Interview by Matt Bauer
When Fred Hammond’s Vintage Tour hits Shea’s this Friday, March 22, the legendary Dove, Stellar and Grammy winning Gospel artist will take audiences on a trip through the last 35 years of his prodigious and ground-breaking career.
Speaking to The Challenger via phone from California, the singer, bassist and producer explains the inspiration behind the tour was rooted in fan requests for his classic material and that the time was right for a celebration of his trailblazing artistry including his membership in Commissioned, his musical group Radical for Christ and his solo work which has sold millions of copies and helped redefine Gospel music while re-introducing it to new generations of fans.
“It seems like I’ve reached a stage that I could be like Frankie Beverly,” he says of the current juncture of his career. “Every time they hear [the classic songs] they have so much power and potential that we just want to dance to the melodies. It’s almost like they don’t want to hear anything new. Every time I go back to the body of work that’s in the past is what they love because they remember what feeling they had. So I’m just going to do that. I’m going to go and give them a tour that’s every old song I’ve done that people like. So that’s about 20 or 25 songs.”
The set will, no doubt, include selections from Commissioned– which featured Hammond, Marvin Sapp and Keith Staten and had huge crossover success during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hammond explains that with their dressed-down image and innovative urban contemporary grooves, Commissioned influenced Tank, Jamie Foxx, Eric Roberson and Snoop Dogg, among many other artists and producers who were in their formative years during the band’s height. Or as many artists and fans have been known to tell him, “Y’all made Gospel cool.”
Hammond further crafted his indelible fusion of the spirit of traditional Gospel with the rhythms of streetwise R&B with Radical For Christ on albums like “Pages Of Life” and tracks like “Oh Zion,” among others. “When I was listening to “Pages Of Life” there was nothing like it at the time and I was starting this choir and I had no clue,” he confesses. “I created stuff with a strong R&B influence. One of the songs, “Oh Zion” had an R&B beat to it taken from my cousins The DeBarge‘s “I Like It” That’s a vibe Hammond feels is missing from the current African-American Gospel scene which he says has incorporated elements from White contemporaries such as Casting Crowns and artists affiliated with the Hillsong Church, that fail to resonate with the Black Church. “We’ve lost the beat in Church that people still want to hear. In praise and worship, the vibe, the rhythm and the soul of the music has kind of gone away and people in the audience are just kind of going with it.
With the Black culture we’re descended from Africans. We’re Americans but we still have that thing inside of us that says the drum. And we’ve gotten away from that.”
Now an independent artist liberated from the politics of the record business, Hammond continues his musical mission of soulful Gospel having released “Uncle Fred-Texture of a Man” last year, an album whose production and release he totally controlled.
Hammond is currently readying a new single entitled “Tell Me Where It Hurts” that’s to be released within the next two weeks and which he describes as a game changer since it addresses human trafficking and will be accompanied by an equally gripping video.