Interview With Fred Hammond
Grabbed By The Vertical

I don't think doing interviews is Fred Hammond's favorite thing. But that's okay. If I had to sit down for several hours and be asked the same questions over and over again by different journalists, I'd probably have distaste for them too. Hammond isn't rude or anything like that, he just seems to have other stuff to do. Surely he does. He's in the middle Fred Hammond of the Shout 2000 Tour, beginning his own record label, and in the middle of a launch for his next hot project on Verity Records. Somewhere in the marathon of this day of interviews, it's GospelFlava.com's turn at the mic, and we try hard to cover some different ground as he shares with us what Purpose by Design (see review) is all about.

"It's about God's will for our life. His ultimate goal is His destiny, and in His destiny, He leaves dynasty", says Hammond.

He cautions against getting frustrated on the way to destiny. "A lot of people are concentrating on the journey and getting fooled by it, myself included. The journey comes to tempt your faith. It's like going to the airport. You leave in plenty time to get there, but somebody has an accident. A traffic jam [builds] and now the cars are backed up. You panic. 'I'm going to miss this plane!' And you may miss the plane. But it works out. There's another plane. Keep on moving until it works itself out."

As Christians, we surely concentrate a lot on the missed plane, especially when judging others. Quick to point fingers when someone else falls by the wayside, we often don't consider the totality of what the Lord is working in their lives.

None of us is exempt from the detours or falling, Hammond explains. "It would be nice if I was perfect. I can only think of a couple of people that I feel are just, like, perfect guys. Dr. Myles Munroe [for example] just seems like a perfect man. He just has it together in a lot of areas. But then I know so many men that have it together now, who will tell you [they] didn't always have it together. [That they] struggled through a lot of things until [they] got it right."

This is rather ironic, as there are many that hold some Gospel artists in as high an esteem as Hammond esteems Munroe. They would be shocked to find out that these artists are human too. You can see Hammond shaking his head. "I'm not very comfortable with that. I try and live by the Word and that's my template. I try not to gauge what I do by what other people are doing. I don't care what he did or she did. I judge myself by the Word, and it doesn't line up. Lean a little or a lot, it don't line up."

Fred Hammond What does line up though, is Hammond's musical gifting. Praise and worship meets George Clinton, Stevie Wonder or The Barclays might begin to passably describe it. "That was the music I bought. I played it on my eight-track, my little stereo. Earth, Wind & Fire, Peabo [Bryson], Donnie Hathaway, Roberta Flack, Rick James, Chicago, Average White Band, The Jacksons, Marvin Gaye. I could go on. I kept a library of that. It was a part of me. So my music reflects a lot of that style and flavor. The new stuff is cool for some other folk, but I am from the school of original thought. Really play the chords. Play the real drums, the real bass, the real instruments. And lyrically [my music is] the Gospel. It's not the music anyway."

It’s this fusion of sounds and scripture that has proven to be immensely successful for Hammond. "What works for me is what God told me to do. I could sing 'horizontal' music about God. That's what I call it.... 'you are my brother/sister. Let me reach out and show you the way'... you know, that type of song. But I like to do 'vertical' songs. Songs with words like, 'there is none like You. I could search the world. I could search through eternity and find there is none like You. Lord, You are more precious than silver, more costly than gold, more beautiful than diamonds and nothing I desire compares with You.' That's the music I like. I always want to be lifting Him up and singing about how great God is. That's what He told me to do. He said 'That's where you will find success. Do it in your style. And watch what I do.'”

And what God has done through him is nothing short of a phenomenon. Although Pages of Life has garnered platinum record sales and a plethora of awards, that isn't the point of Hammond's story. The greater accomplishment and calling has been to usher in the experience of praise and worship to a nation of people. Various Gospel artists have touched on it here and there, but Fred Hammond brought in and upholds the torch —our style. But to share it with us, he had to first experience it.

He began his personal passage to praise and worship when a prophecy came forth in a service. "It was a mandate. It was something that God told me to do. A pastor, Michael Pitts, stood up and said to me 'God told you to do praise and worship.' At the time I didn'tFred Hammond really know what praise and worship was. [I knew that] there were certain songs that came easy and moved me. "King of Glory" [was one of those songs]. I wrote that in my basement and everytime I would play it, it would make me dance around. But I didn't know anything about [it being] praise and worship. All I knew is that it made me move toward God. It would literally move me. It would bring tears. So I went on a quest to learn it. I'd pray while listening to tapes I bought and [eventually] gained an understanding. [The Lord told me] this is where my people want to go. In the African-American community we had been singing 'baby needs a new pair of shoes' for so long because that's what we knew. We didn't know what praise and worship was."

And a lot of us still don't know. But if you want to find out, Purpose by Design is surely the vehicle to show you. The dimension is great and the personal element is unmistakable. Hammond finds it in himself to expose the layers of his experience in song, once again. He has a few favorites: "'Give Me A Clean Heart' is one I really love. It's [such] a beautiful song, I cried the whole way writing it. [The words say] 'And I am calling out to you for a strength exchange. I will gladly take your joy for my weakness.' That's my favorite song really. The second chorus I really love, 'And I am worshipping Your great and holy Name. I'm determined to have life with no chains.' I'm determined. I'm done with it. You've got to speak the things that are not as though they were. That's the word of faith."

