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04.29.2011
Bad Company Rodeo..A Dynasty That Rocks - By Angie Gentry

When people talk about bull riding in Del Rio, Tex., two things come to mind. One is the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding, the oldest stand-alone bull riding event in the world, which will celebrate its 34th consecutive performance when the CBR rolls into Del Rio this May. The other rodeo icon synonymous with Del Rio is bull riding’s original rock and roll wild child, Bad Company Rodeo.

            When Bad Company owner, Mack Altizer, started out as a stock contractor over 30 years ago, the rodeo industry was a different world. The cowboys competed for little, bulls weren’t superstars or fan favorites and brass bands set the musical tone of the show.  Then came Bad Company Rodeo. As a rodeo competitor and cowboy himself, Mack wanted to put together a production both cowboys and fans would be excited to attend.

            Top bulls, more prize money and the most electric atmosphere in all of rodeo was the recipe of Bad Company’s success. Instead of the standard brass band music of the day, Bad Company began blasting rock and roll anthems over huge loud speakers. A Bad Company rodeo was part Wild West show, part AC/DC concert.

            Photographer Dave Jennings toured with Bad Company and witnessed the revolution Bad Company created within the sport of bull riding. “Mack saw it as more of a total entertainment package than just a rodeo,” Dave says.

For fans, that entertainment package started with music they could relate to. “The crowd didn’t expect it but then it made rodeo something cool to do again. We were trying to draw the 14 to 22-year-old crowd back, which rodeo had lost at the time, and it worked. How interesting would events like the CBR or PBR Finals be with a brass band? We were bored with it and we figured if we were bored with it, everybody else probably was too,” Dave says.

            Mack says the music affected the bull riders in the same way as the fans. “When the bull riders would get there they were already in the mood. Every bull rider will tell you they ride better at the events where the music’s good,” Mack says.

            Acting in the best interest of the cowboy has always been a priority for Mack and he knew the way to any bull rider’s heart – or at least his entry fee – was to have the best, most challenging bulls in the business. Of course, having the best bulls in the world doesn’t matter much if nobody knows you have them. In order to draw cowboys to the smaller rodeos Bad Company produced at the time, Mack needed to market his stock.

            Innovating the way rodeos played music was an impressive accomplishment but modern stock contractors could learn a lot about bull marketing from what Mack Altizer was doing 20 years ago. 

“People will go a lot farther to get on the good ones. If you promote that your bulls can’t be conquered, the riders think they can ride them so it becomes a challenge. We put on small rodeos but we drew the big guys. You ask those guys why they came so far to go to small rodeos and they’ll tell you it was because they wanted to get on bulls like the Dirty Dozen,” Mack says.

The Dirty Dozen was a legendary group of 12 top bulls Mack promoted to both cowboys and fans. The 12 in the set changed as bulls were injured or sold but when a bull earned a spot in the Dirty Dozen, it was well deserved. Rank bulls that made up the Dirty Dozen over the years included 231 Wild Thing, 235 Superstition, 237 Cadillac, 22 Strokin, 16 The Jam, 19 Jo Jo, 111 Bad Moon, 78 Crocodile Rock, -46 Sharp Dressed Man, 173 Achy Breaky Heart, and ZZ Bud Light.

Dave Jennings remembers the days of the Dirty Dozen well. “That pen of bulls was just really over the top. You could win on any of those bulls on any day of the week.  I saw rodeos and bull ridings won of every one of them. It was really fascinating to see 12 bulls that were genuine buckers and not eliminators or anything,” Dave says.

Never before had a stock contractor marketed a set of bulls like Mack did with Bad Company’s famed Dirty Dozen. “What I wanted was to create a set of bulls guys wanted to come get on. Any guy could win on any of the 12 so it made a lot of excitement for the rodeos.  It drew the good cowboys and the fans came when you got the good cowboys,” he says.

Among the good cowboys to challenge the Dirty Dozen was CBR President and four-time World Champion Tuff Hedeman. “They were all good bulls and the kind guys had the chance to ride and win on,” Tuff says.

One of the best stories to come from the George Paul in Del Rio involves Tuff and a member of the Dirty Dozen, ZZ Bud Light. “One of the wildest things I ever saw was at the George Paul when Tuff had ZZ Bud Light. The flank came untied when he went around the latch. He was still 88 points but he was one point shy of winning it so Tuff asked if I’d bring him back,” Mack says.

