Tom Dunnavant

The Dunnavant Family History

... according to Tom

My Dad

How a red neck and a pop singer got together to have a house full of boys.
Part I

My dad was born the only son of my grand parents. My grand parents were the youngest member of large families and when my dad was born, he was pretty much spoiled by the his grand parents. He was very lucky. He grew up in a very small community in extreme northern Limestone county, Alabama, Pettusville; population 57.

But folks would come to "town" to trade and have their horses shod. There had been a hotel in the town but it burned down around 1910. People came to Pettusville to visit the spring that was, and still is down in the hollow. The spring was reported to contain certain minerals and elements that could improve one's heath.

I can't vouch for the mediceinal value of the water, but i can tell you it has a wonderful "sweet" taste. It contains a high iron content and since it comes out of the side of a hill that is laden with limestone, it also has a high limestone content, the consistancy of the water is similar to that of milk, a little on the thick side. But it truely has a good taste.

The community also has a couple of small churches, a blacksmith's shop, a general store, a mill and store. All were still in operation when i was a lad.

My grandfather was a farmer and a barber. Having finsihed the third grade, it was time for him to go to work. So he started cutting hair for the folks that came to the general store and soon opened his own shop about 8 miles away in Elkmont. Elkmont had a population of a couple hundred. It had several stores and a cotton gin but its claim to fame was the fact that the railroad ran thru the middle of it, so Elkmont was sort of the link to the outside...and folks getting off the train wanted a shower, a shave and a hair cut and my grand father took advantage of this need.

Dad was born in 1922. He was name Robert Vernon Dunnavant, and every body called him that except for this next of kin who referred to him as Ibye. Everybody had to have a nick name and his came from his inability to pronounce his name. Ibye was his frist attempt and since he was spoiled the day he was born, Ibye was cute and it stuck.

There wasn't much to do in Pettusville. Folks had to work hard all day just to put in and harvest their crops. My Grand Father told me many times that the ground was so poor that he had to plant three beans in a hill to get them to come up. He said "One would grunt, one would push and the one that was left over would jump out of the ground."

That's my grand father on the far left next to the dog and my dad on the far right holding the mike stand. If you are a big music fan today, you can't help but notice the Steel Doebro being held by a lady on the front row just to the right of my grand father. This gitar is an exact copy of the one on the copy of the famous Dire Straits cds and records, and i let it slip thru my hands. The old yellar dog was owned by the gent setting in the middle of the floor and used the stage name "Smoke Pole". Every band had to have a dog. This picture from The Athens Radio Round Up Gang , 1940..

In the evenings, folks would read by a lantern since there was no electrical power or get out what ever musical instrument they had a make some music. Often they would gather at the barber shop to pick and grin, and eveybody played something, even if it was just a pair of spoons.

My dad would hang out at the barber shop when ever he could. He often rode his pony or bicycle to Elkmont to do just that. And when the picking and grinning started, he was there "introducing" the acts. It stuck. My father and grand father started doing shows for the community and would pass the hat after the show. The would have lots of folks play music or sing and a lot of folks would come to the shows. Now, it is not like they had an awful lot of anything else to do.

As time went on, the TVA strung up some wires and provided the people of north Alabama power for the first time. The same day power made it to Pettusville, my grandfather purchased a refriderator and a radio. There was only one radio station in north Alabama: WMSL in Decatur.

Soon my father and grandfather, passed the hat in Elkmont, Pettusville, Ardmore and Veto with the local merchants to raise the money to buy some time in Decatur on WMSL to put on a local show with local Elkmont talent. Folks liked it and it was not too long later that they were doing weekly shows in Elkmont, Athens, Ardmore and often in Huntsville. The called themselves the Radio Serenaders and even traveled to Nashville to try out for the Grand Ole Opry. They didn't make the cut, but built quite a following in the Tennessee Valley.

LIFE Magazine was the biggest weekly magazine in the country. They did a lot of regular stories. One of the stories was called "LIFE visits...", and every week they would visit a grocery store or a factory or a farm. One day in 1938 they rolled into north alabama and visited WMSL , where my dad was buying and reselling "time" and doing all kinds of shows. One of the shows was what he called The Man on Street. During this show he would pic a topic he had read about in the paper and ask people on the street what they thought about it. A LIFE cameraman took the shot of my dad at age 16 and ran it in the national magazine. Of course everyone read LIFE, and within a few weeks, every radio station in the U.S. was putting an annoucer on the street with a live mike.

Did i say 1939? Yep, WW II just about to crank up. Things began changing pretty fast and my dad went as soon as he was old enough to. He could have gone in a few months earlier, but he needed his parents to sign for him and my grand mama was not about to let my grand father sign anything that would put her baby in the army. Dad got into the army signal corp and then was assigned to radion school. Soon he was in the South Pacific slapping a code key for the U.S. Army Air Corp. He even made it thru the ranks up to the position of Staff Sargent. But he found a way to keep entertaining folks.

The USO didn't make it to the islands my dad was on too often. So Dad took it upon himself to find what ever available talent he could find and provide a little local entertainment. Most of the islands communicated with each other via short wave and the Armed Forces opperated a sort of network to entertain the troops. Dad made his contribution to the network while he wasn't sending coded messages.

My dad never really saw the front lines, until what ever island he was headed to had been pulverized by the army, marines and the navy. By the time he got there, the front line had move forward. Fortuntely for him, he was went home at the end of the war and soon found himself back with my grand father buying time from WMSL, leaving the Athens market to my grandfather and heading north across the Tennessee border to Pulaski, where he carried on pretty much the way he had been with my grand father. I'm glad he made the move because that is where he met my mom. But times were changing.

After the war was a boom time for many industries. Radio was on of them. Television wasn't a threat yet and new radio stations were being built every day. Dad woke up one day to find Pulaski with a local station, so he moved south across the Tennessee river to Decatur and begain working for WMSL full time. He knew it was just a matter of time before someone would be putting a station on the air in Athens and Dad wanted to be the one to do it.

Promotional, autographed picture of my dad he sent to his fans who requested one...Caption on this one..."Best Wishes Always, From your favorite uncle...Uncle Bob

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