Don't call this band a throwback

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings make timeless, authentic soul

CorrespondentMarch 25, 2011 

  • Who: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, with Countdown Quartet

    When: 8p.m. Saturday

    Where: The Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus, Raleigh

    Cost: $25 in advance, $28 day of show


Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are soulful. They're funky. Their record label, Daptone, puts singles out on vinyl.

But they're not retro.

"I'll be 55 on May 4," Jones says in an interview from Pensacola. "We're not a throwback. I just never stopped."

Jones was a teenager in New York in the late '60s just as soul was taking off in new directions - on the one hand, getting funkier, and on the other, getting poppier. "Things were starting to get synthesized - boop-be-boop-boop," she chirps, emulating the electronic pops and whirs of computerized music.

She took the funky road, marveling at James Brown's performances in their shared hometown of Augusta, Ga. In fact, these days she is often referred to as the Female James Brown, perhaps as a way to help people understand the idea of a band like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings in an era of often over-produced, mechanized music.

The band offers something different. Their fourth and latest album, "I Learned the Hard Way," is full of funky bass, and songs like "The Game Gets Old," part gospel, and part modern R&B, littered with airy backup vocals and epic horn bursts that send the listener back to the early '60s.

And the band's creation story is as authentic as its music, reading like something out of a Motown history. Like Martha Reeves or Marvin Gaye, Jones started her professional career as a session singer.

In the mid '90s, Pure Records owners Gabriel Roth and Philip Lehman asked Jones to sing backup for funk legend Lee Fields. Impressed with what they heard, and Jones' ability to sing all of the parts designated for three singers, Roth and Lehman recorded a solo track, "Switchblade," which was released in 1996.

After several recordings with different bands on different labels, Roth - known as Bosco Mann - formed the Dap-Kings. He is the band's primary songwriter and bass player. In 2002 their first album, "Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings" was released on Roth's label, Brooklyn-based Daptone Records.

The band has toured the world and played with everyone from Al Green to Lou Reed, and the Dap-Kings were the primary session musicians on much of Amy Winehouse's album "Back to Black." Jones has attracted audiences of different ages and backgrounds - many have never seen James Brown perform, or heard Aretha Franklin's "Amazing Grace" album, which Jones calls one of her greatest inspirations.

That's not something the band has made a conscious effort to do, Jones says.

"All we've done is just continue to be true to soul music," he says. "The band is a bunch of young guys - Jewish, Spanish, white guys - all mixed up, and they just love soul music."

As much as Jones is about performing and giving something to the fans, she also can't help jumping off the stage and partying with them, too.

"I love touring so much that the guys have to keep up with me," she says, laughing. "We've got to go home, but I want to hang out. I have to remember, we're working."

Jones talks quickly, laughs easily and is gracious. She says how thankful she is for the chance, late in life, to do what she loves - and get paid for it.

"My inspiration comes from way back," she says. "God gave me a gift. I just felt that, years ago, that I didn't have the look. I was too black, too fat, too short."

It took a half of a lifetime - during which she worked at Rikers Island as a prison guard and drove an armored truck - to find the right band, the right label, and the right moment in music. A time when people have started buying record players, digging through their parents' records, and rediscovering what Jones has known all along: It's got to have soul.

So, being 55 is no big thing. "I'm going to keep doing this as long as I have the strength," she says.

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