Hammer Down Hard’s Lonnie Hammer
By Jay Oakley
Well, first off, I need to thank you and I need to thank Kim (Allegrezza) for allowing me this opportunity, I appreciate it.
Man, it’s totally my pleasure. It’s been a busy ass day for me so the attraction is to wind down and have a good conversation with you.
Absolutely. Well, Hammer Down Hard, it’s out and before we get into the details of the record, how’s the reception been? How’s the press been and how have the fans reacted to it?
I’m totally honored that so many people have given such great feedback on it. I’m just amazed. When you’re an artist and you’re writing songs, every song is your baby, you believe in it and then you put it out there and people are like, “Eh.” I’ve done so many records, this is my seventeenth record and I put it out there and people are like, “Wow! Wow, is that you singing?” Honestly, it’s starting to gain a lot of traction. It’s continuously snowballing into something bigger. My social media stuff has been going fantastic. Put it this way, when you’re an artist and I know you’re an artist too, but when you write something and to actually have people play it in their car all the time and keep it in their main CDs or the main music they listen to all the time, that’s what we’re in business for. What more could you ask for? I’m happy with that but it just seems like this big steamroller is going through here and rock and roll is alive and well, my friend.
It sure is. You’re so right because it’s a different kind of level when you get that feedback or somebody tells you how they appreciate it or what they really like about it and the fact that it’s out there. It’s really, really cool.
It’s very important. One thing I noticed, things have changed for me because I’ve been a drummer my whole life and this was the first time I became a front man, lead vocalist and stuff like that, writing lyrics and it’s amazing. My whole life I’ve read articles about all these great writers and stuff like that and they’ve said on certain songs you get the response from people saying, “Hey, I can relate to that.” When somebody tells you that it makes you feel so good in your soul. It’s hard too because when I was writing a record, all my lyrics and stuff like that, it was weird because I honestly wrote from the heart and my soul and I don’t know where it came from. The music industry is such a tough business as it is and going through that and a lot of my lyrics are about that on an empowering kind of thing, like take the world on. It’s you against the world and you’ve got to really just grab the world and make it your own. Don’t sit back and whine and go, “Well, poor, sad me.” And this and that. I never liked writing songs, like on this record, about chicks and sleaze, I just don’t think that’s cool, I just don’t get it. It’s not real life for me, I respect everybody and I just want, when people to listen to my record, Total Annihilation, I want them to go, “Ya know what? I’m going to take on the world. I’m going to be something better than I am.” Tomorrow, the next day and the next day and just keep climbing and climbing and climbing and that’s what I want people to get out of it and that’s all you can ask.
When it came to how you titled your record, what was your inspiration behind something like that because it’s a pretty aggressive title?
It really is and the cool part about it was when I named the band Hammer Down Hard, I had come up with that name back in 2017 and I love the name. Hammer Down is actually coined from back when they used to do carpet bombing back in the wars. It’s an annihilation of everything, burn everything up, take no prisoners, if it’s there you then destroy it. That’s what Hammer Down means. My whole life has been nothing but Hammer Down Hard. Everything I’ve ever done, I go 100% and I push, push, push. I was talking to my manager Kim (Allegrezza) and we were discussing album titles, we were sitting around talking about it and I brought that point up and I said, “Ya know, that’s what Hammer Down means.” And she said, “Yeah, annihilation.” And I said, “Yeah, I like that word but it’s a total annihilation.” And we both right there said, “That’s it!” So, that’s the title of the record and I actually wrote the song, “Total Annihilation,” from that conversation I had with Kim. It’s just so cool when you’re writing stuff like that, I don’t want to take any prisoners, I just want to do the best I can do and just be who I am. But anyways, Total Annihilation, I love the title of the record and it works well for me.
When you look at this record and Hammer Down Hard being a “Lonnie Hammer Project,” what would you say about your previous musical experiences, whether that was time you spent with Black Oak Arkansas, Jack Russell’s Great White, Every Mother’s Nightmare, Chosen or others that led to things you kept in mind for this record or did everything work on a progression for you?
