By Ashley Zimmerman
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The king of lover's rock is tired of freezing his ass off.
It's week five of a grueling eight-week North American tour, and Jamaican singer Beres Hammond has absolutely had it with nontropical weather. Detroit was frigid. Toronto was freezing. And if you even get him started on Montreal, all he can muster is that the icy temperature after his raucous two-hour set last week "was totally outrageous." In spite of the biting cold, Hammond seems genuinely surprised that people still come out in droves to hear him sing. His last few shows were all sellouts, including a gig in Toronto that saw nearly 2,000 people turned away at the door for capacity restrictions. Although he's currently on tour with longtime friend Marcia Griffiths of I-Threes fame, the majority are buying tickets to see the man credited with making one of reggae's finest subgenres lover's rock a household name.
"I can't even understand why people are coming outside in this kind of weather," Hammond says before a show in Hartford, Connecticut. "I would imagine people would rather stay in because it's so cold, but they keep turning out." A lot of these die-hard fans are braving the Northern cold because Hammond has a reputation for heating up crowds in a hurry. The sound of his sultry voice has caused many a woman to shimmy out of her panties, midconcert, and hurl them at the stage during his performances. Hammond, at the seasoned age of 51, swears these things rarely happen anymore, but he can't help but laugh at being one of the most adored reggae singers of his generation.
"For me, dealing with those types of situations is not hard it's something that I'm accustomed to," Hammond says while trying not to chuckle. But he appreciates being thrust into this role. "I have respect for ladies, the utmost respect. I appreciate that they like me and they always show me this level of affection, but I don't think I could ever abuse the trust they put in me."
Hammond has spent the better half of the past three decades building a relationship with audiences as a recording artist, and he's partly responsible for helping the more romantic side of Jamaican music become popular. Albums such as 1996's Putting Up Resistanceand Love From a Distanceset the standard for what reggae music sounds like when the lights go out. For the uninitiated, lover's rock is far from the mile-a-minute frenzy of dancehall or the politically charged singing of Bob Marley. This is straight-from-the-gut crooning. It's a distant cousin to the pillow-talk R&B that American singers cough up. And it's often got a wicked one-drop reggae groove underneath it to make it less radio-friendly and more enjoyable. His music has been a conduit of romance for countless couples, and his songwriting is so sensual, he's probably responsible for the conception of more children then he cares to imagine.
Hammond is well-aware that his songs are a powerful bridge but he doesn't want to be patted on the back.
"I don't want to give myself no credit about sitting down and writing songs," Hammond says. "Ideas come when you're on your way to the studio or wherever, and that to me is divine. Words and melodies keep popping up in my head. That's a blessing, and I don't want to take credit for that."
While the humble attitude serves him well, his longtime friend of 30 years Marcia Griffiths thinks he's too modest.
"What I find is that Beres brings out the best in me musically," Griffiths says via telephone. "The songs that he writes for me are things that I want to say and express, and he has the sweetest melodies that I've ever heard. Most of the songs that I've done in the 1980s or the Studio One recordings all came from Beres. It takes him like minutes to complete a song."
Both Hammond and Griffiths were on Penthouse Records around the same time in the '80s, sharing top billing with Buju Banton as the three signature artists that the Jamaican label was promoting at the time. Back then, Hammond had no problem taking Banton under his wing, and mentoring is something he enjoys just as much as singing.
When the conversation turns to his most famous pupil the currently incarcerated singer Jah Cure things get a bit sensitive.
The 27-year-old dancehall sensation has been locked up since 1999 for allegedly raping a young woman at gunpoint in Montego Bay. It was a crime that shocked all of the Caribbean and especially Hammond, who was treating Jah Cure (born Siccaturie Alcock) like an adopted son. Not only was Hammond producing and writing most of the songs that Cure had released up until that point but he was also nurturing the young singer on a personal level and it's difficult for him to talk about the nature of their relationship.
"Well, I've known Jah Cure since he was about 17 years old," Hammond says with a deep sigh. "Sizzla brought him to me. He said, 'Here's my likkle bredren, who has a wicked style but wasn't getting no justice.' So Sizzla figured if he was around me, he could get the training he needed." Hammond eventually took Cure with him on tour first to Europe and then to the United States. Cure's music was just beginning to explode when he was convicted. And you get the sense Hammond feels at fault as if he failed Cure as a mentor.
"I don't know what went wrong along the way," Hammond says. "The only reason he was around me in the first place was for guidance for me to give him that big-brother vibration, and I don't know what went astray."
Hammond insists that he and Cure still maintain a friendship through letters, phone calls, and visits but there's only so much he can do to show his friend support from afar. "He's my brethren," Hammond offers. "I go and visit him down at General Penitentiary and take him things, but right now, there's not much else I can do."
Hammond has plenty of other things to occupy his time. He's touring again and guiding other young singers, something he feels is important. Harmony House Records is set to release an album of his sometime this year, and he's got a stable full of young artists he's currently producing as well. "I'm always around the music," Hammond says. "I never have time for vacation or anything like that. But as long as melodies and words keep coming, which I have no control over, I'm afraid that I'm in this for the long haul."