Interview: Tumbleweed Smith Interview

Wednesday October 6th, 2021 reminded me of another day in time in the early seventies at a pool hall in Big Spring, Texas. A friend asked me to accompany him to the old Cue and Triangle Billiard Hall where he was to teach me how to play a game called snooker. Although I do not remember exactly how the game was played, I do remember a man that was racking balls called Mr. Mac. He was very mild mannered and friendly when we would call for a rack. For some reason, I agreed to play him a game. “It will only hurt a minute or two” he said. Ferociously competitive at that age, the challenge was accepted. This man appeared to be in his mid to late seventies and I was a young man of 17.

This man’s glasses were quite thick as I remember and it was improperly concluded on my part that he would have a hard time playing the game. The lesson he demonstrated on the snooker table was beyond amazing and I was left to mostly sit and watch while he slammed balls into the small pockets. When he did not have a good shot, he was deft at hiding the cue ball behind another ball.

Needless to say, it hurt for more than a minute of two as Mr. Mac said. My friend gigged me about it for a long time.

Forty-nine years later, here I sat in a parking lot eating fried chicken and waiting to interview a Texas broadcasting legend at his home. Bob Lewis (Tumbleweed Smith) and I met at the Big Spring Heritage Museum a month or so prior. A close friend called him and told him I had just written a novel and Tumbleweed called me to schedule an interview. He was very relaxed, charming and quite full of questions surrounding the details of the book. After the interview was complete, I asked him if he would allow me to interview him some day. Now, that day had arrived. The old Cue and Triangle feeling welled up in my gut as I finished eating my chicken and nervously watching my watch. Mr. Mac was a master at snooker. Tumbleweed Smith was a master interviewer and broadcaster with over 13,000 interviews and counting, with over fifty-years under his belt and numerous awards and credits to his name.  His melodic voice reminded me of water trickling over rocks in a stream or maybe a slight wind moving through the pines.  His unique ability to gain personal insight into the lives and activities of anyone he interviewed had always amazed me.  His interviews cover literally thousands of subjects and diverse subject matter from a pig calling DA, to a beer drinking goat named Clay Henry from Lajitas, Texas. His relaxed interviewing style is so good, he can coax the most intricate of detail from the folks he interviews.  Now, it was my turn. Apprehensive might be a good choice of words as I pulled into his driveway.

Tumbleweed greeted me at his front door at 1:00 p.m. sharp with a strong handshake. “BJ, I am so glad you are here”.  

We made our way to a living room next to his outdoor deck overlooking the beautiful southwest portion of Big Spring.


All of my inhibitions were swept away as soon as the first question was asked.

Question: I do not know what questions you could possibly ask Tumbleweed Smith. Who was your biggest influence in broadcasting?

Just out of the Army, I went to an advertising agency in Waco working for $1.00 an hour. I was hired for six weeks and got to stay for seven weeks. I was making $6.00 a day. When my old college roommate called and asked me to come to Big Spring, Texas I agreed to do so. That is where I got started in radio. My personal philosophy is to never worry about what is ahead. I just know that whatever it is, it is going to be ok. That is how I live my life.

Question: Would you change anything about the path you took?

Good gosh no. I grew up working in a grocery store. That is hard work, man. This job I have had for over fifty years, it is not work. It is what I enjoy and I get paid for it.

Question: I look at your website from time to time and I simply cannot keep up with you because your so busy. Is retirement and option?

Retirement? That word is not in my vocabulary. I want to die with my boots on doing what I am doing. This is not work. Interviewing people, driving around beautiful Texas. It is enjoyable and enriching. I have never thought about anything else.


Question: Your new one-man show.“ Outrageous Texas Women of Characterwas first put on in Fort Davis on July 3, 2021. My wife and I were fortunate enough to get to see it. It was hilariously funny. What is your go-forward plans for this show and how can folks get their hands on it?

Well, I have changed it up a little and presented it to a lady’s club and will be presenting it again in Midland in February, 2022. I hope they are receptive to it.

