Tumbleweed Smith

Many of my best mornings began with Tumbleweed Smith walking into my office announcing, “You have to hear this one!” I was fortunate in that I got to hear the unedited version of his latest interview with a truly interesting Texan. What ever the interview, it was certain that we would both be laughing to the point of bellyache before we were through. Normal when you are talking to the man that interviewed a world champion jack rabbit roper or the promotional whiz who organized a guinea drop (toss guinea hens from an airplane and offer a prize to anyone who captures one) as a town promotion.

If you are not in Texas, you probably have not heard his program, The Sound of Texas, so a brief description of a forty year love affair with people and their stories is in order. In 1969, Bob Lewis was Tumbleweed Smith for the first time and interviewed Jon Voight while he was in Big Spring, Texas for filming of “Midnight Cowboy”, the film that launched Voight's Hollywood career. The first broadcast of “The Sound of Texas” was that interview. In February of 2008, Bob was completely Tumbleweed and interviewed Voight again for the 10,000 broadcast of the program. The 9,998 shows that separate those two Voight appearances include familiar names and forgotten names, but all include the humanity that Tumbleweed has a made a career of drawing from his conversations with Texans and visitors to Texas. Google Tumbleweed and you will find “You Tube” videos of some of his interviews. In west Texas, getting a visit from Tumbleweed is an occasion worth getting out the video camera.

One of my favorites included a woman describing how slow her husband drove. She once asked him to hurry up while he drove through town as there was a dog chasing the car. He responded casually that he would not hit the dog and he was driving fast enough. She told him, “You don't understand, the dog is lifting his leg on the back wheel!” Tumbleweed captures life in west Texas the way it is, full of character, characters and people who live in places that might be uninhabited if not for the sea of oil and gas that is underground.

In many ways, this web site is about Tumbleweed. There are many oral historians who carefully document their research and create wonderful archives that are cultural treasures. There are far fewer story tellers who take the time to collect the small portions of an oral history that make the stories and the meaning of life so clear and accessible to anyone that will listen. Stories are the essence of “The Sound of Texas” and of Story Chip.

When I met Tumbleweed, he came to me with the idea for a course he wanted to teach about collecting interviews and turning them into oral histories. At the moment I told him what a good idea that was, we became friends. I have always shared this interest and felt that story telling and collecting those stories did not get the academic attention that it deserved. To work with Tumbleweed while he taught students to conduct interviews that would put people at ease and help them to share their lives, was a real treat. The work that the students did and the awards they won for their programs are among Tumbleweeds proudest memories. I have seen the awards in his office for his work, but I do not believe I saw him prouder then when he showed me the wall full of awards that his students have won over the years.

Tumbleweed is an example of a person who left home and saw a lot of the world only to learn that home was where his heart is. His book jackets proclaim that “Tumbleweed Smith is part owner of Texas” which sounds like a good line until you realize that he his serious about his stake in west Texas and how proud he is of the lives that he has been documenting. His words, "Texas is such a unique and special place and I try to cover the things that make Texas what it is; its people, stories, songs, folklore, history, small towns, unique events and legends." Tumbleweed Smith is one of those legends.

Lee McGavin
Cedar Park, Texas 2009

Add your story to this page!

Comment on this Story

Add a New Comment

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License