‘It Was About A Show’: Altizer And Gay Receive Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award
LAS VEGAS, NV – Few know entertainment better than Flint Rasmussen.
The PBR’s Official Entertainer since 2006 remembers watching events put on by Bad Company Rodeo and being floored by what founder Mack Altizer had created.
“He had rock’n’roll music, the crowd dancing, clapping along,” Rasmussen said at the PBR Heroes & Legends Celebration at the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa. “And I remember thinking, ‘Man, that would be fun if we could only do that everywhere.’”
Rasmussen turned that same crowd involvement into a storied career, and credits Altizer with that inspiration.
“It was about a show,” Rasmussen said. “It was about entertainment, ahead of his time in giving people in a transition from what rodeo was, to give them what it was, but to transition into something, frankly, that turned into a party that he wanted to invite everybody to. And I envied that, and it was ground-breaking, and he was a trendsetter.”
Altizer was on hand as one of two recipients of the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award, honored along with fellow innovator Neal Gay.
“It’s been a long, hard road, but this is a very great honor,” Altizer said.
Altizer competed in rodeos himself and began to realize that the cost of living was higher than the amount he was able to earn. Thus, Bad Company Rodeo was born in 1981, with the intention of bucking that trend.
The method? Turn the rodeo into an experience.
Noting that the crowd would clap along to music, Bad Company Rodeo decided to incorporate more of it. They named bulls after rock songs, fielding a bull pen that included such classics as Bad to the Bone, Crazy Train, La Bamba, Smooth Criminal, Thunderstruck and many, many more.
Nowadays, no Western sporting event is without the entertainment factor, and Altizer is pleased with the direction Western sports are headed.
“We’ve got a lot of new features and new things happening in rodeo and PBR, and things are looking great,” he said.
He also has a great appreciation for his fellow honoree.
“Neal’s been somebody we looked up to for a long time, and I wish he could’ve been here,” Altizer said. “One of the questions I was asked in the (video) interview was, ‘What do you think Neal thought about the music?’
“And I said, ‘Turn it up!’”
Though Gay wasn’t on hand to accept the award, Sharon Shoulders received it on his behalf. The wife of the award’s namesake, she also had the distinction of competing with Gay for her husband’s affection.
She affectionately dubs Gay “the other woman.”
“Every time Jim got home from a rodeo, Neal would call him and he’d say Jim had to haul down to Mesquite for their rodeo,” Shoulders said. “I wasn’t too happy about that, because I’m home all the time anyway, trying to manage everything, Jim’s gone. And when he gets home, he’s got to go to Mesquite. I wanted him to stay home more. But guess what: didn’t happen.”
Gay and Shoulders had co-founded the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, which would become a Western institution and forever change the way rodeo was consumed by fans around the world.
Gay began his rodeo career as a contestant in 1945, riding bulls, saddle broncs and bareback horses, and wrestling steers. He and Shoulders traveled together as friends and competitors, founding the Mesquite Championship Rodeo in 1958.
“To say that they were close friends was really an understatement,” Sharon Shoulders said. “When they weren’t together, they were on the telephone more than teenagers do texting today. And as they got older, that time just increased. They were on the phone almost daily in Jim’s last years.”
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The pair turned Mesquite into the cream of the crop in the rodeo world, growing from humble beginnings to hosting the likes of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Part of Mesquite’s power was that it aired on television on the east coast. It got so popular that Gay added a performance to the rodeo, running on Friday and Saturday nights for nearly six months a year.
It can now be seen worldwide on cable, a model that PBR has since emulated.
Prior to the Heroes & Legends Celebration, Gay spoke about what an honor it was to be receiving an award named for his old friend.
“Jim Shoulders was my hero,” he said, pausing to wipe his eyes. “He was the best friend I ever had, but he was the best cowboy that ever went to a rodeo. And he was a different kind of a guy. Didn’t everybody like him. I did. I loved him.
“It’s quite an honor to get the Jim Shoulders Award, I’ll tell you that. I probably don’t deserve it but I’m tickled to death I got it.”
For Sharon Shoulders, who has known Gay for 72 years, the feeling is mutual.
“Jim would probably have smart-aleck remarks to make about Neal,” Shoulders said. “But Neal, you know how much I love you, how much I love (your wife) Kay and your family. So you just have to know how happy it makes me to have you receive this award in Jim’s name.”