I do not see how they could not. I noticed you have a great affinity and respect towards women. Your closing remarks in Fort Davis were very reflective of how you feel towards them. 

Thank you. Most of the adjectives I used in that closing describe my wife, Susan.


Question: I know you love music. Who is your very favorite Texas musician that you have interviewed?

Jody Nix. Without a doubt. Besides that, he is a good friend. We have a good time together.

Question: Did you know Hoyle Nix?

Indeed, I interviewed him as well.

Hoyle Nix played with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys as I recall. The Stampede has been out on the edge of Big Spring for a very long time. I have never been inside the doors but was raised with a bunch of guys that did. Their statements to me were that Hoyle did not like foul language, especially during when the Cotton Eyed Joe was played.

Question: What is your favorite music genre and song?

My favorite song? “Tenderly” by George Shearing

My favorite musician: Stan Kenton (Jazz). Big band.

Question: So, you like big band, orchestra type music?


Question: Do you and Susan dance?

She does and she wishes I did. I am not a very good dancer.

We also have a symphony orchestra here in Big Spring that we have worked with for over forty years. We do advertising for the symphony, the rodeo and the Howard County Fair. Most of the big events here in town. Billboards and magazines. Just advertising in general.

Susan runs our advertising agency: Multi-Media Advertising. She is a better writer than I am, a better actor than I am and has a better sense of humor.  She just about outdoes me in every way.

Yes, I think that is true for each of us as far as our wives are concerned.

Question: You have done over 13,000 interviews to date. You have been doing this for over fifty years. I did a little calculating and that equates to two-hundred and sixty interviews per year. With that said, how many speaking engagements do you handle in an average year?

Oh, maybe eight to twelve. Here lately, with covid, it has only been two or three.

Question: With your previous and current schedule, how many miles would you estimate you drive in a given year?

Well, when I first started it was about 200,000 miles per year. Now, it is about 36,000-40,000 miles per year. Now when I first started, I would go to Amarillo and get one interview and then to Del Rio and get another. Now, I go to one place and get three to four. I have streamlined it a lot. It cuts down on the driving quite a bit. When I started, it was a great time to get started. My gosh. LBJ had just left the White House. I never interviewed him but I did send him an album I made. He sent me back a thank you response on how much he enjoyed it.

At that particular time, the Texas Chili Cultyure was emerging and the Texas Folklife Festival was just getting started. The Chili festival was in Terlingua and the Texas Folklife Festival was in San Antonio. The Hill Country was just brimming with these characters. I would go to the Folklife Festival and get twenty interviews. It was really easy. I would get a dozen or so interviews at the Chili Festival and capitalize on some of these state wide events. I got to interview some of Texas most prolific characters. Hondo Crouch, Ace Reid…….

Question: You got to interview Ace Reid?

Yes, many times. I practically lived with him when I was in the Hill Country. I stayed at his place. The Draggin S Ranch. He had a little office built over a stream and I would stay there. I never saw Ace stay there. I asked him where he did his “Cowpoke” cartoons. He laughed and said “I do them at 4:30 in the afternoon on my bed while watching “Hogan’s Heroes”.

I also interviewed Elmer Kelton. I was asked to do a eulogy when he passed but did not actually get to do it.

That alone is very big in itself. In 1995, Western Writers of America named him the “greatest Western author of all time.” 

Question: How many years have you and Susan been married?

We have been married 58 years. We were married August 26, 1963. We were married in El Paso. The next morning, we got on a train and went to Chihuahua, Mexico then went on down to Mazatlán, on the train.  

Question: Is it as safe today as it was then in Mexico?

Oh, we use to go down there every five years or so. Beautiful drive. If we got tired, we just pulled over and took a nap in the woods. I would not do that now, of course.

I went to school in Monterrey. I lived with a family there while in school. It was the summer of 1956 between my junior and senior years while I was at Baylor University. My college roommate and I went down there and lived with a family. We took a course in Spanish.

Question: Do you still speak Spanish?