I think everything worked for me from life experience. When I’m writing, everything on the record is true other then the song “Killing Time” which I had wrote about a serial killer, like a stalker kind of deal. [Laughs] As a matter of fact, Justin (Rimer,) the producer, when we recorded the whole record, that was one of the last songs we recorded vocals on and he turns to me because he knew everything I had written was pretty much from the heart and he goes, “This one isn’t true, is it?” and I said, “No.” [Laughs] But, I speak for myself; everything I wrote is from the heart and life experiences. Good, some are great, some are bad but the thing is I’m using those experiences in my life to make me a better person. I’m in Orlando, Florida right now and I expect to wake up tomorrow being a better person and strive harder and accomplish more and that’s where I come from. I just want to keep striving.
When it comes to performing these songs live, in putting together a band to do your record justice will that include you playing live or will you have a drummer to hold down the kit while you’re fronting the band?
Actually, I already have a great band. I recorded this record with Justin Rimer (12 Stones) from Cross Trax Studios, he and I wrote the record together, just he and I and we had all these guest players play on it. But, when the record was finally recorded, I had booked a show, I booked Rockfest and it was Hammer Down Hard, Autograph, Skid Row and Ace Frehley and we only had like three weeks to put this band together. So, I just reached out to these musicians I thought were great and a couple of them were actually good friends of mine but the other ones I really didn’t know personally but I respected what they were and they’re fantastic musicians. So, I reached out to them and they said, “Let’s do it.”
I am the front man so I am singing the lead vocals, I’ve got a phenomenal drummer named Chris Cook, he plays with Medieval Steel too, they do a lot of European stuff and I’ve got, my good friend, Billy Little from Black Oak Arkansas and I’ve known him forever. We’re from the Memphis area so he played in many different bands, I played in many different bands, we used to do a lot of shows together but he was actually one of the first friends I made here when I moved down to Memphis, Tennessee. A phenomenal bass player, Billy is. One of the best, he can do anything. I’ve got Randall X Rawlings who’s the most diligent, hardworking musician. When you ask him to do something he always steps up. He does his schoolwork and he’s just on top of his game. But, he played with Sebastian Bach and he’s such a talent. I’ve got Donnie Wayne Smith from Winger, he plays the lead and rhythm guitar too and he’s the only one that’s actually in the live band who played on the record. He does the lead guitar solo on “Total Annihilation” and “Wakefield” and “Christine” but he’s a phenomenal guitar player and I didn’t set out to get this phenomenal band, it just happened. And, how lucky am I?
Oh, absolutely, man. You had all these amazing players just on the record alone. Zach Myers from Shinedown, Wayne Swinny from Saliva, Tony Montana and I assume that goes back to your work with Jack Russell? All this amazing talent that got to work with you.
Absolutely. I played with Tony in Jack Russell’s Great White and he actually plays the guitar solo on “Fox On The Run” and it’s burning. That guitar solo is just burning, he nailed it. He brought out the essence of the song. He came in and he made his solo just burn and it’s perfect for it. Zach plays guitar on “Who I Am.” We got Brian (Quinn) from Candlebox, he plays the lead guitar solo on “Killing Time” and we got Lou Kouvaris, he’s from the band Riot, which is from Long Island and was one of the bands that influenced The Big Four. He plays on a song called “Conquer And Divide” and I remember when Justin got the tracks from Lou he was like, “That dude can play! There’s just something about him.” [Laughs] Wayne and I go way back for many, many, many years and that guy is just a super strong cat. Love him to death. We’ve just got a lot of great things going on and I’m extremely happy with the record.
How do you look back at the record now that it’s out? In the simplest form, you put out this record after doing all of the writing and all of the vocals. Does that put you in a different headspace then when you would write and do records with previous projects?
Absolutely because when you start writing lyrics you dip into your soul. I didn’t hide anything and a funny thing too is I didn’t do any swearing or cursing on the record. You can ask my manager Kim, I swear quite a bit but on the record it didn’t need that, I didn’t think it needed that. I’m just relieved. When we were writing the record, when Justin and I were writing the record, you never know what the response will be but after the first month that it came out, people were really digging it. My confidence level is up but I’ll say, let the music do the work and everything else follows and we’re slowly gaining steam and things are moving in an upward direction. But mainly, I’m just relieved. That’s all I can say is I’m just relieved that the response has been really exceptional.
