘Good Morning America’ that ran for about 10 years,” informs Trent. “Oprah’s people called us at one point and wanted a bus for ‘Oprah’s Wildest Dreams’ giveaways and again when they were doing the ‘Make Over My Man’ series. At the end of each of her segments, Oprah would thank Hemphill Brothers Coach Company, so that was really great for us also.”
Though both Hemphill brothers relate fondness for the opportunities to meet some of the world’s most famous, they reinforce that both they and their staff members understand that their clients are all very busy. Top-of-the-line professionalism is a must.
Joey carries the point home when he says, “We would never ask for an autograph or anything like that. When people come to us, we treat them as we would any professional and try to help them make the most of their time here – whether they want us to build a coach for them or they’re looking at one of the coaches we already have. Most of our clients are pretty savvy [about their tour bus needs], and they are here to relate that to us. We are really committed to ensuring that they have their needs met and that they’re safe on the road.”
Trent agrees. “Safety to us is paramount. Joey and I go out every day and are going through the buses all the time to ensure the safety of everything. We get regular requests from celebrity parents who are traveling with small children, and so we’ve built in cribs, changing tables, trundle beds, and just about any kind of amenity that would ensure the safety of a child. There are really no lengths we won’t go to to ensure that every adult and child is safe on our buses. We try to respect our clients in every way. One of those ways is that when they need support, we will be there.”
So, is it any wonder that the President (two Presidents, actually!), the Pope, Aerosmith, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Pink, Lady Gaga, Toby Mac, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Christina Aguilera, Sting, Tom Hanks, and many, many others have all walked onto a bus…made right here in Middle Tennessee?