Shawn Hammonds


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Shawn Hammonds was born to be a country singer-literally.

His father was a drummer who performed at the Grand Ole Opry and toured behind stars like Barbara Fairchild, Connie Smith and Jeannie Seely before finding regional success as a singer. His grandfather was a bluegrass musician who played on package shows with the late, legendary Hawkshaw Hawkins. He was indoctrinated practically from birth with the sounds of Merle Haggard, George Jones, Wynn Stewart and Faron Young. Then again, you don't have to know anything about the Hammonds family tradition to know that Shawn has music in his blood. Just listen to his own music, and you'll know this is a honky-tonker who's hardcore country to the core. "I'm that guy," he says. And that he is.

Cincinnati-born Hammonds wasted no time in taking his musical obsession to the stage. By age 5, he was sitting atop a stack of phone books to play drums behind his old man in nightclubs (well, at least for a couple of songs at a time), and at 8 he won a talent show by singing the somewhat age-inappropriate James Pastell tune "Hell Yes, I Cheated." By 15 he was writing songs and playing drums for dad Frank regularly, and by 18 he had stepped out as a lead singer himself. All along, he had but one destination in mind. "I knew when I was 21 I was moving to Nashville," he recalls. That's just what he did. Hammonds and his then-girlfriend ("the one you always think you're in love with at that age," he wryly notes) cobbled together $2,100 and headed down the highway to Music City. He made his living there as a personal trainer and by teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which he has studied for more than a decade (he earned his black belt in February 2007, and has won several major titles).

He eventually got a regular gig playing on Sunday nights at local songwriters' Mecca the Broken Spoke. As it happens, the house singer on Monday nights was the fellow who would become Hammonds' roommate for two years, a young unknown named Daryle Singletary. "I thought to myself, 'If everybody sings like this damn guy, I might as well go home,'" Hammonds recalls with a chuckle. "Luckily, everybody didn't sing like that guy." Hammonds' luck with roommates continued. After Singletary moved out, steel-guitarist Jay Andrews moved in and got the well-muscled Hammonds a job bodygaurding-and occasionally singing with-his boss, the legendary Johnny Paycheck. "Johnny was my all-time hero, man," Hammonds declares. "Me and him got to be pretty good friends before he died. That was a big thing in my life." Hammonds found further approval from country music royalty when the great Gene Watson recorded one of his songs: "Just in Case," written with Rick Tiger.

Even as he began to find success as a songwriter, Hammonds continued pursuing his singing career-only to see one promising opportunity after another appear, then vanish. "I almost gave up," he admits. "I was getting so aggravated with the politics. A couple of label people said I was 'too country.' I was like, 'Really? Well then, where the hell do I go to get a deal? New York?' That didn't make any sense to me."

But Hammonds and a close friend, another young hopeful named Keith Burns, made a deal: whoever became a star first would give the other a hand up. And when Burns' group Trick Pony became a national success, they introduced Hammonds to their music publisher … who in turn recommended him to the upstart record label Country Thunder, home to the chart-topping group Heartland. Before long, Hammonds had signed on with the company and was hard at work on his debut album. The result of his labors arrives in 2008 sounding not unlike Randy Travis' landmark Storms of Life did in 1986-something as familiar as family, but with a twist of the modern. "I'm hoping people think it's refreshing but traditional," Hammonds figures. "I hope they think it's good, that it's country, but that there's a little something new about it, too."

And he hopes they'll enjoy it enough to keep him making music for a long, long time to come. "Really, I would just like to be able to play music for a living," he says. "I hate it when people say to me, 'Oh, you're gonna be a big star.' A 'star' is just somebody who's done really well in their business." Call him what you will, Shawn Hammonds is ready and eager to demonstrate just how well he can do in this business. "All I ever wanted was a doggone shot," he says. "I always knew that if I got that I'd be happy, because a lot of people don't get a shot at all. And I've got a good shot right now."