Throughout Checkered Career, Songwriter Still Riding on Route 66

From left, Chester Smith, Ron Dunivan and Merle Haggard

For many aspiring musicians and songwriters it’s the same old story: spending your life wanting to make it in the music business and never being able to quite get there, and not being in a position to answer the door when opportunity knocks. Ron Dunivan is one more artist who can tell that story. But he isn’t giving up yet. Dunivan, who lives in Central California these days, spent several years living and recording in the Nashville area before returning to his home on the West Coast. “I recorded three records in Nashville, at a place across the street from the old Country Music Hall of Fame that I can’t remember the name of anymore,” he said. “We used Ronnie Tutt, Elvis Presley’s drummer, on one cut, a player from John Conlee’s band…different players who were in town. I played in bands for a while until I started recording, and then I didn’t do too much of it after that.” Then Dunivan co-wrote and recorded a song called “It’s Hard to Find the Old Road Signs of Old U.S. 66,” a song dedicated to the celebrated highway that disappeared over the decades after the introduction of Interstate highways. The legendary stretch of road ran from Chicago through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California before ending in Los Angeles, and was the inspiration for the iconic 1960s CBS television show Route 66. Dunivan said that Martin Milner, one of the stars of Route 66, endorsed Dunivan’s CD containing the song “It’s Hard to Find the Old Road Signs of Old U.S. 66.” Dunivan said that after the song was used as music for the television show Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, he thought he’d arrived. He said Amazon.com received numerous hits for the song, but he wasn’t in a financial position to be able to provide the product that he had waited so long people for to order. “I was a poor guy who couldn’t deliver when the opportunity presented itself,” he said. Then Dunivan met Chester Smith, an Oklahoma native who had done well in the broadcasting industry in central and northern California, owning various television and radio stations. Smith had also enjoyed a brief recording career on Capitol Records in the 1950s. Smith, a devout Christian, eventually made an album, California Blend, with his good friend Merle Haggard, and received the Pioneer Award from the Christian Country Music Association for his groundbreaking work in the areas of music and broadcasting. Dunivan hoped through his friendship with Chester Smith that he might be able to do something with the song. “Chester set it up for me to meet Merle and his band, the Strangers,” he said. “Chester asked me to come to his TV station in Chico, California where Merle was taping a show. We met and I spent 13 hours in the TV station with Merle and his wife and his band, and we all had lunch together at a restaurant Chester owned.” Alas, nothing came of the association with Haggard or Smith, who died in 2008. So these days Dunivan is still doing everything he can to make his song a hit. Letters he has written to people associated with big-screen soundtracks, from Disney/Pixar to big-time documentary guru Ken Burns, can be found on the Internet. You have to give a guy credit for trying. Dunivan has other material, too. “I recorded a song called ‘Is That All There Is to Livin’’ that I played for Johnny Paycheck on his bus down in Hayward,” he said. “Johnny told me he thought that song would be a hit someday. It was about where the economy was headed, and it turned out to be a pretty true prediction of how things are today.” So, Dunivan is still shopping and pitching his “Route 66” song, which he believes still has hit potential. “I’m looking for a label for that song, and my Gospel songs as well, but that’s like pulling teeth. But whoever picks it up is going to make a tremendous amount of money, because that road was known all over the United States, and the song was heard all over the U.S. and Europe through television.” Dunivan said he’s never heard from Haggard since that initial meeting several years ago, but that he and Haggard are still linked, and not just through their mutual association with Chester Smith. “When I lived in Hendersonville I bought a pair of bi-centennial suspenders that had belonged to (Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw star) Grandpa Jones at the House of Cash,” he said. “Later on I gave them as a gift to Chester, and he said he gave them to Merle; I guess Merle is a Grandpa Jones fan. So I hope Merle still has those suspenders.” Google “Ron Dunivan” to find out more about Dunivan and his music, which is available through several Internet outlets.

1 Comment

  1. If you have a chance to buy one of Rons downloads, or CDs, do yourself a favor. Ron Dunivan is Nashvilles undiscovered superstar.

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