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. (suite…)
Very few information available on this North Carolina artist. He’d begin in Bluegrass style on Blue Ridge with « There’ll Be No Wedding Bells For Me », the flipside being Honky tonk: « Half Hearted Love » on Blue Ridge 401. Here he delivers a fast number with gospel overtones. His superb voice is well suited to this kind of number and aided by his Mimosa Quartet on backup harmony and a romping piano player.
label courtesy John Burton
Then his second disc, « If I Could Just Make It In », a real stomper of a number on Blue Ridge 202, a label based in North Wilkesboro, N.C.. With a driving beat and some superb guitar and piano behind Joe’s vocal. Joe was a DJ at WMNC, Morganton, some thirty odd miles at the time. He was later to secure a contract with MGM.
North Wilkesboro in far North West of the state
In my opinion (Phillip J. Tricker), one of the great unknowns of Hillbilly music. A piano is always very prominent on his recordings and I wonder if indeed it is Joe who pounds the ivories. The Mimosa Boys are a very tightly knit outfit that sounds like they are been together for a long time. Excellent steel and fiddle (Jim Buchanan ?) provide solid foils to some amazing piano work which is much more powerful than the usual ‘rinky dink’ style usually associated to Hillbilly recordings from this period, 1953. « Hitch-Hikin’ Blues » slows the pace a little but is in own right a very classy Honky tonkin’ side with some lovely work from the fiddle player while the steel player underpins everything well. THE side is « Hillbilly Boy », fast and furious, fantastic piano, short steel & fiddle solo. Both on MGM 11612.
Joe has two unissued sides from this July 1953 session.
He then disappeared completely, which is a real shame!
Flash! I came today (July 21, 2011) on 3 more discs by Joe Franklin. Via the « Starday-Dixie Rockabilly vol 2 » on (UK) Ace, I found he was vocally fronting the Hi-Liters in 1958 for a (probably) Don Pierce production on Mercury. Both sides (« Dance Me To Death » and the unissued-at-the-time « Big Bad Wolf« ) are to be found on Mercury 71342 from 1958.
Strangely Michel Ruppli’s book « The Mercury label » gives the recording location as Universal studio in Chicago. Great rockers, a voice similar to the MGM artist of 5 years before, with again that rollicking piano (some could say a la Little Richard) in the background. The original flipside of « Dance Me To Death » is sung by a Daryl Petty (« Cha Cha Rock« ). « Too Late For Tears » (Daryl Petty, vocal) remains unissued.
Then billed as « Joe Franklin and the Hi-Liters« , he had two more discs between 1959-60 on the Durham, North CarolinaRenown label. They are of far lesser interest. The Renown 113 « Who Put The Pep In The Punch/True Blue » (latter song written by Darryl Petty) is billed as « white vocal group » by 45rpmrecord.com blogsite. Franklin returns to his bluegrass roots with « The Belle Of Tennessee » (Renown 114), although more pop/folk than real Bluegrass. « Swanee River Rock« , the final side, is a sax led instrumental, with again fine piano in the background.
Sources: Boppin’ Hillbilly serie (3 volumes), Youtube, 45rpmrecords.com.
Final note: Mr. David Hill wrote me this message on Feb. 20th, 2012: « I was saddened to hear that Joe Franklin had passed, but I appreciate the info from your site. I have a newspaper article around 1958, Bristol, VA concerning Darrell Petty, who was Joe Franklin’s piano player and his association with Joe, and the sale of Petty’s song A MILLION MILES FROM NOWHERE. I would like to share all my info with those interested. I would like to know what happened to Darrell Petty. Sincerely, David Hill ». So now we know who was the piano player on these discs! In a second message, Mr. Hill sent me scanned the article from « Bristol Herald Courier », which gave more details on Darrell Petty. He had only 9 fingers, having been injured at 10 in a saw mill. The drummer was Mel Taylor, who later went with the Ventures, and another Franklin’s musician was Joe Buchanan (unknown instrument). It seems that anybody lost their trail after 1959-60. Here it is the first ever picture of Darrell Petty, tanks to Mr. Hill.
Flash (Friday, May 25, 2012), the excellent and undefatigable Mr. David Hill sent me a message as follow: « Here are some more photos and info I obtained from Burke County Public Library in Morganton, NC. This was Joe’s hometown. Daryl Petty passed away in the 70’s with cancer. I have been in touch with Joe’s sister. There is a display in the Burke County Museum on Joe and The Hi-Liters. I plan to visit there one day soon. Still bopping, David Hill ». Below are the press snippets of the Morganton, N.C. News Herald he sent me, from the beginning of 1958, also the Joe Franklin obit from 2001. Thanks, Mr. Hill!
Morganton N.C. News Herald, Jan. 21, 1958
Morganton, N.C. News Herald, Jan. 1, 1958
Morganton News Herald, Feb. 27, 1958
Latest news (Jan. 9th, 2013) : message from Jim Buchanan, fiddler/drummer for Joe Franklin (1951-1959)
I was the eleven year old Fiddler/Drummer with Joe Franklin beginning in 1951. I performed on the Ed Sullivan TV Show with Joe and daily live TV Shows at WCYB Channel 5 in Bristol Va.during the early Fifties. If you want to know anything about Darryl Petty, Ray Austin, James Duckworth, Charlie Connley or any other Mimosa Boys/Hi Litersn, ask the only living Member of the Band. I was there a part of it from the beginning. I have Audio recordings of the Mimosa Quartet recorded at WTOE Spruce Pine NC while Joe was a DJ there. I also have all the major news paper articles published during the time that I was with Joe Franklin. The Burke County Museum has the Suit that I wore on the Ed Sullivan Show as well as other articles such as pictures of me while with Mel Tillis performing at President Ronald Reagans inaugural ball in 1980. I left Joe Franklin in 1959 to work with Arthur Smith in Charlotte NC at WBTV. Later into Bluegrass Music with Jim and Jesse and the Virgina Boys WSM in Nashville. Mel Tillis during the 70s and part of the 80s.
David Grisman in San Francisco. George Jones in the 90s till 2008. Now teaching from Home in Franklin TN. Also a recording studio and producing and publishing. Church Band each
Sunday and simi retired from touring with groups. I can now do it my way….. after 60 yrs.
Yours truly, Jim Buchanan – jim email@example.com. Thanks, Mr. Buchanan! Now we know the name of Joe Franklin’s musicians.