Donnie McCormick and the Fat City Wildcats – Live at the Northside Tavern, Atlanta GA | Album Review

donniemccormickcdDonnie McCormick and the Fat City Wildcats – Live at the Northside Tavern, Atlanta GA

Fat City Records


Purchase CD:


 8 tracks; 37:21 minutes; Suggested

 Styles: Electric Blues, Male Artist Vocals, Americana

The first time I saw Donnie McCormick’s name was early 2008 in the liner notes for Sean Costello’s final studio album, Sean’s only Delta Groove Music CD, We Can Get Together. It was Donnie who co-wrote one of Costello’s biggest tear-jerker songs, “Have You No Shame” which appears on the CD. McCormick is in the studio with Sean to record his song singing background harmony vocals, and he played percussion on an instrument called a “chicken coop” because, it was, well, an actual chicken coop like farmers used to transport chickens to fairs and markets. The coop was embellished with plywood, a cowbell, and various antlers and animal bones. Donnie and his chicken coop are included in “Told Me a Lie” – also on the We Can Get Together album. McCormick performs on one additional song and receives a “thank you” in Sean’s liner notes.

My second encounter with the name Donnie McCormick came while writing a review of 2013’s Skydog – The Duane Allman Retrospective box set. Donnie was a founding member of a Southern Rock band named Eric Quincy Tate, and McCormick was the drummer, vocalist, harmonica player, and, along with Tommy Carlise, principal songwriter. Their song “Comin’ Down” was included in the Allman box set because Duane had added some slide guitar to a demo done during late 1969 recording sessions at Capricorn Studios for their debut album, Eric Quincy Tate. Note: Eric Quincy Tate was not a person, but a band known throughout the southeast US which released several albums.

Now, a third and more definitive chance meeting with stories of Donnie McCormick and his work has, sadly, come after his death in 2009. A 2014 trip to Atlanta by Blues Blast Magazine’s publisher Bob Kieser brought us all more information about some of Sean Costello’s contemporaries, in particular, Donnie McCormick. Always keen to learn more about Sean, who is the namesake for the annual Blues Blast Music Award “Sean Costello Rising Star Award,” Kieser met musician and guitar maker Stephen Talkovich. Stephen explained more about how Donnie McCormick was an inspiration and influence on Costello and countless others. Thankfully, McCormick has friends and fellow musicians keeping his music and memories alive. Many who knew him were in awe of not only his musical artistry but also his amazing creative artistry in paints and other mediums. That devotion was the impetus for finishing and releasing this CD, Live at the Northside Tavern, Atlanta GA, which was recorded in 2007.

By 2007, McCormick was a well-worn veteran of the entire scope of the Southern Rock scene. At this point, Donnie didn’t so much sing the Blues as exude them; the music and local music scene were critical to his being. The notes he “sang” didn’t come from his vocal cords, they were ripped from his gut and tortured through his heart. It would be hard to find someone who sang more convincingly, with more conviction, or more passionately. On this CD and especially on “Have You No Shame,” one gets a deeper understanding of his influence on Sean Costello’s vocal deliveries.

Joining McCormick as members of the Fat City Wildcats are an accomplished group of players who make the CD very entertaining beyond McCormick’s artistry. They are: Stephen Talkovich – electric guitar; Nathan Nelson – vocals and amplified acoustic guitar; Dave Roth – vocals and electric bass; Scott Callison- drums and percussion; Matt Wauchope – electric piano and vocals. (Note: Matt Wauchope was a member of Sean Costello’s 2000 band and appears on his breakout CD, Cuttin’ In.)

Live at the Northside Tavern, Atlanta GA opens with an easy loping cover version of “Let’s Go Into Town.” The song sets the mood for the entire CD which is fervent devotion to music and absolute joy in being out of the house with good friends, making music, enjoying food and cocktails. These songs were recorded at one of the weekly Sunday night jams.

“Undertaker” seems a little eerie in retrospect, but those thoughts are soon dismissed upon hearing McCormick’s lyrics – some quite humorous like, [when I die] “…empty all of my pockets and … pay my tab.” Some lyrics are, also, frankly honest, like “I don’t want no one to see me dead – remember me the way I looked; don’t want no gawkin’ – close my coffin, after my goose is cooked.”

“Have You No Shame” is the set’s standout song for me. The song relates how the protagonist has accidentally seen his woman in the arms of another man under the parking lot lights. This is one of those songs you just know is based on a true story experienced by the writer (Donnie Mac). His vocals are a cross between physically crying and grittily singing. The hurt is simply palpable. The plaintive guitar lines from Nelson and Talkovich complement Donnie’s vocals perfectly. The applause from the audience shows their appreciation for the realness and grief that has just been poured out through song.

“13 Hours on the Highway” is a road song in which Nathan Nelson does a great job on lead vocals. For some fun and giggles, Donnie does his best to convince some comely lass to “Take Off Your Clothes”. More fun is found on the traditional “Busy Bootin’”- again with Nelson on lead vocals.

“Fishbone Joe,” the most poignant song, is a tribute to an actual hobo whose obituary was read by McCormick while he was in “government vacation.” Since he had plenty of time, Donnie created a story about the wandering minstrel. Played mid-tempo with haunting slide guitars, the ode again finds Donnie pouring out vocals like he himself had lived it. Bandmates add touching background harmony vocals, to the audiences delight.

Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome…” is a perfect ending song for one more opportunity for Donnie to sing it like he owned it. To fully appreciate, keep in mind that by 2007, McCormick was “in physical pain and would play every moment as if his existence depended on it” – from the liner notes.

Known mainly to fans and friends in Atlanta and the Southeast, Donald Eugene McCormick has been paid a worthy and fitting tribute with the mastering of tapes and release of this CD. Kudos to Scott Callison and Stephen Talkovich for their loving efforts and resulting highly entertaining CD.

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