“It was about 103 degrees and Del Rio was set up big so we had to run him all the way back around and nobody in that audience moved. You could just feel the anticipation,” Mack says.

Tuff adds, “(ZZ Bud Light) was the one to win it on and even though the flank came off he still bucked good. Most contractors with a bull that good wouldn’t want to bring him right back but Mac’s always been a cowboy first and a stock contractor second.”

Although the Dirty Dozen is the most infamous set of Bad Company bulls, they weren’t the first to be marketed and earn notoriety like their cowboy opponents. Before the Dirty Dozen, Bad Company had a pen of five bulls they called The Bad Boys, composed of Wild Thing, ZZ Bud Light, Cadillac, Sharp Dressed Man and Superstition.

All these superstar bulls were named in a pretty creative and original way. Of course, there is a strong rock and roll theme, but each bull’s name is a reflection of him as an individual.  “I try to fit every bull with a song name that fits him and the way he looks and bucks,” Mack says.

Creativity is a cornerstone of good marketing and the Bad Company team worked hard to innovate and be creative. “Bad Company was fortunate to have Dave (Jennings) on tour with us all the time and he’s the brains behind a lot of it. We were never done when it was over. That’s when we started thinking and getting creative. We’re always thinking about what we can do to keep it fresh,” Mack says.

Another pioneering idea Mack and Dave Jennings came up with was to promote The Bad Boys through t-shirts and other merchandise but they needed a good photo with all five bulls in it. Getting five bulls to strike a pose for a photo shoot is akin to winning the lottery – it can happen but only if you’re really lucky. “I went out with a beer in one hand and a camera in the other. I never even had to put my beer down. We walked up and they all put their heads up to look at us. I took two frames; I got lucky,” Dave says.

In the almost 20 years since that first promo photo was taken, The Bad Boys and Dirty Dozen have all left the arena. Although none of them have competed in years, their mark on the bull riding industry is still evident today through their sons and grandsons.

            One of the most prolific sires of the Dirty Dozen was –46 Sharp Dressed Man. James Riley purchased –46 shortly before the end of his career. “When I bought him I didn’t buy him to breed to, I bought him to haul,” James says. “I hauled him for over a year before I bred to him and he was still quite a bucker then.”

            At the time James started breeding with –46, he’d only sired four bull calves. Derrel Hargis bred to –46 years earlier and out of the four bull calves –46 sired, one was 142 Party Time who went to the NFR and PBR Finals. CBR fans will recognize Sharp Dressed Kid, Cadillac Man and Sharp Shooter as CBR Finals qualifiers. All three bulls are also sons of –46 Sharp Dressed Man.

            Recently, the syndicate that purchased Black Pearl’s dam acquired straws of Dirty Dozen member 231 Wild Thing to use in the highly-valued cow. Wild Thing is the sire to G216 Sharp Dressed Man, one of Bad Company’s more recent standouts and current herd sires.

            Great sets of bulls like The Bad Boys and the Dirty Dozen don’t come along very often. Bad Company was fortunate to have two and it looks like set number three is on its way, according to Mack. “I think we’re close to having a set as good (as the Dirty Dozen) but some of them are a year away yet. I think next year we’re going to have a great set going,” Mack says.

Although the bulls of Bad Company have changed many times through the years, the main principles of good bulls and good atmosphere remain the same.

            “Mac’s rodeos and bull ridings were always fun. He knew in order for rodeo and bull riding to be successful it had to be fun for everybody, most importantly the fans,” Tuff says. “The traditional rodeo world kind of scoffed at what he was doing and now if you go to the National Finals or any bull riding event at any level, you’ll see what Mack was doing over 20 years ago. He was way before his time.”

            By thinking outside the box as a stock contractor, competitor and promoter, Mack Altizer built Bad Company Rodeo into a bull riding dynasty that’s lasted over three decades. The best businesses stand the test of time by evolving but according to Dave Jennings, there’s one thing Bad Company does that will never change. As he puts it, “We’re still rockin’ and we always will be.”

 

As seen in the May Issue of "The Short Round".  For Subscription info see www.theshortround.com or email Leighann@theshortround.com

Photo Credits - Dave Jennings and Todd Brewer. 

 


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