I am not very good but I get by. Yes.

Question: If you could pick the top three interviews in your life that you remember the most, what would they be?

Ace Reid, Hondo Crouch and Hallie Stillwell (Justice of the Peace in Alpine, Texas) She was the matriarch of the Texas mountains. You might look her up. Of course, you know about Ace Reid. Hondo Crouch, he put Luckenbach, Texas on the map and had a lot of fun doing it.

Question: Is he the person that had the beer-drinking goat?

No, that is in Lajitas.

Question: Have you met that goat?

Oh yes. Many times. Clay Henry is his name. He stayed at the General Store.

Question: You live in a lovely area with a good view. Who picks out your yard-mowing outfits?

Well, I do. I have not needed them lately. I just mowed it a week ago.

Question: I have been wondering about that. You showed up for my interview at the Heritage Museum in a pair of the ugliest, lime green shorts I have ever seen. They were so bright, I had to put my sun glasses on. You wore them very boldly. I told my wife you were not remotely embarrassed in wearing them. I was just curious if Susan picked them out for you.

Laughter. The mosquitos have been so bad lately, I have not worn them. I do pick them out though.

Question: You wrote “Under the Chinaberry Tree”. How would you describe this book?

It is book of East Texas folk lore. The title came from my mother and her sisters. She and her sisters used to sit and shell peas under a chinaberry tree at Aunt Hattie’s place near Canton. The ground was as hard as a rock under that tree. They use to sweep it with a branch off of the tree to keep the snakes out and everything. They would sit under that tree in the shade, shell peas and gossip.

Question: Did you ever participate in the pea-shelling?

Oh sure. Also, I picked cotton for about three minutes. I shelled more peas than I snapped.

You said you picked cotton for about three minutes. I hoed cotton for a man here in Big Spring for $1.00 an acre. He went to the field with us the next morning. “How far did you boys get”? I pointed to a row and indicated we got to about there. He walked with his hoe in the cotton and gently moved the leaves aside to reveal the tiny careless weeds that had just began to sprout. “These make big weeds. Let’s hoe this again.” The other two boys quit. I needed the money and stayed on. Needless to say, it was a painful lesson walking in the same tracks you walked in the day before. I did learn a great lesson though. My first check was $25. I went to Montgomery Ward and bought a pair of shoes, socks, pants, belt and a shirt that did not match well. I wore them to church. My wife still remembers how bad I looked.

Question: Who is your favorite author?

Thomas Wolfe. He wrote a number of things. Of Time and The River, You Can’t Go Home Again and things like that. He was the most descriptive writer about America. He made me want to see America. It created a wander-lust in me that is still going on to this day. Pat Conroy, that wrote the “Prince of Tides” was also very descriptive in his writings. He was a favorite author as well.

Question: What is your favorite city and vacation place? They can be two separate places.

I like Fort Davis.

 The most interesting place in Texas is Jefferson, Texas. It is in northeast Texas.

Question: What advice would you give a young person that is aspiring to pursue a career in broadcasting?

Gosh. What would I tell them? Go get a real job (laughter). Broadcasting has changed. It used to be mom and pop operations. Most now are owned by big conglomerates where money is the very bottom line. There are still some mom-and-pop companies that still “tend” to the communities they reside in. I have taught students for over forty years. I advise students to develop some type of  skill. Maybe writing, production or something you can do that will satisfy your soul. Money is not everything and you cannot sleep with it. Do something good, that you are proud of and that other people will appreciate. That in itself is very fulfilling in my book.  My advice to young people is to not go into this broadcasting business unless you have traveled, studied business, political science, economics and basically know a little about a lot of subjects before you decide. The fun of radio is the lowest paid thing, a DJ. I was never a DJ but that is probably the most fun job in all of radio. There is money in the management end of things, sales and as possibly as an owner. To me, that is kind of sterile. The fun of radio is being a DJ, the lowest paid thing.  My background was in news.

Question: When did you start “Sounds of Texas”?


