RJRGLEANER Honour Awards | For Entertainment (Lifetime Achievement Award): Beres Hammond - Always 'One Step Ahead'
It seems Beres Hammond has always been at least one step ahead of his audiences, which are all too happy to play musical catch-up whenever they get the chance to see a legend in very friendly flesh perform. It is not that Hammond carries himself with the smugness of a man who only has to sing three words - "I'm so tired", the start of Double Trouble, in a timbre somehow combining resignation, defiance and weariness in the all-too-familiar situation of a man coming home late to his 'rightful yard' with no 'rightful' explanation - to ignite a response already worth half the ticket price.
On the contrary, Hammond projects the personality of a favourite uncle who is on a first-name basis with just about all who know him. Say 'Beres' and one man comes to mind. And his friends - like Tony Rebel when they exchange Fresh Vegetable and Tempted to Touch at Rebel Salute - call him Cudjoe. So being One Step Ahead, the name of one of a clutch of R&B songs he made in the 1970s, means that Beres charts a path and invites those who revel in complete harmony of voice, instruments and lyrics to come along. And from One Step Ahead being released as a single after Beres' Soul Reggae album debut in 1976 to date, when Beres could be singing about his relationship with his listeners when he croons "every time I think of saying goodbye/Everything inside me says it's a lie/So I can't" (No Goodbye, 2008) they have happily followed.
Hammond refers to his audience as family and, coming from him, it does not feel like a public relations stunt. "Me have to call them family, because is them create these things for me. Only family could give me this kind of vibes constantly, so they are family. The love me get, is only family provide them things, no true? " Hammond told The Gleaner shortly after receiving his award.
Place in music lovers' hearts
As Beres told The Gleaner in 2007 about the single One Step Ahead, with Oh I Miss You on the B side, "people love it. Both sides. It shot to number one and could they move it?" Neither has the man from St Mary been moved from his place in the top spot of music lovers' hearts. In the 1970s when roots reggae was ruling the airwaves and dance halls, Hammond said "I was the only one singing like that. It made me stand out more."
After his stint with Zap Pow Band and then R&B solo start, it would be all too easy to slip Beres into the lovers rock niche with the 1980s trio of One Dance, She Loves Me Now and Settling Down, which together tell a tale of man meeting interesting lady, feeling the spark and disappointment. Then there is No Disturb Sign from his 1994 album In Control for major label Elektra, which captures the frustration of a working-class man who wants to spend more quality time with his lady, but is under the control of the relentless work clock. Added to that is the sheer joy of a man wrapped in a lady's arms in I Feel Good from the 2008 VP set A Moment in Time - not least of all because "your perfume isn't loud".
But that would not account for the resilience of Putting Up Resistance ("Sometimes the pressure make me feel like holler/When every sign says no way out/Breaking my back to make an overtime dollar/That just goes from hand to mouth/Still I'm putting up resistance/I'm gonna work it out"). Neither would it give due respect to Beres' encouragement to tread one's own path in Warriors Don't Cry ("So don't watch the crowd/Their duty is to be loud/Believe in what you're doing, feel proud").
It is not a bad outcome for a man who, in the 1970s, beat a hasty retreat to his home parish St Mary when the attention of major labels like Warner was sparked by Soul Reggae. "I went back to country. They had all these plans for me. I said it couldn't be me," Hammond told The Gleaner in 2007.
Returning to Jamaica in 1990 after three years away from the business of music, Hammond did Tempted to Touch for Penthouse Records and was right back in the groove. He connected with younger generation deejays Tony Rebel, Buju Banton and Cutty Ranks, as well as reforged links with his peers like Marcia Griffiths. An entrepreneur at heart, Hammond's own Harmony House studio and label have channelled his work just as he wants it.
His approach to music and life is captured in a statement made to The Gleaner in 2007: "To me a song is a serious part of life. It also makes life, if you ask me."