Joey and Trent Hemphill started off with a dream and built a successful business over the course of three decades.
The brothers launched Hemphill Brothers Coach Co. in Nashville in 1980. Today, the company has grown to provide top-of-the-line touring buses to a wide variety of famous clients.
Part of their success, they say, can be credited to the life lessons they learned as children in Bastrop.
“We were around a lot of good, hardworking people who sort of mentored us,” said Joey Hemphill. “We learned that you do what you say and always try to deliver a good product for your clients. We learned that in Bastrop.”
As the sons of Gospel musical artists Joel and LaBreeska Hemphill, the brothers are familiar with life on the road.
Joel Hemphill Sr. grew up in West Monroe, where he began playing music in his father’s church. LaBreeska was touring with the Happy Goodman Family musical group when the couple met and married in 1957.
The family settled in Bastrop four years later, where Joel pastored at the Pentecostal Temple. He also began a remarkable song writing career, penning such timeless songs as “He’s Still Working On Me.” Joel and LaBreeska signed their first recording contract with Canaan Records in 1966.
Joey Hemphill began performing with his parents as drummer when he was 10 years old. As a teenager, he added his baritone voice to the group and became a songwriter like his father. He was just 18 when he wrote his first hit Gospel song, “Never a Man Spake Like This Man.”
“My name is actually Joel Hemphill Jr., but everybody knows me as Joey,” he said. “Some of my old friends in Bastrop might remember me as Joel.”
Trent Hemphill began playing bass guitar with his family at the age of 14. Within a few years, he was playing keyboard and directing the Hemphill band. He would later produce several Hemphill Family albums, earning Dove Awards in 1985 and 1989.
“Bastrop will always have a special place in our hearts,” said Trent. “We still have friends and relatives there, and we cruise down there quite a bit. We’ll go out of our way to try to spend a few minutes in Bastrop. It’s a special feeling.”
Joey and Trent said they sometimes visit the old family home on Collinston Road, among other special places from their childhoods.
Joey recalls eating at P.T.’s Eat a Bite, back when it was called Pippen’s.
“We loved Pippen’s,” he said. “They had the best chocolate pie.”
Joey said the brothers have fond memories of fishing at Bussey Brake, swimming at the Cave Off and riding their bicycles to school.
“You can go in that store,” Trent said of a local business, “and it almost takes you back.”
The brothers attended Oak Hill Elementary, not far from their home. Desegregation in Louisiana meant Trent would begin the fifth grade at Carver Elementary.
“It was a very important time in my life,” said Trent. “I remember two awesome teachers at Carver, Miss Dorsey and Miss Hawkins. And the friends that we made -- it was a positive experience. That was 40 years ago, and it’s stayed with me.”
Joey recalls his principal, Mrs. Boone, had a positive influence on his life.
“I had done something I shouldn’t have, and I was sitting in her office,” he said. “She told me she was disappointed in me. Here was someone who had high expectations for me, and that left an impression on me as a person.”
Joey said each Sunday after morning services, the family would drive to Mer Rouge to get ice cream from the local shop.
“Mer Rouge ice cream was a special treat,” he said. “I still get it when I’m down there.”
Like many young people growing up in the region, the boys visited Crossett, Ark. to catch a glimpse of the famous ghost light.
As their parents began a singing career, the boys would often stay with friends in Bastrop.
“They were in high demand in the area,” said Trent. “We were too small back then to go with them, and we were in school, so church friends would watch us. It was a different time -- we wouldn’t even lock our doors at night.”
The Hemphills moved to Nashville when Joey was 14 and Trent was 12.
Having learned about the needs of artists on the road, the Hemphill brothers purchased two 1965 buses and began leasing them out in 1978. Two years later, they launched Hemphill Brothers Coach Co. with just $500 cash and a $50,000 note co-signed by their father.
The brothers toured, recorded and renovated old buses all at once for several years. Then in 1989, after two decades in the music business and more than two million miles on the road, Joey and Trent turned their focus to the company.
“The first 10 years or so were a real learning experience,” said Trent. “Then, out of the blue, we got a call from Good Morning America. That’s when things started to turn around for us.”
Throughout the early ‘90s, news networks began using their services and advertising the company. Oprah Winfrey did the same.
“How do you top that?” Trent asked of the company’s association with Winfrey.
Today, Hemphill Brothers is considered the top entertainer touring bus company in the nation, with the largest solely owned fleet in the industry.
The Hemphill headquarters in Whites Creek, Tenn., outside Nashville, includes a 28,000-square-foot garage capable of holding 80 buses for servicing. The company has installed hot tubs, classrooms and computer stations in their luxurious coaches.
The walls of the Hemphill office building feature memorabilia from such famous clients as Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey and Justin Timberlake.
“We have many clients in Louisiana,” said Joey, citing Tim McGraw and Kix Brooks. “It’s a great state to be from.”
Perhaps their most famous client to date has been former President George W. Bush. Trent said during the 2000 presidential primaries, a network was using their buses to interview candidates.
“The governor’s office called us, and we provided buses for him during the primaries,” said Trent. “We picked him up and took him to Austin on election night.”
The brothers were later invited to Bush’s first inauguration. The president called them again for buses during his 2004 re-election campaign. It was an unusual request, as presidents do not normally use private transportation services.
“The Secret Service armored all of the vehicles,” said Trent. “They were on the coaches 24 hours a day.”
As one might imagine, “There are a lot of logistics involved.”
Trent recalls getting a call on his cell phone from Air Force One. The reception was bad because Air Force One was flying over Iceland at the time.
The brothers were invited to a private Christmas party at the White House last December. During the final days of the Bush administration, the president sent them each a letter of thanks.
“No matter what your politics are, it was a real honor for the president to use our buses,” said Joey.
Hemphill Brothers has also provided services for California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and 2008 presidential candidates Fred Thompson and John McCain.
“We have a very wide range of clientele, from contemporary Christian artists to rock bands like Aerosmith to politicians,” said Joey.
Country star Kenny Chesney is currently touring with 10 Hemphill coaches.
“You never know who’s going to call you,” said Trent. “They’re all people with needs, who just happen to be famous.”
The Hemphills’ story was featured in the most recent edition of American Profile. Trent said the brothers did not know when the story was going to be published, but by coincidence, his parents were in town when it came out Sunday.
“Mom and Dad were passing through Bastrop,” said Trent. “They didn’t even know about the story until someone gave them a copy.”
The company was recently filmed for an episode of VH1’s “The Fabulous Life,” slated to air in October.
The brothers say many of the lessons they learned as children in Bastrop have influenced their business decisions.
“We never thought, back when we were counting the cars go by on Collinston Road, that we would be doing this,” said Trent.
They say the faith instilled them from an early age, by their parents and the church, has been the foundation for their success.
“If you’re living your faith, doing unto others as you would have them do to you and obeying the Golden Rule, it’s a win-win situation” said Trent. “You build a relationship of trust with your clients, and business is all about relationships. You learn that early in life.”
“We have a lot of clients who have been with us for a long time,” said Joey. “They trust us to keep our word. If you build your business based on biblical principles, you can have success.”