THE BUS DRIVIN’ PROPHET RIDES—SPEAKS—AGAIN: Hoot Borden

On Bob Dylan, Willie
Nelson, Michael & Janet Jackson, Alice Cooper,”Star Search,” investing
one’s money wisely, and much, much more…

 

BY RODGER CAMBRIA

 

Ed. note: back in May
we ran a story by journalist Cambria called
“Legend Of A Man Called Hoot,” about rock ‘n’ roll bus driver to the stars
Hooter Borden, who passed away, sadly, on May 2. In his time Borden had
chauffeured everyone from Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Bob
Dylan to Michael Jackson, ZZ Top, the Raconteurs and Megadeth up, down and
across America’s highways – in the process, accumulating the proverbial
lifetime’s worth of tales. Herein, then, we present more Hoot, this time
uncensored and unfiltered (you have been warned), as told directly to Cambria in 2007. The opinions expressed herein are solely
those of Hoot Borden (although that doesn’t mean we don’t agree with every dang
word). Enjoy! Read, it, spread it around, and meanwhile check out some classic
photos of Hoot right here.

 

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ON BOB DYLAN:

His band bus pulls a trailer that’s full of Harleys. So this
motorcycle gang you see going through town is usually Bob and his bass player
Tony. I been with Dylan for three years, and he’s never said one word to me.
Not a single goddamn word.

 

ON DRUG USE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY:

It’s mostly out of boredom. 
They’re out here on the road, and they ain’t got nuthin’ to do because
everything’s been done for ‘em.  If they
want a hamburger, somebody hands ‘em one. And there’s so much availability,
with drugs and women and liquor. It’s all free, all the time.

 

ON MICHAEL JACKSON:

I drove on the Michael Jackson Victory tour.  I picked up his grandmas and grandpas and
aunts and uncles in Gary, Indiana and we had luggage bays full of fishing rods
and lawn chairs.  He took the whole
family on tour with him, and I drove them. 
But I’d been driving country for so long, I didn’t even know who Michael
Jackson was.  He wasn’t nearly as
eccentric then as he is now. They worked day and night on their dance
routines.  Boy did they have a tour….
Huge stadiums, lights.  I never seen
nothing like that.

       I don’t know
and I don’t care about the child molestation stuff.  That’s between Michael and his Lord.  I imagine he done some of it, but a lot of it
was probably people going after his money. 
He’s a big target. But that’s not the same guy I hauled 20 tears ago…
Back then he was a little black guy.  He
didn’t look then like he looks now. It was all very normal.

 

ON JANET JACKSON:

I drove several Janet Jackson tour in the 1990s, and she had
the damndest show.  One morning over
breakfast, she said, “I spent $33,000 this morning before I even peed.”  Which was 17 buses and 17 trucks. She was
always walking the halls, overseeing everything for her show. And she puts on a
show, pal.

       When I was on
tour with Janet, Michael was in a lot of trouble with those kids.  There was another bus driver, and he would
tell you these long stories, and at the end it would be a joke.  So he calls me and Angie down to the coffee
shop and says, “I got some bad news. 
We’re gonna have to cancel the rest of the tour because Janet had to fly
out this morning.  Michael (Jackson) is
in the hospital.

       I said, “What
happened to him?”

       “He got food
poisoning.  He ate a ten year old weenie
this morning.” 

       I remember one
of the riggers said something about Michael and the kids and got fired
immediately.  You don’t say nothing about
Michael. Not on a Janet tour. She wouldn’t have none of it.

 

ON TOUR ROMANCES:

Leann Rimes is having issues with her husband – he was a
dancer.  And Britney Spears just got rid
of her useless husband, and he was a dancer too. These darn girls are getting
hooked on these dancers in the videos. Tanya Tucker did the same thing.  She picked out her husband and said, “I want
you to get me pregnant.”  And he said,
“Really?

 

ON ROADIES:

The greatest job in the world is a roadie, and I’ll tell you
why.  When you’re at home and a tour
hires you, you catch a cab to the airport and you’re reimbursed for the
fare.  There’s a ticket waiting for you
there. There’s a $500,000 tour bus that’s gonna pick you up, and I’m gonna take
you to the Hilton, which is paid for. Then the road manager is gonna give you
$40 a day per diem, which you ain’t gonna spend. You’re gonna pool it with the
other crew guys and buy drugs with it, mostly. 
You get three meals a day when there’s a show, and I’m gonna haul you
that night and we’re gonna have pizzas on the bus. You do all of this, and then
when you take a smoke break, Jesus Christ you smoke dope.  And you don’t have to be in the band to get
girls, you just need one of these (holds
up his tour laminate
).

