Rambling Rufus Shoffner earned his nickname from his early hobo days when he hopped a train at the age of 16 from his home in Tazewell (or Harrogate?), TN where he was born in 1916 to go wandering: he led a band called the Blue Yodel Boys in 1939 on WROL Knoxville, Tennessee. His neighbor in Tennessee was Hugh Friar, who had later in the Detroit label Clix two fine and very sought after Rockabilly/Country issues (« I can’t stay mad at you », # 805 for example) . But Shoffner’s constant urge to travel resulted in his roaming across much of the country, hustling in one moneymaking scheme after another, before finally settling down in Monroe, Michigan, reuniting with his siblings in 1950.
He soon formed his Tennessee River Boys, a Bluegrass sounding band with Buster Turner on mandolin/fiddle and Johnny Dacus on fiddle, and they cut their first record for Renown (# 5001) a fortune subsidiary in 1952. « Shotgun wedding » shows the mischievous wittiness often found in Shoffner compositions and soon became a popular record. The flip (actually the A side), a superb harmony duet by Turner and Dacus is an exceptional slowie, « Afraid I’ll lose you », with fine rippling mandolin solos from Buster, who also hailed from Tennessee.
Let’s open a parenthesis in the career of Rufus Shoffner. By 1954, Buster Turner and Johnny Dacus together with Frank Wakefield (mandolin), Doyle Neikirk (banjo) and Speedy Rogers (bass) formed the Pinnacle Mountain Boys, a band in the true Bluegrass style that was becoming popular in the area at this time. In early 1956 they recorded « That old heartbreak express » (Fortune 187), credited to Buster Turner) which reflected the influence of the best in early Rockabilly. An added electric guitarist, possibly Reese Ford, is also present on this record. The band broke up in 1957 when the changing trends put them out of work, except Speedy Rogers who will be heard once more of in this article. We find later Buster Turner on various Michigan labels as Cumberland, Wayside or Valley.
Buster Turner “That old heartbreak express”
Meanwhile Rufus Shoffner had kept his musical activities, as he was present at the Earl & Joyce Songer‘s session held for fortune in 1952 or 53 which gave « At the burlesque show », a risqué song with sly humor which was only issued in 1955 on the compilation « The Tattoed Lady » fortune LP 3001). Shoffner was also frequently speculating in other business ventures while also working in a coin-op business maintaining a whole route of jukeboxes, pinballs andother amusement games. These activities may have caused his break up with Buster Turner but he made contacts in Lexington, KY, who secured the issue of the fantastic bopper (and suggestive) « Got anything good » on the Country Side label (# 101) in late 1954. Speedy Rogers said Craig Maki that these sides had been recorded in Lexington.
Earl & Joyce Songer “At the burlesque show”
Rufus Shoffner “Got anything good”
Rufus Shoffner “Save it! Save it!”
With dynamite steel guitar and the great piano work of Johnny Bach, Shoffner’s song was in the best risqué Detroit tradition and took off immediately. Note should also be made of the fine « Why do you treat me the way that you do » on the flipside. The harmony vocalists are unknown and the song is badly distorted from over-recording, but there is no better weeper to down a beer to than this ! Rufus traveled to Nashville where he successfully pitched his song to Jimmy Martin who recorded it in Bluegrass style for RCA-Victor (as « Save it, save it ! »). A few weeks later, someone else in Nashville heard it and a version came out under the original Got anything good » on Mercury by the duet George (McCormick) and Earl (Aycock).
Jimmy Martin “Save it! save it!”
When the duet formed by Earl Songer and his wife Joyce split in 1955 due to their divorce, her and Rufus Shoffner worked together for a while until both cut around 1959 a first record on Hi-Q (Fortune’s subsidiary) : the great witty lyric about bad luck « It always happens to me » and its bluesy flip « Every little raindrop » (Hi-Q 17), the A-side selling well. The acetate of « Get on the ball » has survived, which is on a par with the Hi-Q issue.
“It always happens to me”
“Get on the ball”
Meanwhile Shoffner opened the Cadillac Club in Toledo, MI around 1958. Later on, he teamed with the bassist Speedy Rogers for the Bluegrass styled « Hillbilly wedding bells”Lovelight » (Hi-Q 19). He reunited with Joyce Songer in 1963 for the rollicking « Orbit twist » (b/w « East and west border ») on his own label American Artists Records (# 7317/8), very sought after nowadays (value of $ 125 to 175). Even in New Orleans Michael Hurt and his Haunting Hearts issued their version on the Allons label (# 4502).
“Hillbilly wedding bells”
Michael Hurtt “Orbit twist”
This 45rpm is the last known Rambling Rufus Shoffner record, However he maintained musical activity, producing on his label Kelly (Speedy) Rogers and Joyce Songer, who cut the novelty « Topless bathing suit » and a remake of « Every raindrop » entitled « Raindrop » in 1964, and 4 years later «Let her roll », backed by the Doyle Niekirk Trio (remember the Pinnacle Mountain Boys from 1956). Shoffner also issued records by Herb Davis and the Southerners (a good Bluegrass « One I love so ») , the True Gospel Trio and the Country Sounds. During the ’60s he played for a while in Nashville before returning to Michigan around 1968 to work with Roy McGinnis and the Sunnysiders, then went back on the road with Jimmy Martin during the ’70s. He passed away in 1993.
Kelly Rogers “Topless bathing suit“
Sources: several notes from bourbonneat Youtube chain ; many facts preciously taken from “Detroit country music» (Mountaineers, Cowboys and Rockabillies) by Craig Maki and Keith Cady (©2013). My warm thanks to both of them. Also was useful Collector 2862 for its notes to « Detroit in the ’50s, vol. 2 ». The vast majority of label shots come from the Net.