Rufus Payne

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Rufus Payne
Rufus Payne Epitaph.jpg
Rufus Payne was buried in Lincoln Cemetery located in Montgomery, Alabama. This is the marker placed near his final resting place.
Background information
Birth name Rufus Payne
Also known as Tee Tot
Born Unknown
Greenville, Alabama
Origin Montgomery, Alabama, United States
Died March 17, 1939(1939-03-17)
Montgomery, Alabama
Genres Country, blues, gospel
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, musician
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active Unknown
Associated acts Hank Williams, Sr.

Rufus Payne was an early 20th-century American blues musician from Greenville, Alabama who was more widely known by his nickname Tee Tot.

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.[1]

Early life[edit]

Rufus Payne showed the child prodigy Hank Williams Sr. how to improvise chords, which Sr. had apparently been doing since the age of six. Key details of Payne's life are 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 1884 on the Payne Plantation in Sandy Ridge, Lowndes County, Alabama.[2]

Career and influence[edit]

Some say he played the blues alone, others say that he led a little combo that played pop songs and hokum numbers and was a street musician.

Rufus Payne met Hank Williams Sr. when Hank was eight years old and legend has it he would come around and play Hank's guitar. Tee Tot is best known for being a mentor to Hank Williams, Sr. His influence in exposing Williams to blues and other African American influences 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.


Payne died at a charity hospital in Montgomery, Alabama on March 17, 1939. Payne's age upon his death was unknown but it was thought at the time that he was around the age of 55 when he died.[3] Payne is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Montgomery. His gravesite is unknown, but a memorial stands near the entrance to the cemetery, paid for by Hank Williams Jr. and other members of the Grand Ole Opry. [4][5][6]


Hank Williams, Jr. paid tribute to Tee Tot's influence on his father through "The Tee Tot Song" on his Almeria Club album.[7][8]

He was portrayed by actor Rex Ingram in the 1964 Hank Williams biopic Your Cheatin' Heart.