Behind the Scene: Joey and Trent Hemphill
Joey and Trent Hemphill are the co-owners of the Hemphill Brothers Coach Company. Growing up, the brothers were part of a family gospel group and, along with their sister, they attended a small, private school in Nashville, Tenn., so that their family could perform. Throughout the Hemphill’s youth, their tour bus served as a second home while they traveled across North America.
In the mid-1970s, their father bought a bus from another touring group that was no longer on the road. Soon after that, he realized there was a viable business in leasing, and assembled a fleet of eight buses.
By the early 1980s, the Hemphill family patriarch had sold off all but two of these, and Joey and Trent decided they wanted to take a stab at making this their full-time business. They bought the remaining two buses from their father and, within a decade, turned Hemphill Brothers Coach Company into one of the country’s premier bus companies, catering to top-touring acts and entertainers throughout America.
Describe an early influence on your career that still guides your work today.
JOEY: Our dad—just the way he did business. You could count on whatever he said. His word was his bond with whatever he was doing, whether it was music or buses. One thing our dad taught us was to never promise something you couldn’t deliver, and to always deliver more than you promised.
So that was the way we started our business. We never tried to promise something we couldn’t deliver. At the time we got in the business, there were people trying to do tours, but they didn’t have the infrastructure, the fleet—they would try to get the tour, and then figure out how they were going to cover it. Trent and I never really liked that strategy. If we can’t do your tour and do it right, then we’ll tell you upfront.
From the start, we also provided good service—we provided great drivers, and we knew what the interiors needed to be for our clients. Even when we couldn’t buy new buses early on, we tried to get the best used buses we could and then we would build out these incredible interiors. We also hired the best technicians and people who knew what it took to do the service work—we couldn’t even pay ourselves what we were paying some of our people in the beginning. And that’s the way we built our company—from nothing, basically, to being one of the premier busing companies in the country. It took a lot of time and a lot of work but we were able to do that.
You’re known for bringing a customized approach to your coaches, in particular through the “star bus.” How did that come about?
TRENT: Before we came on the scene, there was one type of conversion.
JOEY: More or less a cookie-cutter.
TRENT: It had a front lounge and a rear lounge. And it didn’t matter who you were; that’s what you got. Knowing what it’s like on the road, we realized that we needed to listen more to our customers and develop a bus that fits their needs, whatever their needs were. There could be a lot of different scenarios. So we developed a star bus, the artist bus. We still build the band bus, too, but at least 50 percent of our fleet is made up of these star buses—artist buses with two restrooms, a whole area for a shower, closets, queen- and even king-sized beds. They are really devoted to the star or artist.
What happens is a lot of clients come right into our office here in our complex, meet with us and we develop a bus for them. We build it from scratch—we come up with a floor plan after talking to them, find out what their needs are, and then they pick the upholstery and leather. If you can really get the essence of what their needs and tastes are, then you put that in the bus properly. You can really build up the quality, and they are getting what they need to tour. And what tends to happen is the artist will tour more so it’s better for them, the band, their management, the record company, everybody involved.
World-renowned celebrities are riding our buses today—Cher, Fleetwood Mac, Justin Timberlake, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, the list goes on. A lot of times, they don’t even get hotels anymore. They book a bunch of hotels and cancel them because they’ll just stay on the bus.
Is your entire operation based in Nashville?
TRENT: Here’s the thing about our company—we are full service. We do the painting and the bodywork; we have our own mechanics. We do the engines and the transmissions; we build all the interiors. We’re second-stage manufacturers, so we build the interiors in the buses. We order an empty shell that has a plywood floor and a driver’s seat, and that’s it. We bring it in here and do everything else. The drivers are top of the line. We provide the drivers on every tour. These people are the best of the best at what they do.
How has your job changed since when you started?
JOEY: A big tour in the old days might have been two or three buses. But, these days, it is not unusual to get a call for a 10-, 12- or even 14-bus tour, where they need an artist bus, a band bus, a bus for dancers, a bus for security, a bus for catering and a bus for pyro, sound and lightning.
Is that because the tours have actually gotten bigger or the budgets just increased?
TRENT: Here’s what has happened: Whereas artists used to play theaters or maybe an arena, now they are playing stadiums. We are doing Beyoncé, Paul McCartney and Kenny Chesney.
JOEY: Country music is about 50 percent of our business now. It’s about 50/50 between that and rock and pop. When we started, a country-music tour was one or two buses. Now, our country-music artists take out 10 buses.
TRENT: Keith Urban does a full-blown production. Their tour last year was probably a 12-bus tour. They were packing out huge venues.
This article originally appears in the June 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.