You touched on the music industry earlier. How do you feel about social media? Do you think all the various media outlets have helped you?
That’s like a two-edged sword. It’s great, the internet’s great and the digital stuff is great because you can get your format out there because back in the day, to earn friends and fans, you had to be in front of them night after night whether you were playing a venue with twenty people in there but now with all the social media you have a vast audience. It does make a difference because it is easier. Right now, I could go online and recruit some new friends and stuff like that but the down side of it is with the digital stuff people can listen to your stuff for free, whether I like it or not. If anybody cuts a record it’s up on YouTube. But, the only thing I can say is if you like rock and roll, not just Hammer Down Hard, but I don’t care what kind of music any type of person likes, whether it be country, rap or whatever but if you like that artist, I say, invest into them. It’s not just about buying the record. If you like the record they just did, if you buy it you’re investing into them putting another record out and if you’re not buying the stuff, these bands are going to go away and that’s the way I look at it. It’s not like you’re buying the song “Bloodshot Eyes” from Hammer Down Hard, you’re not buying that song, you’re investing into Hammer Down Hard producing another record or some more music that might make you feel well. The social media’s fantastic and you can gain a lot of friends and fans that way but it just comes down to the music.
Lonnie, talk a little bit about the upcoming year as we creep towards the end of 2018 and into 2019. What do you have coming up and what we have to look forward to? If you have anything you’re able to announce we’d love to know about it.
Yeah, I’ve got a lot of stuff in the works, Kim does also. The biggest thing is we’re working on a music video, so we’re getting that finished up. I used to play in a band called Black Oak Arkansas, legendary band and I cut ties with them. The way I look at it, I’m building my house over here. I’ve got the foundation down and Black Oak Arkansas and their building their house up over here, they’re remodeling it and I’ll always be a part of that. I was spending a lot of time remodeling their house and I just decided that I have to spend time and build my castle. That’s the beginning of 2019; I left Black Oak Arkansas so I can completely focus on Hammer Down Hard. Right now, we’re working on some tour dates and that’s why I’m down here now too. Last night, I was working on some shows that are going to be happening in Alabama. When I’m down here in Florida, I’m working on some stuff. I’m actually going to meet with some promoters and make things happen. But, we’re jumping in and trying to make this tour happen and get this tour kicking because I want to get out there and the guys in the band want to get out there and hit the road hard. Look, I live to play and for me it’s going to be so much more fun because I’m doing something completely different then I’ve ever done before so that’s exciting in itself. But, we’re working on playing out and touring in 2019. All we want to do is bust some balls. I want to break a sweat and make people scream.
You’re going to have the best ability over anyone to make people scream because now you’re right out in the front and center.
Yes, man. Hey, I’ll tell you what, not many people can start off records like, “Don’t piss me off.” That’s my life, don’t piss me off, just go slow with it, let’s band together and let’s make this thing happen because rock and roll is actually on the upswing. The hard rock thing is on the upswing. I think people are getting really tired of the pop, smoothed out, polished stuff that’s out there. I don’t like pop music, I never really have. I mean, there are some songs I like but that’s all you see but I think people are over it. I think people are done, the hardcore, hardworking, blue collar workers and stuff like that, music is supposed to be a release of aggression and emotion. A lot of the new pop music or all of the pop music for many years, they don’t let you vent, it’s not about venting, it’s talking about crap that doesn’t even matter to me.
Oh yeah, absolutely. But, that’s also something really cool about the record. Where else are you going to get a record that opens up with a lyric that says, “Don’t piss me off” and closes with a song about serial killers?
