Keeping Soul Alive – Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings feel the groove

You can call Sharon Jones the hardest working woman in show business. You can call her a stage sensation. Just don’t call her retro. Jones and her band the Dap-Kings make fine 1960s/1970s-rooted soul music, blending the sounds of Motown, Stax and Philly into an irresistible, timeless mix. For some that makes Jones “retro.”

“People keep saying that,” she said. “I’m telling you what I keep telling everyone. There’s nothing retro about Sharon Jones. I was born in 1956. If I was 20 years old, I might be retro. I’m a soul singer. That’s it. You don’t see me trying to be Beyonce or someone like that. But I can go out and hang with them. I can throw some soul at them.”

And Jones does plenty of throwing down on her new album I Learned the Hard Way, a solid follow-up to her superb and soul-filled 2007 album 100 Days, 100 Nights.

While some of the songs on the new disc were written years ago, all of them were intended for Jones, who has a classic, powerful soul voice.

“Everybody has been writing what they know about me,” she said. “We’ve been together long enough they should know what to write about.”

Jones hooked up with her backing band, the Dap-Kings, over a decade ago. But it took years for her to find her band and make the breakthrough she’s experienced in the last five years.

The Georgia-born Jones learned soul music growing up in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, listening to the radio throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

“We only had a couple radio stations, they were AM,” she said. “They played everything – Stax, Motown, The Beatles, Johnny Cash. They didn’t have all these soft rock, modern rock, house, all of that. For me, it all boils down to R&B, soul, gospel, jazz and blues. That’s all the categories you need, those and pop.”

After graduating from high school, Jones formed a funky party band called Inner Spectrum, but couldn’t get anything going in the disco and rap eras. To make ends meet, she even worked for over a year at New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail.

By the early 1990s, Jones was do-ing house music, but her heart was still in the soul she’d embraced 20 years earlier.

A musician boyfriend took her along to a session he was doing with the Soul Providers, a funk-soul band. She was supposed to be a background singer, but made enough of an impression that she connected with Gabriel Roth, the band’s young bassist.

The Soul Providers became the Dap-Kings. In 2000, Roth founded Daptone Records and began releasing classic soul albums – including four with Jones leading the band.

“I’m just so glad I made that decision to stay with Gabe,” Jones said. “Sometimes you just know. My ex took me there and introduced me to those guys. Everything in life plays a part. Even though he’s one of those men I may sing about, I did get something out of the deal. I can sing about him and smile.”

Jones has nothing but praise for the Dap-Kings, who she loaned to Amy Winehouse for her Grammy-winning Back In Black album and subsequent tour, their vintage sound and approach to making music.

“If we wanted to go into the ‘80s, we could,” she said. “But the main thing is analog and going for that late ‘60s, ‘70s sound. Why do you think Daptones Records is lasting? We do what we do and don’t change.”

She says the music on her albums works because the band is making records the way they should be made, with analog recording and the right frame of mind.

“We go in and we have fun,” Jones said. “We write music, stuff we like. We know our fans like what we do. That’s the attitude you should have. Why are you trying to outdo your damned self? Go out and make good music.”

To promote the new album, Jones made a trip to Austin, Texas in March for the South By Southwest music festival. Her shows there caused a sensation, earning her and the Dap-Kings praise as one of the best acts among the thousands playing there.

At a St. Patrick’s Day show before about 2,000 people, Jones shimmied, shook and kicked so hard that one of her new high heels went flying toward the rhythm section.

That kind of onstage exertion means that she can’t head out for the after parties with the rest of the band following shows.

“I have to say ‘I can’t go out, see you all later,’” she said. “I’m preserving myself. (I’m) 54 and I’m telling you something, living in that bus is hard. Climbing in and out of those heels and dancing, that’s work. They hurt. I get out there giving it everything I’ve got and then I tighten up. I’ve got to get my rest.”

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings will perform Monday, May 17 at the Southgate House, 24 E. Third St., Newport, Kentucky. Tickets are $17 in advance, $20 day of show. Doors open at 8 p.m. Music begins at 9 p.m. For tickets or more information, call (859) 431-2201 or visit www.SouthgateHouse.com

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