 

ON WILLIE NELSON:

Willie Nelson got his start as a Texas Troubadour in Ernest
Tubb’s band.  His real name was Hugh
Nelson. So Willie was writing all these songs and the world wasn’t ready for
him.  Even the record labels didn’t know
what to do with him.  He was the only
musician on Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain because he couldn’t afford any session
musicians.  He played everything on the record
– him and his sister Sissy, who’s still with him today.  She’s his piano player.  She’s 75 years old.

       Willie owns
channel 13 on XM radio, which is called Willie’s Place. It used to be Hank’s
place.  He won a truck stop in a poker
game in Texas, where 35 splits east and west and it’s called Carl’s
Corner.  So he’s gonna move the radio
station down there.

       Jody Payne is
Willie’s guitar player, and out on the last tour we did with Bob Dylan, he told
Willie that he wanted to quit and retire. 
And Willie said, “You can’t quit. 
We all started in this together, and we’ll all end this together.  We won’t have no farewell tour, we’re just
gonna quit.”  Paul played all those years
with a loaded 45 laying on his tom tom in them beer joints and honky tonks.

       You ever notice
all the songs Willie sings with other artists – artists that are struggling and
trying to make it?  His attitude is,
“Maybe I can help you. I’ll sing with you.” 
And that’s a dying breed. Boy, you won’t find that nowhere today.

 

ON PYROTECHNICS:

There were no pyrotechnics on the honky tonk circuit. What
you mean lights? In the old days, we’d run an extension cord from the bus to
the stage and plug in a lamp. And that was our light show. Much later, I toured
with Kenny Rogers and he had all the lights and effects. And one time I
disconnected the hose from the laser machine and was using it to wash my bus.
Almost burned down the whole building.

 

ON TECHNOLOGY IN MUSIC:

I drove Poison in 1989, but the music hurt my ears so I just
stayed on the bus most of the time. In the old days, Ernest Tubb would just set
an amp on a cane bottom chair and turn it on – I’d never seen all the stage
gadgetry like they have today.

       Most guitar
players today use so many electronics that the guitar plays itself. In the old
days, you had better know how to play that thing.  We ain’t got no gimmicks. Nowadays, they got
so many electronics – they don’t use amps they use rigs, full of echoes and
sound effects. You tell a kid to play for you today, and he can’t really play.  Sure, he can use that rig like a video game
and make that guitar play.  But I don’t
have one bit of animosity about a kid doing that, because that’s what it is
now. That’s like country music today. I think it’s very good, but I don’t
listen to it because none of the country artists are stylists. They all sound
like plain oatmeal. But sometimes I don’t want plain oatmeal. Sometimes I want
an omelette with bacon and grits.

 

ON THE HUMILITY OF OLD-TIMERS:

Guys like Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard – they had no idea who
they were. They didn’t know they was famous. They’d say, “Okay boys.  Let’s set up our gear cuz we got some people
coming down to see us play tonight.” Even someone as famous as Johnny
Cash.  I’d see him and June in Wal-Mart
all the time in the check out line. I’d say, “How ya doing, John?” And he’d
say, “All right.” But a guy like Tim McGraw – he knows exactly how famous he
is. And he’ll let you know it.

 

ON ACCOUNTING PRACTICES IN THE OLD DAYS:

You know about Willie’s legal problems? The income tax
problems? I don’t think any of that was intentional. Back in those days, we
carried our money in a fishing tackle box. We’d finish a show and be driving
down the road, and Ernest (Tubb) would hand me a bunch of money to go in the
box.  And I’d say, “How much is this,
Ernest?”  And he’d say, “I don’t know.”

       I would leave
Tennessee for 45 days without a contract. It was based on a handshake.  Today, it’s all lawyers, contracts, the IRS.
That’s like Willie – they never sat down and figured out the taxes. They just
worked on the road. That’s like Mr. Tubbs. 
He thought he was paying income taxes, but he wasn’t. Same thing with
Bob Wills. The IRS came into his house and chiseled the silver dollars out of
his bar in his ranch in Fort Worth, Texas. Those guys never thought of things
like that. There were no tour accountants and financial attorneys. There was
the fishing tackle box, loaded with cash from the shows. 