[Laughs] Exactly! Now you’re talking. It’s perfect and I’m just so happy that the record turned out the way it did. Look, I took a major gamble. This shows that my manager Kim believed in me this much. When I signed with her, I was a drummer in another band and the guys wanted to know why I needed a manager. Well, it’s because I wanted to do more than just what we were doing. I just felt that I needed more. I wanted to get into magazines and I wanted more. Once I got kicked out of EMN, which was the best thing to ever happen to me, I needed to regroup a little bit and I told her that I booked this rock fest. I called up the promoter and said, “I want to play the Rockfest. Give me a slot.” He said, “For what?” and I said, “I’ve got a new band called Hammer Down Hard.” He told me to send him a request that I wanted to play it and I did. Look dude, I didn’t even have one song written, I didn’t have any members in the band, nothing. All I had was the name of a band called Hammer Down Hard, that’s all I had and I booked that on name alone and merit. So, I call up Kim and say, “Hey, I just booked Rockfest.” It was ten months later, I booked us Rockfest and she’s like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She told me I didn’t have a band, she told me I didn’t have and songs and then I told her that I was going to sing too. She’d never heard me sing before. I was a drummer, she knew I could play drums but when I said I was going to be the singer she said, “OK, we can do this.” Now, that’s faith and believing in somebody. She knew my work ethic and she felt that by hell or high water I would try to make it work. She said that was the best investment she ever made. By the way, she’s pretty expensive too but she’s worth every penny. She’s got the chops for getting out there and making things happen for the band and she’s a very, very, very big part of everything going on.
Hey man, you pay for quality.
Exactly. Look, I’ve got a great team of people behind me. I’ve got a great band and pinch me. I’m very fortunate and I’m very appreciative of what I do have.
But, that’s the one that’s so exciting about this project and so exciting for you. You’ve got this great back catalog with all these accolades but you now have a team that’s backing you on a project that’s completely yours. But, it’s so fun getting to rap with you about this project knowing that it’s so yours and so new and it’s so exciting and you can hear the excitement in your voice.
Yeah, thank you. Thank you. That’s awesome for you to say and I thank you for acknowledging that. I am, I’m just really passionate of this band and this record. We wrote and recorded all the tracks in seven to eight weeks and the record was out within two or three months from writing the first song. I had to come up with a lot of things. I’d wake up every morning with bed sweats just worried about everything and I had that show coming up. But, the best thing I ever did was book that show because if I hadn’t done that we wouldn’t have pushed ourselves that hard. I couldn’t play the show because I had no songs so I had to write songs. Then I had these songs but I didn’t have a band, I had to go find a band. So, I was poking it out looking for musicians and not one of them said no. They said, “Sign me up. Let’s go do it.” Like I said before, how lucky am I? But, I try to make luck.
Sometimes that’s just the way to do it. Just put your head down and grind. Just grind it out. Good things come to those who wait but you’re not really a sit around and wait kind of guy. You’re a get out there and take it kind of guy.
Man, that means a lot hearing that from you. Thank you so much.
Lonnie, this has been a whole lot of fun. I really have enjoyed talking to you. Look, I can design an interview to get information out there and try to design questions that I think the fans want to hear but all that really matters and boils down to is how you feel about your interview and that you felt respected by this.
You’re spot on awesome. I loved every minute of this conversation. You’re awesome. But, I’ve got one question for you. What’s your favorite song on Total Annihilation?
I actually have two. I really liked “Total Annihilation” because I often react to the openings of records. I love the opening lyrics. So, I really dig on that but one of the songs I really connected with a lot was “Bloodshot Eyes.”
I loved the way it was written. There are certain lyrics like”My heart has pounded” and “Maybe I just push too much.” But, where it says “I won’t leave you hanging” because that allowed the song to connect with me deeper. I’d been going through a rocky relationship with a lady friend of mine. We didn’t have anything going on officially but I think there was definitely a disconnect where the two of us didn’t quite understand where the other person’s coming from. So, when I would listen to the song and let it rattle around in my brain there were lyrics like what I described that had me saying, “I can feel that, I’m dealing with that right now.”
Absolutely. “Your fate, Don’t hesitate, Never underestimate.” Your fate is fate and what’s going to happens going to happen. Don’t hesitate, let it happen. Never underestimate because the things that you think might not work are going to happen. So, whatever you believe in your heart, it’ll happen. Just sometimes, you have to be patient.
For sure, it’s one of those things. I take life very seriously and try to live every moment that I can and I think that’s another reason why this turned out to be such a cool experience.
Thank you so much, it means a lot to me. Great conversation and when I come up there we’re definitely going to hangout, have a drink or two or have a good meal. It’s going to be coming sooner rather than later, I promise you.
I look forward to it. We’ll sit down and have some fun. Again, thank you so much, Lonnie. I appreciate the opportunity and I appreciate your time.
Awesome and I’ll talk to you soon, my friend.