I have been listening to you from about that time. Many of us that worked in the oil field out of Big Spring. One of the high-lights of the day was listening to Tumbleweed Smith and Paul Harvey while eating a bag lunch.  The fact that we are here today is miraculous, in my opinion. 13,000 interviews later, here you are.

One of the things that gives me the most pleasure is hearing a farmer say that he or my daddy or my grandfather, listened to you from his tractor while plowing the field. It still gives me chill bumps just talking about it. It means so much to me.

Question: Do you get requests for past interviews from children or families of folks you have interviewed in the past? One of the blurbs  from my latest novel “Sparrows of Montenegro” was done by a Hispanic man from Coleman, Texas. While telling him about this scheduled interview with you, he made casual mention that you interviewed his father in the early 1990’s. His father was a POW in the Philippines during World War II and a survivor of the Bataan Death March. He told me he was going to find that interview and let me listen to it.

Yes, I get those requests a lot. They will play portions of interviews at funerals, eulogies etc. You mentioned Paul Harvey. I have sent stories into him and visited with him over the phone.

There are basically two or three things I wanted to do in broadcasting:

. I wanted to work at a 50,000-watt radio station.

. Number two, I wanted to be on a national network.

I left Big Spring twice. I arrived in 1960 and in 1962, I had won quite a few news awards and a radio station in Houston called and offered me a job. There were eleven folks there and I was number eleven.  I was privileged to work with the great Ray Miller.  He was the guru of broadcast journalism in Texas at that time. I learned a great deal from this man and still use much of what I learned today. Anyway, after being number two in Big Spring, I was number eleven there. That was not a big deal to me, I just wanted a smaller deal. I came back to Big Spring and married Susan. In 1964, right after our first son was born, I was offered a fellowship to go to graduate school at the University of Missouri and study journalism. After I finished there, I was offered a job at a broadcasting company in De Moines, Iowa doing feature interviews on radio and television. While there, I got the pleasure of interviewing an eleven-year-old blind girl. Her enthusiasm and exuberance about life was just beautiful and came through very nice over the radio. The folks there said I should send that to NBC Monitor and let them listen to it. This program a weekend program that was started in 1956 and lasted twenty years. I sent the interview to Gordon Frazier, the Producer of NBC Monitor. He wrote me back and said your interview will be on NBC Monitor at 2:30 p.m. on a certain date. Just to know that something I did was good enough to be on national and international radio as well, was very fulfilling. We went out and bought a brand-new stereo in De Moines just so we could hear the interview well in our living room. That was a ceremony. I felt like I ought to be wearing a tux or something but was actually wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Question: Let’s hope it was not the same kind of green shorts you wore when you interviewed me.  How long was the actual interview?

They wanted two minutes and fifteen seconds so that is how long the whole thing was. My daily program here is two minutes and thirty- seconds which includes open and close. It is very tight and edited, or concentrated.

Question: I was recently asked this question in an interview. It is a very thought- provoking question that I had not been asked before and I am going to spring on you. What advice would your older self, give to your younger self?

I would say… be aware of interesting people and stay away from the ones that criticize you or do not like you. Stay with the people that you find interesting and you find fascinating. That will make you a lot happier. I do not know what you said but that is what I said.

Well, I told my wife that the question was a tough one. I simply said you can see a lot of life from the back of a good horse. It is probably better to see it at a “trot” instead of a full-gallop and miss the small things.

Question: Are there any final thoughts you would like to share?

I am honored that you interviewed me. I am so proud of my family and being married all of these years to Susan. When we were on our honeymoon in Mexico, we both said “Why don’t we just stay down here? We loved it so much. We have brought up that thought at different stages of our life. I am glad we came back. We have two wonderful sons that are kind of in the same field. Kevin, our oldest is a television director in Dallas and has one an Emmy for live-sports television. He is the technical director for all of the professional sports in Dallas. My younger son BZ (Brian Zack) has a recording studio in Oakland, California. He has won eight Emmys for music he as created for movies and television.  