       They loved
America.  They loved our government.  They loved and supported whatever president
was in office.  They would never – none
of these people – sit down and try to figure out how to screw the IRS. They
would never do that… especially Willie. I would just give Ernest Tubb the money
after a show – we were paid in cash in those days. And he’d just stick a big
pile of money in his briefcase, and set it on the coffee table and go to bed.
Then Mrs. Tubb would count it in the morning. 
That’s just how it was.

 

ON STAR SEARCH BEING RIGGED:

CK Spurlock was a promoter who worked with Kenny Rogers for
years.  I rode around Omaha, Nebraska in
a circle while the band Sawyer Brown was being invented. See, they were gonna
be put on Ed McMahon’s Star Search TV
show. And Kenny Rogers and Spurlock paid them a nominal fee to make sure Sawyer
Brown won it. And if you watched that show, Sawyer Brown actually lost in the
semifinals. But the following week, the Star
Search
people said, “Our computers made a mistake… Sawyer Brown won.”  And the band doesn’t know that to this day.
That was a false deal. The thing was rigged.

       So Sawyer Brown
was invented to take Ricky Nelson’s place after he died in a plane crash. And
Spurlock wanted to jump in there and pick up Ricky Nelson’s fan base. And
that’s what they did with Sawyer Brown. They wanted a clean-cut group… They ran
into a lot of opposition because people said, “That ain’t country.” But it
worked. That’s when I learned that if you had enough money, you could buy
anything.

 

ON ALICE COOPER:

Alice Cooper was on Broadway for two nights before his show
was closed. And a promoter saw the show and put him on the road. The public
don’t know this, but Alice Cooper is really two people.  His name is Vince, and he’s Vinnie during the
day.  And then he goes in the back of the
bus and puts on that make-up… But when he comes up that aisle, he’s Alice
Cooper.  After the show I’d say, “How’d
we do tonight?” And he’s say, “Oh, Alice did very well. Alice did very
well.”  He’s one of the smartest men I
ever met.  He could read a whole
newspaper in 30 seconds. The want ads and everything.  He’s brilliant.  One time, we were doing a show in Phoenix,
and his mother was coming.  So he said,
“We got to change the words in these songs cuz my momma’s coming tonight.  My momma don’t go for that cursing stuff.”

 

ON THE MUSIC RECORDING PROCESS TODAY:

Kids in these bands today make more money in one night than
Ernest Tubb made in a year.  But these
guys were stylists.  You could hear one
note and tell who it was.  But today, you
can’t tell Kenny Chesney from Alan Jackson from Tim McGraw. And they don’t have
bands – I mean, they have a band, but who are they?  That’s what I liked about when I played.  It was Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and
Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours.  I
pick up a lot of bands in Nashville, and they meet each other in the damn
parking lot at Krogers.  If you’re a
Nashville driver, you know every Krogers grocery store in that town cuz that’s
where they meet.  And they shake hands
and they got their little tape recorders. 
“That’s my part on this record,” they say to each other as they
exchange these little tapes. “This is what I got to learn.”  The bands are like an assembly line, and the
producer puts the pieces together to make a song. In the old days, the producer
would turn on the machine and go get a cup of coffee while we played and
recorded.  We didn’t work a year on a
record to put out a product.  We worked
for about eight minutes, ran through it one time and cut the record.  And they’d say, “I think we got a pretty good
scald on that.  Let’s keep that one.”

       The musicians
from my era – folks like Ernest Tubbs – they weren’t in the record
business.  It wasn’t their way of
life.  Performing in dance halls and
clubs and honky tonks – that was their way of life.  Making records certainly wasn’t their way of
life.  And if a record hit, they might
not ever know it. Now these kids are going five times platinum, and I really
hate that my people didn’t get to do that. And now, they got all these managers
and publicists, and ‘I’ll have my girl call your girl.’  We didn’t have none of that. You were lucky
to have a hot meal and a place to sleep. And if you got that, you were
grateful. That means it was a good day.

 

ON SINGERS TODAY:

Michael’s brothers – the Jackson 5 – man, those boys could
sing.  They were like Muhammad Ali – they
could back up what they said with talent. 
Most singers now days are making millions with no talent.  If you’re gonna sit there and tell me Tim
McGraw can sing, you’re full of shit. 
Tim McGraw can’t carry a tune with a bucket. And I don’t like Tim and
Faith at all.  They’re so fuckin’
phony.  But that’s okay. 

