Rufus "Tot" Payne

Born: 1884 Greenville, AL

Died: Mar. 1939

Payne's nickname of "Tee Tot" is a pun for "teetotaler". It is said that Payne received his nickname because he usually carried a homemade mixture of alcohol and tea wherever he went.

Tee Tot is best known for being a mentor to Hank Williams, Sr.. It was his influence in exposing Williams to blues and other African American influences that helped Williams successfully fuse hillbilly, folk and blues into his own unique style, which in turn expanded and exposed both white and black audiences to the differing sounds. Aside from Williams' own genius, some of the credit for the success of Williams' career has been credited to Tee Tot, who remained largely unknown outside of southern Alabama in his lifetime, but has now been elevated to iconic status by some due to his mentorship of Williams. "As unfashionable as it was to acknowledge the influence of black musicians, Hank later went out of his way to give Payne full credit." Talking to jazz journalist Ralph J. Gleason the following year, he said, "I learned to play the guitar from an old colored man. … I'd give him fifteen cents, or whatever I could get a hold of for the lesson." Hank acknowledged Payne again during his Greenville Homecoming and apparently searched for him, but Payne had died." Lilly Williams, (Hank's mother) says she fed Payne in exchange for Williams' lessons, but memories of him are otherwise vague. Some say he played the blues alone, others say that he led a little combo that played pop songs and hokum numbers. Irene (Hank's sister) said that Payne once came to Lilly's house and told her that Hank was going to get both of them into trouble by following him around, which seems to imply that Hank was quite determined in his pursuit. "More than anything," said Walter McNeil, "I think Tee Tot helped Hank get beyond his shyness, and helped him project himself a little, little more, 'cause Hank was a shy person really. He had to lose that somehow, and I think Tee Tot was a big help to him in doing that." In 1951, Williams told the Montgomery Advertiser that Payne had given him “all the music training I ever had…”

Key details of Payne's life are still a mystery, his date of birth, mother and father are listed on his death certificate as "Unknown". According to Alabama historian Alice Harp, Payne was born around the year of 1884 on the Payne Plantation in Sandy Ridge, Lowndes County, Alabama.

Hank Williams, Jr. paid tribute to Tee Tot's influence on his father through "The Tee Tot Song" on his Almeria Club album.

Payne died at a charity hospital in Montgomery, Alabama on March 17, 1939. The age of Payne upon his death was unknown but it was thought at the time that he was around the age of 55 when he died. Payne is buried at Lincoln Cemetery im Montgomery. His gravesite is unknown, but a memorial stands near the entrance to the cemetery.

Sources: Rufus Payne - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

More info: CMT : News : Hank Williams: The Biography Book Excerpt

Tally Ho!: Rufus Payne's(Tee Tot's) Memorial- He was Hank Williams First Music Teacher

The Cosmic American: Rufus "Tee-Tot" Payne

Articles about Rufus Tee Tot Payne - Los Angeles Times

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