STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
Decades after soul and funk music dominated the American music scene, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are at the helm of a revivalist movement recapturing the magic of the late 60’s and 70’s.
Following in the footsteps of funk legends James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ike & Tina Turner and Otis Redding, all personal influences, Jones and the Dap Kings are making their presence known.
“We’ve been around a while. This is what you work for,” says Sharon Jones from her New York City hotel room. “Now is the time. We are getting heard. I’ve worked hard to have people recognize and hear the music that we’re doing. What I’ve done over the last ten years is paying off now. People are finally hearing me.”
Their 2014 Daptone Records release, ”Give The People What They Want,” has earned a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album of the Year.
“I knew if I worked hard enough, good things would come my way. Just be patient,” says Jones. “When God has blessed you and you ask for something, he may not come when you want him, but he’s right on time.”
Initially inspired and commercialized by the African American community, the rebirth of the funk and soul movement has shifted to a predominantly white audience.
“In the 90’s when we started out,” says Jones, “with all the college radio stations, NPR and the college students — people would say, ‘why do you think the black people didn’t take to your music?’ A lot of these young kids, when soul music was coming around, they weren’t even born. They didn’t think about it, and they go underground and they hear some of it. They’re saying, ‘Wow! We like that.’ It took all of that time from the 90’s ‘til now.”
In the decades leading up to the mid-90’s formation of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Jones worked as a back-up singer while performing a variety of jobs, including as a corrections officer at Rikers Island, an armored car guard and a wedding band singer.
“I was doing something that wasn’t me,” recalls Jones. “I was doing something I wasn’t comfortable with. I left the wedding band because I was doing covers. Nothing was me. I was singing and trying to sound like other people, and I did a great job when I did it, but it was time for a change.”
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings released their debut record (“Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings) in 2002 to rave reviews.
Credited for capturing the authenticity of vintage soul, the band spearheaded the burgeoning soul and funk movement and released three more albums, (“Naturally” (2005), “100 Days, 100 Nights” (2007) and “I Learned the Hard Way” (2010) as well as a UK Compilation (”Soul Time” (2011).
In April 2013, Jones was forced to postpone the release of “Give The People What They Want” after being diagnosed with bile duct cancer, which was later changed to stage two pancreatic cancer. Surgery and chemo treatments followed, the last of which was on New Years Eve 2013. One month earlier, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings appeared on a float in the 87th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
Determined to pick-up her career where she had left off, Jones and the Dap-Kings wasted no time. They appeared on the Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, Queen Latifah and Ellen TV shows just days into the New Year.
Jones recalls her return to the concert stage on Feb. 6, 2014 at New York City’s Beacon Theater.
“When I walked on that stage, it was almost like I never left,” recalls Jones. “The audience screamed. I didn’t have all my energy. I always try to give 110 percent. That first gig I was maybe able to give 75 percent, and people didn’t know it. It was therapeutic for me. It strengthened me. My fans were my inspiration. They would come up to me and tell me how I inspired them. They’re my inspiration, and that’s the only reason I’m back so fast. The show must go on.”
Following a year of sold-out concerts throughout the U.S., Jones faced a new health challenge when a small tumor was discovered on her liver following a CT scan. A successful surgery was performed in early January to remove the tumor.
“I’m feeling great and staying positive. I’ve got to keep on fighting,” says Jones. “Nobody knows the nights I’ve been up there in pain or really forced myself to put on that smile. I’ve literally come off the stage and everybody’s going, ‘That was great!’ Those are the times that I go out of body. I go into a trance — out of body, out of mind. I hit the notes. That’s what the audience does for me. The louder they scream, the more they cheer me on, the more I look in their face and they smile — that gets me. That’s my high.”
Fronting a line-up featuring Brian Wolfe (drums), Gabriel Roth (bass), Binky Griptite (guitar), Neal Sugarman (tenor sax), Cochemea Gastelum (bari sax), Dave Guy (trumpet), Joey Crispiano (guitar), Fernando Velez (congas, bongos, misc percussion), Starr Duncan-Lowe (backing vocals), and Saundra Williams (backing vocals), Jones and the Dap-Kings have returned to the road, which will include a date at Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater on Feb. 13.
To experience Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings on stage is so much more than a concert. It’s a revival, and you’re the guest of honor. The band’s energy and the audience participation is an intoxicating blend of good vibrations.
“Everyone feels like I’m singing to them, and that’s what I want,” says Jones. “I want you to feel that. I want that connection. That’s why I do this. I like to see my fans’ faces when I perform. The eye contact is what makes them think, ‘She’s singing to me,’ and I make sure I do that as much as I can. You make them become part of you. That’s how I feed off the energy of my fans, and they feed off of me, and the band feeds off that.”
“Being out there and being compared to some of the great singers and watching my audience grow, now that’s a blessing,” added Jones. “If I can make joy and happiness through my singing and my music and that’s what God blessed me with, then that’s what I do. All I know is that the audiences are getting bigger, and I love it!”
IF YOU GO
What: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Where: Merriam Theater, 250 South Broad St., Philadelphia.
When: Concert is at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13.
Tickets: For tickets call (215) 731-3333 or visit www.kimmelcenter.org
Info.: To stay up to date with Sharon Jones visit www.sharonjonesandthedapkings.com