       Who’s the best
performer?  Well, a performer is puttin’
on act… So I’d have to say Alice Cooper. Vince (Alice) is the most gentle
person – the nicest man you ever met. A real performer. 

 

ON NEW BANDS BREAKING THROUGH:

These baby bands need to get experience.  They need to play little clubs.  And they ain’t gonna make much money at
first, and they’re gonna get the worst of the worst, which is really the best
of the best. You need to perform all the shows you can, and don’t leave when
your set is over. You need to watch who comes on behind you, and who went on
before you. And you need to watch the audience, to see if the eye is watching
and the mouth is moving.  That’s what
Tubbs used to say, “See if they’re singing the songs with you. See if they’re
enjoying what you’re doing.”  You have to
go and take the hard knocks first.  And
then the knocks will get easier and easier. You have to be able to survive
that. If you survive that, you can survive anything.  It’s like Stevie Ray (Vaughan)… He survived
Austin, Texas. And you got to watch all the sex drugs and rock and roll.  If you want to survive, don’t get caught up
in all that. Most kids don’t… They go the other route. But Jack White didn’t go
for all that. He worked with Loretta Lynn last year, and there was never a
finer young man around. And he survived them hard knocks.  Young people need to learn their trade, which
is entertaining. And you learn by watching, and by performing. You take some
from this guy, but not too much, and a little from that guy, and turn it into
something of your own.

 

ON CHER:

I did three Cher tours. 
There’s a good woman.  And her
door is always open.  If you got a
complaint, you can always walk into her dressing room. And she may be sitting
there nekkid, but you better be right. 
If you’re wrong, she’ll nail you to the cross.  I seen it happen three or four times.

 

ON BEING A SURVIVOR:

In my business today, I only deal with the survivors –
people like James Taylors, Bob Wills, the Four Tops, Patti LaBelle. The grace
and finesse they had with the crowd. Patti LaBelle can captivate a crowd for
thirty minutes without singing a song – they’re just listening to her
talk.  Billy Joel, guys like that —
they’re into the love of life.  But the
young kids are only interested in money. And that’s all right, because that’s
just how it is today.  I wished I’d got
that kind of money. But in my era we didn’t have it.  You talk to an older star now like Tanya
Tucker, and they were making $400 a night.

       I admire
survivors. And that’s crew, singers, drivers, musicians, magicians – I don’t
care who it is. Anyone who can survive in this business.  Like our truck driver.  He drinks a lot, but he’s never drunk.  He gets lost a lot, but he’s sitting at the
venue in the morning.  He finds a way to
make it happen.  He survives.

 

ON TAKING CARE OF YOUR PEOPLE:

Lord, I’ve seen Patti LaBelle clear out a kitchen in an
auditorium more than once.  “My people
not gonna eat that shit,” she’d say to the caterers. She’d be back there
cooking the whole meal for the crew and band. “My baby’s got to have something
good to eat.”  And that’s what’s so bad
about entertainment today – there’s nobody doing that. No one takes care of
their people like that. Nobody except little Kenny Chesney.

 

ON INVESTING YOUR MONEY WISELY:

I live on a farm in Lebanon, Tennessee out there on Tater
Peeler Road. My neighbor is Gretchen Wilson. 
She has invested so much money – bought farm after farm and she builds
log houses on them for her family. So she directly takes care of her family.
She understands that next year her record might not do so well and she’ll have
to scale back to one bus and one trailer, but she’ll have everything paid
for.  And if you’re smart with your
money, you don’t have to worry about putting out a product.  You can make the music you want, and live
comfortably for the rest of your life.

       There is no
benefits here. I don’t have any health insurance. There’s no retirement.  There’s no nothing in the entertainment
world.  The only thing you have is what
you invested yourself and what you were smart enough to lay aside.  Even Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, who had
the biggest selling record of all time, had to declare bankruptcy.  They had millions and millions of dollars – explain
that one to me.

 

ON LIVING HIS LIFE ON TOUR:

It’s really been a great ride. I got to see this country
being built, driving across it for 51 years. I got to see Hugh Nelson become
Willie Nelson. I watched Paul Bigsby build them steel guitars. I watched Tommy
Morel invent guitar pickups… All the things we take for granted today. I was in
a great era when everything was being invented. Think about it:  When was last time that you actually heard a
new sound? See, there ain’t nobody come up with nothing. And I got to watch all
those things come about. Yes sir, it’s been one hell of a ride.

 

[Photo Courtesy Hoot’s
daughter, Sammie Baker
]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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