About The Artist
Gordon Braxton Schuffert, to the degree that he is remembered, is usually as a footnote in the career of his legendary friend Hank Williams. The two formed a band about 1937 or 1938 and played as a part-time band throughout central and south Alabama and on Montgomery radio until about 1946.
Williams eventually went on his own and achieved great fame, but a relatively short troubled life while Schuffert contented himself to remain in Alabama, work a day job and earn wide respect among family, friends and neighbors although largely unknown to the wider world.
Schuffert played on local radio in Montgomery, both before and after his association with Williams. He and Hank had started the Drifting Cowboys and worked together. Around 1937 or 1938, Hank formed the Drifting Cowboys band. It included Braxton on guitar; Freddie Breech on fiddle; and, comedian, Smith (Hezzy) Adair. The group may also have included a 13-year old steel guitar player by the name of James E. Porter. For a time they were billed as "Hank and Hezzy's Drifting Cowboys." The name Hezzy was seen spelled as Hezzey and Hezzie resulting in different search results. It may be coincidence, but one search result showed Hank and Hezzy in Poughkeepsie, New York and were on WGNO in Middletown, NY one Saturday afternoon. Another short mention in a New York newspaper at Germania Singing society amateur show. It mentioned that Billy Watson acted as emcee for "...at an amateur show staged by performers in his own outfit. It mentions among the 'others' taking part were "Hank and Hezzy, hillbillies."
Williams often urged Brax to go on the road as a band member, but it never happened. Instead, he worked for 41 years as a truck driver for Hormel Meats. He also joined a Masonic Lodge and somewhat later was a longtime member of Trinity Memorial Baptist Church.
Hank did secure him a contract with MGM records which lasted through one session of four songs in January 1950. At the time, Hank was on the Opry. He arranged an audition with Frank Rose of MGM for Braxton. Braxton then recorded two tunes that were written by Hank ("Why Should I Cry" and "A Teardrop On A Rose") and one by written by Jack Anglin, Johnny Wright and Jim Anglin, "If Tears Would Bring You Back." But Rose wanted one more tune to record. Hank sat down with Braxton and wrote lyrics for a tune that Brax had composed. That tune was "Rockin' Chair Daddy." Braxton recalls that Hank told him that it would be his bread and butter song. Hank was right - Braxton says he was still getting royalties from that song after 43 years in a 1993 interview. The Sadly, the records were released under the surname "Shooford." Three of the numbers were either written or co-written by Williams.
In 1953, Braxton was a guest on WCOV-TV's "Bar 20 Barn Dance" that was on Saturday nights from 7:00pm to 7:00pm and was said to be one of the oldest studio programs for the station at the time. The emcee was Walter Spiro. The music was provided by Alvin Gregory and the Southern Pals Band. In addition to Braxton, other guest performers were the Blackwood Brothers Quartet; the Lefever Trio; The Chuck Wagon Gang; The Harmoneers Quartet; Kitty Mann; and, Buddy Hawk.
When Chet Flippo's biography of Hank came out (Your Cheatin' Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams), writer W. R. Plumlee in his review told readers it was hard to understand or explain how a man with Hank's talent could succeed without friends. He said that Hank seemed to have three. First was Rufus Payne (known as Tee-To), a black blues singer who taught Hank to play the guitar. Second was Braxton Schuffert who helped Hank get on the radio on Braxton's program over WSFA. Third was a priest at one of the institutions where Hank would go to deal with his alcohol and drug issues; he was said to be the only many that Hank could talk to openly and without arrogance. But in the end, at a time Hank needed help, Tee Tot had been forgotten; Braxton had given up playing the Saturday night bar gigs and when Hank went to see the priest, he was gone, too.
In later years, Braxton would take part in the celebrations surrounding Hank Williams week in Alabama. In 1984, Braxton and his wife Ola ended the short ceremony where Hank and Audrey were buried singing "I Saw The Light."
In a 1984 article, Nick Lackeos quoted Braxton: "I knew Hank back when he was 15 or 16 and he used to ride with me when I drove a meat truck for Hormel.
At the age of 70, he was still writing songs. The song was for a politician who was running for lieutenant governor in 1986. Part of his effort stemmed from the fact he thought they wrongly convicted her of using her office of the state Treasurer for personal financial gain. Braxton felt the had been convicted on circumstantial evidence. It perhaps helped that his wife, Ola Frances was Melba Till Allen's cousin. Braxton was quoted by Scottie Forrester, "You've got to write it when it comes to you. When it does, you can get one word right after another." A sample of the verses he wrote:
Melba, Melba, where have you been?
She lost the election to Jim Folsom Jr. She passed away from cancer in October 1989.
For a time after he joined the Baptist Church, Brax stopped singing Williams' secular numbers as being too worldly. However, he later changed his mind and into his nineties still sang at annual reunion programs held each New Year's Day in Montgomery as late as 2012.
When he passed on several months later, columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson pointed out that the musician who in many ways shared many of Hank's habits — good and bad — George Jones, died the same day, April 26, 2013.
Credits & Sources
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