Beres Hammond's irresistible crooning and haunting melodies have earned him the recognition as Jamaica's greatest practicing singer/songwriter. We are honored to welcome back him back for his third appearance at SNWMF.
In his youth, Beres was profoundly influenced by Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, as well as Jamaican icons Leroy Sibbles, the lead singer for The Heptones, the velvety vocals of Ken Boothe and sweet sounds of Alton Ellis, one of the pioneers of Jamaica's rock steady sound. It was Alton, Beres says, "who reassured me that I should use melody in my style."
"Reggae is my foundation so I give much respect and love to it, but I don't call myself a reggae singer, the Father would never forgive me for that," says the 62 year old singer/songwriter/producer. "I sing what feels good, so any form the music comes in, a hard-core reggae vibe or a little more subtle, you find a rhythm that complements what you are saying. When I started out, I never saw R&B, reggae, ballads, no, I just knew I had a voice and I wanted to make music that fits the voice."
The ninth of ten children, Hugh Beresford Hammond was born in Jamaica's garden parish St. Mary on August 28, 1955. Beres, as a precocious child, made regular trips to Kingston to mingle with the singers who frequented the downtown record shops.
After graduating from high school, he entered several local talent shows including the Merritone Amateur Talent Contest, where reggae stars including vocal trio The Mighty Diamonds, Sugar Minott and the late Jacob 'Killer' Miller also got their starts.
He joined the fusion band Zap Pow as lead singer in 1975 and remained with them for four years, recording the albums Zap Pow (Mango, 1978), and Reggae Rules (Rhino Records, 1980) while simultaneously pursuing solo projects. But, Beres quickly realized he "couldn't serve two masters" and decided to concentrate on his individual efforts.
Beres' 1976 solo album Soul Reggae (Aquarius Records) produced by his friend Willie Lindo sold more than 2,000 copies in Jamaica during the first week of its release. His subsequent single "One Step Ahead", still a favorite among Beres' fans because of his signature impassioned vocals, held the number one spot on the Jamaican charts for three and a half months. Despite the popularity of his music, Beres failed to reap any financial rewards. Frustrated, he dropped out of the music business, then regrouped and formed his own record label/production company, Harmony House, in the early 80s.
Beres' Harmony House debut single "Groovy Little Thing" marked the first time he reaped financial rewards from his music; a succession of hit singles recorded for various Jamaican producers followed including 1987s "What One Dance Can Do" which entered the national charts in England and elicited a spate of answer records including Beres' own "She Loves Me Now." Further acclaim arrived in 1990 when Beres joined forces with his good friend Donovan Germain whose Penthouse Records dominated the Jamaican charts in the early 90s with hits by Buju Banton, Wayne Wonder and others. Donovan asked Beres to record vocals over a rhythm track he had; Beres barely remembered recording "Tempted to Touch" but the song shot to the top of reggae charts around the world, as did the ensuing hits "Is This A Sign," "Respect To You Baby" and "Feeling Lonely", all featured on his Penthouse album A Love Affair.
Beres maintained his presence on the reggae charts as the 1990s progressed so it was inevitable he would attract major label interest. He signed to Elektra Records for whom he released the outstanding CD In Control in 1994. The CD's spectacular R&B flavored single "No Disturb Sign," is still one of Beres' most popular songs. Beres continued to release music on his Harmony House label with distribution through VP Records. He has maintained his hit-making streak well into the 21st century while his incomparable, riveting live performances recruit legions of new fans from 9 to 90 years old.
Beres' heartfelt delivery reinforces his unique perspective on romance, detailing everything from the sly antics of the philandering male on "Double Trouble" to championing the overlooked female on "Show It Off" to celebrating an inevitable relationship in "They Gonna Talk", from his 2001 Grammy nominated album Music Is Life.
But Beres' catalogue is also rife with uplifting anthems for the downtrodden including the 1978 hit "Last War" (heavily sampled in Collie Buddz' 2007 breakthrough hit "Come Around"), the timeless "Putting Up Resistance", the most popular reggae song of 1990/91 and the viscerally empowering "Not Over Until Its Done" from his 2004 release Love Has No Boundaries.
In this inspirational vein, his 2008 release A Moment in Time offers "Picking Up The Pieces", its shimmering, R&B inflected rhythm underscoring a clarion call for peace, as Beres sings: "Pull ourselves together, try to sort it out, gather all peace makers, scattered all about/find a new direction this one ain't working out/ talking to all of those with the clout." The song was inspired by various global maladies from Jamaica's escalating crime rate to the never-ending war in Iraq, as well as the role Beres ideally sees music playing in redirecting our individual actions towards making the world a better place. "When I see so much bad news I say Beres why do you keep singing so much love songs, are they listening or what?" he wondered aloud. "That's what that song is about; every time I try, something else happens. Nevertheless I am still going to try because when I see the smiles on peoples faces as I perform, that gives me strength to keep going"
His 2012 album, One Love, One Life topped the Billboard Reggae Albums chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2013, the Jamaican government awarded him the Order of Jamaica in honor of his "exceptional and dedicated contribution
to the Jamaican music industry."
Beres isn't sure how he has maintained his lyrical freshness, vocal excellence and sonic inspiration over the past forty-three years, but he is not questioning it, either. "I just see myself as one of the instruments who come to do what they do. I don't know what it is but it's working and if its not broken, you don't mend it."