Question: Do they wear green shorts when they mow their yards?

No! (laughter). They wear plaid.

Question: You know, I would pay good money just to have a photograph of you in those shorts to put in my home.  Is that possible? The glare off of those shorts was so bad, my sunglasses did not help.

Also, I want you to know this interview has been a great honor for me.

Thank you. I do have a pair of yellow shorts you know.

The highlights of my life:

. Being on NBC Monitor for about 10 years after the blind-girl interview. I was mid-western correspondent while I was there. When I came back to Big Spring, I was their Texas correspondent.

. I interviewed Stan Kenton, the great jazz musician and band leader. He came to my home, right outside there on the patio we are looking at.  I had previously interviewed him in De Moines when I was with WHO. He played a concert in Big Spring and then on to  Waco on a Thursday night. We were there. Then he put on a concert in Fort Worth. We were there.

Question: What are your biggest plans for the remainder of 2021 and all of 2022?

I am hoping we get to take a trip somewhere. We have been to about forty countries. I want to go somewhere. Our last trip was in 2019. We went to Iceland. That has been too long. Sometimes, we take two cruises or trips per year. It is rare, but sometimes we do that. We were scheduled to go to Israel this month. We were supposed to leave on the 10th. It just became impossible with Covid and all of the red tape involved. We still want to go to Israel eventually, as well as Costa Rica and the Canary Islands. We hoped to see Petra in Jordan as well.

My favorite country was South America on our 50th wedding anniversary. It lasted 18 days and started in Rio de Janeiro and then onto Buenos Aires in Argentina. Then to Santiago, Chile before coming home. We had so much fun on that trip. Another fun trip was in Italy.  We actually kayaked in the Mediterranean. We have been to Lima, Peru as well. The first time we were there in Lima, they were celebrating their independence. We went to a little restaurant. All of the waiters were wearing their special independence pens. I asked one of them where I could buy one. He gave me his independence pen. That set the tone for the whole trip.

We have traveled to Alaska twice on cruises, once with our grandson.  

Question: With all of that traveling, you have had a taste of a lot of foods. What is your very favorite food?

I like salmon that we cook on the grill. Susan makes this very good seasoning on the salmon and I cook it on the grill.

She seems to be the most important person and influence in your life. She is a very sweet person.

Are you kidding? She is like my right hand. She is so qualified in so many areas. She is an artist. She is all kinds of things to me.

Question: Any other comments?

I have had a great life. I like to think I am a little bit of the some of the characters I have interviewed over time. You take on a part of them.  

Yes indeed. I specifically liked that “Hog Call Lady” as well as the lady that had buried six husbands. We raised goats and I have my very own special “goat call” that I used to call them up.

What is that call BJ? Goatie-Goatie?

Well, let’s just say it has never been done publicly because it might be used against me.

Notes from the author:

It is worthy to note that two things happened after this interview with the legendary “Tumbleweed Smith”.

(1) The family of the World War II veteran (survivor of the Bataan Death March and three years as a POW) were not able to locate the interview of their father. There are ten children in this family. Upon request, Tumbleweed was not only able to locate that specific interview but two others as well. Those interviews were sent to this family via email to one of the sons. He shared with each of his siblings for their early 2021 Christmas gift. Imagine getting to hear their father for the first time since he passed away in 1991, shortly after the last interview.

(2) My wife bought Tumbleweed a pair of fuchsia- colored shorts and an aqua blue t-shirt. I brought them by his home. If you put these on and send me a picture, I will let you record my goat call on an interview. That was a mistake. I am now required to enter the goat calling contest at the Goat Cook-Off on Labor Day in Brady, Texas in 2022. The “lilting arpeggio” goat call can be heard live on Tumbleweed Smith’s December 16, 2021 on any station he broadcasts on.

My life and a multitude of others have been made abundantly better by knowing this man. He lives life as it should be lived, living each day that is given to him to the very fullest with his wonderful wife Susan and with the folks he interviews.

Until next time
BJ Mayo 

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