By MITCH TALLEY
PHOTOS COURTESY OF T DEAN IMAGES
Donny Hammonds and his band have never been to Germany.
But the Cartersville-based band still enjoyed a No. 1 song in that country in 2020 – a tune written by Hammonds called “Room 258.”
“That was a good feeling,” Hammonds said during a recent phone interview while he was on his way to a show. “I worked with a guy named Tony Black from Blackstone Promotions, and they promote the music and get it out to the world. So we’ve been having our music played in Europe, and we were just featured on a Japan radio station about a month ago. We’ve getting a lot of international airplay now, and the thoughts of packing up and going and playing in Germany have been talked about, but nothing’s final yet.”
While some artists give up their dreams of stardom as they grow older, the 47-year-old Hammonds says since he was a youngster, he’s always had aspirations of becoming a superstar, traveling the world and playing in huge arenas and stadiums.
“I hope I’m not getting too old,” he said, “but I still have those dreams and aspirations and will chase that and follow it.”
In fact, he’s already tasted the limelight to a degree, having performed at the legendary Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the Bluebird Café in downtown Nashville and at the National Nightlife Theater, where he played with members of the touring band for George Jones and Merle Haggard.
“I never get nervous when I play,” he says, “but when I first went up there years ago and got to play at Tootsie’s, I was like, man, I’ve really got to be on my game because this is Nashville, this is where everybody comes to follow their dreams and do their thing. I ended up playing and got a good response, so that was something checked off the bucket list.
“Then I got a spot at the Bluebird Café, which it’s just original music there,” Hammonds says. “I always thought it would be awesome to play there, and then one day it happened for me.”
He credits those accomplishments with just being consistent, working hard and dedicating his life to music.
“People have told me I should just move up there, but unfortunately in Nashville, you don’t get paid for gigs (starting out). It’s tips only and even though you can make some really, really good tips, I kind of like the security of being in the Atlanta area where you know you’re gonna make money at the end of the night.”
One of his current bandmates –Steve Pace – has already enjoyed a taste of the limelight while serving as drummer for ‘80s hair band Krokus. You may remember “Ballroom Blitz” and “Screaming Into the Night,” two of their biggest hits.
“It’s kind of cool playing with Steve because I grew up listening to Krokus,” Hammonds says. “He’s got all these cool stories about touring with people like Ozzy Osborne, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, all the big ‘80s hair bands.”
Along with “fantastic bass player” Paul Arredondo, Hammonds and Pace now play an eclectic mix with a catalog of about 750 songs, ranging from classic country to ‘70s and ‘80s classic rock. “We try to have a big mix of stuff for playing different venues and different age crowds – being able to read the room is important,” Hammonds explains. “That way we’re not just predominantly a Southern rock group or rock or country. We take requests as well and try to engage the crowd, so that makes it fun.”
Music has always been fun for Hammonds, who can trace his love for performing to the times spent watching his uncles James and Gene during their long country music careers that eventually included playing at the Grand Ole Opry and being inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.
Hammonds himself started playing guitar when he was just 12 years old and had already joined his first band a couple of years later with some neighborhood friends.
“Sometimes I played guitar, sometimes I played drums, and sometimes I played bass,” Hammonds recalls. “I had different friends in different bands, and they’d go, ‘Hey, we need a drummer,’ or ‘Hey, we need a bass player.’ That’s kind of what got me to learning some different instruments because I’ve always liked all kinds of instruments and all different genres of music.”
By the time he was 16 or 17, Hammonds had started writing his own original material. “I was like, man, this is cool,” he says, “but then I didn’t have anybody to sing it. So I just started singing myself.”
That eventually led to the formation of the Donny Hammonds Band, which has made a name for itself in this area over the years. “We play at Rocco’s in Jasper, we play at the Sandbar in Hiawassee, we play at Sixes Tavern and Tom’s Place, both in Cartersville, and then we do the Marietta / Kennesaw / Woodstock circuit,” Hammonds says. “We go from Atlanta to Chattanooga, so about a two-hour radius around us. Sometimes we’ll venture out and go to North Carolina or Alabama if the money’s there to be able to compensate, especially with these gas prices.”
The band’s popularity is apparent since Hammonds says they’re already totally booked up with about 200 shows for 2022.
Hammonds has recorded a dozen albums during his career, the first when he was just 19 years old. The band’s music is available in all the usual places like iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, and you can also visit their website at thedonnyhammondsband.com.
Hammonds is also helping other artists realize their dreams through his own studio called The After Dark Studio. “I have produced other bands and artists and have gotten to work with people from American Idol and The Voice,” he says. “Several people from Nashville have also recorded at my studio over the past 25 years.”
Ironically, one of his career highlights didn’t come from his own studio. Instead, a supporter paid for the band to record an album at the legendary RCA Victor Studio A, where stars like Elvis and Dolly have performed over the years.
That project – which included the aforementioned hit single “Room 258” – earned Album of the Year honors in 2021 from the International Singer Songwriters Association. This year, they’ve been nominated for Band of the Year and Single of the Year, with the awards to be presented this summer.
“So, fingers crossed, we’ll win some of those awards because it’s good to have some rewards for the hard work,” Hammonds says. “It helps with booking because a lot of venues ask, what have you done with this? If you say you won Album of the Year or Band of the Year, it kind of helps show that you’re legit and you work hard.”