By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
They died on the same day, and they both sang heartfelt renditions of old-fashioned country music. That’s about all the two men had in common.
George Jones, everyone knew about. He was one of those artists that even young people liked, those who turn up their noses at country music. “Contrarian hip,” the Los Angeles Times called Jones.
He struggled with drink and drugs and women, most famously his former wife Tammy Wynette. When Tammy took away his car keys, George drove the riding lawnmower to the liquor store. They nicknamed him “No Show Jones” because of the concerts he missed.
His life, or much of it, was like his songs – all rheumy-eyed and bone-weary.
The other man, the other singer, was Braxton Schuffert, who you may or may not have heard about. He helped Hank Williams start his first band when Hank was 15 and Braxton 21. Schuffert remained a hero and father figure to Hank all of Hank’s short life. Brack – as his friends called him – ultimately made a career driving a Hormel meat truck, not singing.
Schuffert was a family man in the ultimate sense, turning down Hank’s repeated requests that Brack go on the road to make music. At Hank’s behest, Brack made a record, which was popular, but Schuffert wouldn’t leave his family to go on the road to promote his songs, even at Hank’s insistence.
He still loved music, though. Into his late 90s, Brack was still playing and singing for fun, telling his Hank stories to anyone interested. A heap of us were.
Brack’s life was as straight as an envelope edge, and the music he wrote was mostly religious. At one point, Brack stopped singing Hank songs for a while after a conversion experience.
They are a study in contrasts, Brack and George. I appreciate them both.
I loved how ol’ George could pull a phrase through a shredder then put it back together again on the other side. “We used to drink Blue Nun in Room Number 321, over the river where we weren’t well known …”
And for a singer who didn’t write his own lyrics, George copped some great lines, including those he resisted recording because he thought them too maudlin: “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
All of this brings up that question that gets asked a lot, about artists and writers but most often about musicians. Do you have to live the life you sing about to make it work, to make it authentic? Did Hemingway and Faulkner have to drink to think, does Willie have to roll one to roll on?
And did Hank have to suffer through matrimonial hell to write classics with such believable cold and cheatin’ hearts?
I suspect there’s a link between country music and the thirsty muse. Oh, shoot, I know there is. Sad to say for the artists involved, and there are exceptions. Think Kitty Wells, the singing Church Lady.
But nobody happy and fat is going to sound lean and full of longing, either in print or on stage. If you don’t know heartache, pain, jealousy, distrust or a hangover, nine times out of 10 you aren’t going to sound convincing writing or singing about it.
Brack Schuffert was a good picker, and a terrific and happy man. George Jones was a fierce battle still raging.
To find out more about RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com. She is a syndicated coolumnist who lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.