"I'm 34. I started playing guitar when I was 12, then got in my first band by 13. I started picking up drums, bass guitar, mandolin, piano," Hammonds said, adding he now plays a total of six musical instruments. "I've played guitar in some bands and I've always been a singer. From there I worked my way into several bands. ... I started just playing local clubs around here and everything just kind of went from there."
Following more than 20 years in the music business, the Cartersville native who plays about 200 live shows a year recently released the collection of recordings, which includes the ballad "I Stood Tall," on his own label, After Dark Records.
"People say you can't do this, you can't do that, and that's given me determination and has driven me to show people I can do this," Hammonds said. "'I Stood Tall' is a song about when people are negative, [you have to] be positive, stand tall and in the end you're going to come out."
Breaking into the scene with performances at Tootsie's World Famous Orchard Lounge and The Second Fiddle, both in Nashville, Tenn., Hammonds takes the stage every Wednesday night at Cartersville's Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant, and at local establishments Los Reyes Mexican Restaurant and Game Time Sports Grille West. He also has regular gigs at Swallow at the Hollow in Roswell and Beef O'Brady's in Dallas.
"[Music] is my passion. I'm a 110 percent dedicated to it. It's my life, my job. It's my breath. It's everything," Hammonds said, adding he is an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers-registered songwriter. "I'll do this to the day I die. [Next] I'll pursue a major-label record deal. ... In the meantime, I send my songs in searching for a deal for me as an artist or to have my songs published and recorded by another artist."
Planning a future album, Hammonds said he has about 100 additional songs that have not yet been released.
"Life is my inspiration. I look at life, listen to people talk, see how they react to circumstances," he said. "For instance, a friend of mine, his wife wanted a divorce and he's like, 'OK, if that's what you want.' It bothered him but two months after the divorce, she said, 'I've messed up. I shouldn't have done it,'" Hammonds said. "We were talking about it and I said, 'She should have waited but she jumped the gun,' and right then it clicked and I wrote a song called, 'She Jumped the Gun.'"
Following a divorce of his own and a lull in performing, the father of four prefers to stay off the road and is popular for incorporating children into some of his regional performances. He said the five to 25 children he invites on stage enjoy being a "star for a night."
"I would go to these places and play, I would see all these kids and they would be [acting out] so the parents would get frustrated and leave, like they couldn't enjoy their dinner," he said, adding children "perform" each Wednesday at Los Arcos from 6 to 9 p.m. "I bought small instruments -- guitars, shakers, tambourines -- and I thought I'll bring the kids up and see if I can entertain them while I do my job and the parents can eat and enjoy their food.
"I've developed regular followers by doing that."
Los Arcos Manager Sandro Castaneda said he heard Hammonds play at another restaurant and thought his entertainment would please patrons.
"It's a family restaurant. You can bring your kids and that's fine with Donny," Castaneda said. "He practically involves everybody, and the kids, they follow him."
"I Stood Tall" is available at www.reverbnation.com/donnyhammonds and soon will be available on iTunes and other digital distribution sites. Hammonds' public album release party is set for Oct. 13 at Los Arcos, 966 N. Tennessee St. in Cartersville, from 6 to 9 p.m.