A slight departure from the typical (if you can call it that) framework of Hammond's music brings us "You Are the Living Word". "I love the style of it", Hammond says. "Most of the music was written by Noel Hall. I had been touring with that thought for like seven months. 'You are the Living Word.' And that was just so powerful to me. I just began to break it down from the greatest thing He was, to the least thing He was. Bread of Heaven sent down from glory, a Holy King, a Carpenter. All those things. Wow! That's a great span. But in the middle of it all is ‘You are the living Word’. You are the Word of God just spoken. You are it! You are Him that came to save us. Fred HammondIt goes on 'Awesome Ruler, Gentle Redeemer'. He is great, yet He cares enough to stick with me, [and] I'm as crazy as they get!"

Following his Spirit of David project, Hammond has found himself the subject of many comparisons to the Old Testament psalmist. Like Hammond, we know David accomplished some great things in his life. However, like most of us, David also had some serious issues. How does Hammond suggest we deal with the infirmity of our humanness? "It's faith. The whole thing is faith. Jesus looked at Peter and said, 'Satan has desired to sift you as wheat, but be easy because I prayed for you.' The thing about it is, He never said 'I prayed that he wouldn't sift you'. He said 'but I prayed for you that your faith would not fail you', meaning you're going to go through! Forget about it, you're going to be crucified! You're going to be crucified by the people around you. You are going to be crucified by your own desires and your own flesh. You're going to be hard on yourself, but just don't let your faith fail you. [He's saying to us] 'I'll always love you. And no matter where you find yourself I'm still there. And when you can see me [like] that…' That comes back to "Give Me a Clean Heart". That's the human frailty song. Those lyrics are me." It is imparting himself in this way that has made Fred Hammond hugely successful, starting from back in the day, with Commissioned.

Blasting on the scene in the early 80's, Commissioned practically reared a generation of Gospel listeners and spawned some of the most noted musicians and producers of today —Gospel and secular alike. The sound was cutting edge and if you pull out some of those earlier Commissioned projects, you will find that production-wise, Commissioned was light years ahead of the pack.

"We changed the world. We didn't get the accolades, but we did change it and that's an awesome gift. I remember the day I 'created' the sound. I was arguing with my engineer. It was one of our first records and he put the background singers way in the back like all the rest of the singers were doing at that time, and he pushed the lead up, and I took the fader and I pushed the backgrounds up. I told him 'Man, we created these nice vocals and we want people to hear them'. Really, I didn't create [the sound]; I actually got it from The Clark Sisters, and gave it a male spin. I basically patterned our group after The Clark Sisters. A lot of people thought [the pattern] was The Winans, but it wasn't. If you listen there’s a distinct difference. We patterned ours after Twinkie, Fred HammondDorinda, Karen, Jackie and Denise. That was it for us! We would listen to it and be like 'Did you hear what Twinkie just did? Did you hear what Karen did?'"

The possibility of a Commissioned reunion is one of those things Hammond is probably asked about way too much, but he dutifully and carefully responds. "At this time, the way I see it is this; this RFC thing is out of control and it is getting bigger and bigger. And this praise and worship thing is getting bigger and bigger. I'm not saying I don't want to do one. I've had many thoughts of doing one, but as long as the Holy Ghost has me move forward, I'll move forward. And when He requires me to move in a different direction, I'll do that. I think in my realness [though], I think that we had a time to do what we had to do, and sometimes you have move forward. The new record of Commissioned is different than what I would do. It's different." (See review.)

And a lot of the difference between Hammond and the rest of the world is his clear charter to do praise and worship. It seems he's been chosen to introduce and nurture a nation to this still-new sub-genre of Gospel. "It feels now that people are starting to get into praise and worship. It's like I'm teaching them what to expect. It's like, 'Lord I appreciate you for hooking me up! I'll teach the people with diligence.' Still, a large part of the urban community is not into the praise and worship scene. They like my music, but they don't know why they enjoy what I do."

When we get the revelation that acknowledging His place as being higher than that of our circumstance, it will really be something. "Praise brings God closer in proximity. It allows you to see Him. Fear puts things in the way to where you can't see God. When you can't see Him, you don't know if He's mad at you, or if He's disappointed or if He's even there. Did He walk away because you did or didn't do this or that? [When you find yourself at a place like that], then there's doubt. Doubt and fear are the opposite of faith. But if you can say 'Great is Thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see' [you can be renewed]."

And the healing comes in being faced with, in realizing your need, "Who needs mercy? People who need help. The perfect person doesn't need mercy. But theFred Hammond person that says 'Lord, I need you every day', that is when God says 'Okay now I'm getting ready to hook you! Now you understand that I'm God and I am a rewarder of those who diligently seek after me and say that they are nothing without me.' Even if you have 52 bazillion dollars in the bank! I talked to a guy who had [a lot of] money who said 'I never needed God, I've always had money.' And I thought, wow! He didn't even understand the grave concept. He was like 'I won't need the money [when I die], I'll be dead. I'm just done and over with.' That's what I mean. It is such a blessing to be in a situation to say and to know I need God.”

And it is finding ourselves in the position of need, and not perfection, that renders us useful to God. And I believe Fred Hammond would tell you that it's in that need, that you ultimately find your purpose.

— interview by Melanie Clark

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