Hartley Peavey Reflects on 45 Years, Part 1

By: Lindsey Brown Email
By: Lindsey Brown Email

Peavey Electronics is celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2010. It has come a long way from the late 1960s, when Peavey and a handful of loyal employees were operating in his first factory.

"It's a Cinderella story that probably never should have happened," said company founder Hartley Peavey.

But like the blues and rock 'n roll he fell in love with while growing up in Meridian, Peavey and his company have stood the test of time.

"If I hadn't been so naive, I probably would have never attempted it, because I had no idea what I was getting into," Peavey said.

You see, Peavey wanted to be a rock star. He fell in love with the idea of making music on a trip to see Bo Diddley in Laurel in 1957. The problem was young Hartley just didn't have what it took to play music, but he sure could make the gear.

"With Peavey I started out making rather simple guitar amplifiers," he said.

In fact, Peavey made his first amp, upstairs at his dad's music shop on 22nd Avenue. His father, Mutt Peavey, gave him a loan and Peavey Electronics was born.

Hartley would sell his amps one by one, hardly the manufacturing machine his company is today. But in that simple process, the entrepreneur learned his first lesson of giving people what they want. A dedication to filling a void that put him where he is today.

"I started out making guitar and bass amps, and I went out and tried to sell them," Peavey said. "And I had a little success, but not much. And finally I was in Montgomery. He said, 'I have plenty of amps. I don't need them, but if you had a sound system, that would be really interesting'."

So Peavey took the vendor's advice. Once back in Meridian, he designed a four-channel, 100-watt PA system.

"I put it together, went out and they sold like hotcakes. I said, 'whoa, I'm onto something here'," said Peavey.

And he was right. The last 45 years have been an amazing ride for the man who says he says he always marched to the beat of a different drum. The young boy who wanted to become a rock star did. He operates every day on a world stage. His customers are some of the most respected in the music business. But home base has always been Meridian.

"In 45 years, we've had 13,000 people flow through Peavey," said the company founder. "They have come, earned a living. They have gone on, quit, been fired, gone to other places, but we gave a lot of people opportunities that, frankly, they wouldn't have had."

That is what Hartley Peavey is most proud of today. While Peavey Electronics was created to allow him to do what he calls 'his thing', it has allowed generations to do their thing and thrive here at home.

And like any modern company, Peavey Electronics has had to turn, to some extent, to offshore manufacturing. But Peavey says the goal has always been to keep as many jobs here at home as possible.

"If we were in it just for the money, as a lot of people have implied or accused us of, frankly, we would have just shut down or gone offshore and a lot of my competitors did," Peavey said.

And when it comes to the world economy, Peavey knows better than most the hard realities of the recession. Despite reports pointing to an end in sight, Peavey says we have a long way to go.

But despite the recession, Peavey says the company is involved in more projects than ever before. But still, he says business is tough across the world and here at home. In Part 2, Newscenter 11 looks at what the company is doing to stay ahead of the economy.

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