Braxton Schuffert, who was an original member of Hank Williams' backing band the Drifting Cowboys, has died.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the musician passed away Friday (April 26) in the hospital following an extended illness. He was 97 years old.

Schuffert may be unknown to many country fans, but he holds an important place in the history of country music. He not only played in Williams' earliest band, but he essentially helped to discover him, as he told the Greenville Advocate in 2012.

The year was 1938, and Schuffert -- a part-time musician who earned his living driving a delivery route for Hormel Meats Company -- made a stop at Lilly Williams’ boarding house in Montgomery, Ala., where he spotted a "boy-sized" guitar. He picked it up and played a couple of songs before continuing his route.

“I heard Miss Williams holler, ‘Hiram, he’s got you beat,’” Schuffert told the Advocate. “And I did. I already had my own band, and I was playing on WSFA from 6 to 6:30 every morning just me and my guitar.”

Schuffert was about to be on his way when he heard something that stopped him in his tracks. “As I was walking out I heard this voice that was just as strong and clear," he recalled. "It was a man’s voice in a boy’s body. Hank was only 15 at the time, but he could sure sing. Even then I knew he had a one-of-a-kind voice.”

He invited the aspiring singer to accompany him on his route the next morning, and soon he was helping him get his start in the music business. He assisted Williams in forming his first band, and it was on Schuffert's WSFA radio show that Williams made his very first radio appearance. Schuffert also played guitar with the young musician on his first auditorium concert at the Ritz Theatre in Greenville, and he continued to play with him for a series of dates all over Alabama and Florida. The pair co-wrote 'Rockin' Chair Daddy.'

Schuffert went on to issue a series of recordings under the name Braxton Shooford, including his own version of 'Rockin' Chair Daddy,' 'A Teardrop on a Rose' and 'If Tears Could Bring You Back.' He served as a pallbearer at Williams' funeral in 1953.

The musician was heavily involved in preserving Williams' legacy, often performing at memorial events to honor his music. He passed his later years back in Prattville, a suburb of Montgomery, where he was recognized by the city for his work a few years ago. He had his own showcase at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, and he visited the museum and sang as recently as February, according to museum manager Beth Petty.

“He had a very good life and was very good to the city of Prattville,” Mayor Bill Gillespie said.

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