Iowa-grown music director makes it big in rodeo
Sidney, Iowa – Josh “Hambone” Hilton was born and raised amongst the cornfields and the Sidney Iowa Championship Rodeo grounds in Rodeo Town USA. Throughout his youth, Josh competed in high school rodeo.
After high school, Josh attended Iowa Western College in Council Bluffs and spent several years doing radio throughout his college career. After spending a lot of time in the summers helping the Cervi Championship Rodeo company, he found his calling being the music man.
“I did a few small Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) rodeos for Cervi’s and then after a few years the Denver National Western Stock Show and Rodeo became available,” he says. “After working Denver, it really kick-started my career – a lot of other opportunities opened up and my career really exploded from there.”
Job duties and PRCA awards
A large part of Josh’s job is about timing, he notes.
“You have to have talent but you have to have the timing and knowledge and real deep understanding of what is going on in the arena,” he explains.
Working several jobs in the arena prior to being a music director helped give him an understanding of what is going on and how to time his music.
“I’ve been on the ground hanging flanks, worked the timed event end and just been a ‘grunt’ in the back – I know what’s going on from the back pens to the grand stands and it helps me know what is coming next and what to be prepared for.”
Having a sense of humor and a passion for movies has really helped him fine tune his craft and it has been recognized throughout the industry – from rodeo committees, announcers and the PRCA.
Several rodeo announcers including Boyd Polhamus, Bob Tallman, the late Hadley Barrett, Randy Corely, Roger Mooney and Wayne Brooks have put their faith in him as a music director throughout the years and it speaks volumes, he continues by saying, “It’s a big honor they would have trust in me.”
In 2017, the PRCA introduced a new award to be given to outstanding music directors within the industry. Josh was the very first one to receive this award and won it again in 2019.
“Being announced by Bob Tallman for the Music Director of the Year Award was a huge honor,” he says. “It was very special and then to have my family and friends there, and to get that recognition at the very first one meant a lot. I will cherish these moments and accomplishments forever – it will never get old.”
Pulling songs for rodeos and creating a style
Josh utilizes a program called Sports Sound Pro, a software for instant replay of sound effects and music. It comes in a blank template and through the years, Josh has created playlists he chooses music from.
“I’ve been doing it for nearly 15 years and am constantly changing my music selection – moving things around, adding songs, taking away songs that don’t play anymore,” says Josh. “I have a library of about 35,000 songs which makes it pretty easy for me, but if for some reason I don’t have a song and have good service in the announcer stand, I can pull music off the internet.”
Josh credits music director, Benje Bendele for creating a unique music style, which inspired him to create a style of his own.
He adds, there were music directors prior to Benje, but they didn’t have the Benje style.
“Benje used sound effects and cut and looped music together to share a story,” he says. “And, it wasn’t very long until I started doing things my way.”
One of Josh’s favorite accomplishments was being an instrumental piece of the puzzle getting the Bull Fighters Only (BFO) to Cowboy Christmas in Las Vegas, Nev. A lot of the music is electronic dance music, he says.
Throughout the years, music styles have changed but he feels proud in having a hand in creating a style of music production of his own.
“A lot of people think it’s just playing music and a lot of people do just play music – they call them rodeo jukeboxes, but I try to put feeling into it,” he explains. “You have to be mindful of what kind of rodeo you are doing and where you are at – a more traditional rodeo will need more traditional, classic rodeo music.”
In 2019, Josh and Justin Rumford started a podcast called Rümpchät. Since its inception, the podcast has had nearly a million downloads.
“Justin and I are best friends and we’ve been close for quite some years,” he says. “Aaron Ferguson is a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) bull fighter who started the BFO and had always said Justin needed to do a podcast.”
“We’re such a good team and started doing the podcast together,” he says. “It’s just conversations we have and people so far have loved it.”
The pair hosts rodeo personnel in addition to sharing funny stories and real conversations as they travel up and down the rodeo road.
San Angelo rodeo manager
In 2020, Josh took over the rodeo manager position for the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo.
Throughout the schedule there is a CINCH Chute Out, Extreme Bulls event and PRCA performances, and with all of these events combined in prize money, it would place the event among the top six highest paying events, he explains.
The CINCH Chute Out event by far, will be as close as a spectator can get to the feel of the WNFR and it recently celebrated its 11th year at San Angelo, he notes.
“Overall, the San Angelo team has worked really hard within the last few years,” he says. “We’ve grown the PRCA performance in prize money from the 31st biggest rodeo to the top six.”
“All of this within two years is pretty exciting for this event,” Josh shares. “This rodeo has been one of my favorites long before I took this job as rodeo manager.”
For many who know Josh in the rodeo industry, they commonly know him as Hambone – a name he got when he was a kid.
“When I was a little kid, I was roping in Sidney with a guy whose nickname was Pork Chop,” he explains. “Something happened – I missed a steer or something of the other and he would say, ‘Way to go Hambone.’ And, from that day on, it stuck.”
Down the road, Cervi’s had a guy named Jerry Dorenkamp who was their flankman and “Jerry named a fat, no good bull, Hambone,” he notes.
Later at the Sidney Iowa Championship Rodeo, Hadley Barrett announced the bull they call Hambone and for Josh, this was a very special moment.
“I thought I had just hung the moon when Hadley Barrett at my hometown rodeo said my name over the speakers – it was pretty awesome and from then on, it stuck,” he explains.
Looking forward to the future
Today, Josh lives in San Angelo, Texas with his wife Whitney and son Gus. The rodeo road is far from over for the Iowan-turned Texan.
When asked about what advice he might give to the next generation of rodeo he says, “Be you, don’t try to be someone else,” he says. “Come into your own – don’t try to be Benje, me or someone else – just be your own.
“Come up with your own style, your own stuff and be as original as you can because it is what will get you noticed in a good way,” Josh concludes.
Brittany Gunn is the social media manager and a corresponding writer for Avid Visual Rodeo Photography.