Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings will play Friday, September 17th at Busters. Earlier this week, she took a break from her spot "on a lake fishing in New Jersey," to answer a few questions.
Her voice takes us back to the old soul music, yet keeps it fresh. Asked about influences, she says, "the retro is someone who tries to sing and sound like someone. With me, I don’t. Whatever the music sounds like, I’ll sing it. I might sing a song or two that has a Tina Turner feel, or an Otis feel, or a James Brown feel, you know, but other than that, most of my stuff it’s just me, that’s my soul that’s coming from out of me. A mixture of growing up listening to all these other soul artists. I’m 54 years old, so it’s like these other artists were just a few years older than me. When I was like 10 years old, these guys are like 18. So that’s why what you hear of us is so raw and so real."
Jones has been singing her whole life. A lot of people sing in the shower, but when did she know she was actually pretty good? She laughs, answering, "When I was a little girl. My first solo at church, I remember I played an angel, and they had dressed me up, had little wings made and a little halo. And I had a little white gown on and I had to sing 'Silent Night' as an angel. I'll never forget standing in church and hearing 'Ooh, that little girl can sing.' And I was like wow. The gospel stuff, church stuff, you don’t think about that, that was just natural. Then when I got older and start to imitate and sing like anyone I heard, from Michael Jackson to Diana Ross to Aretha, and then Whitney came out ...I could imitate and sing like everyone that was out there and that’s when I knew that God had given me a gift. And even when they told me I didn’t have the look to make it on a record label, I said 'you know what, I may not have the look, but one day people are going to accept me for my voice and not for the way I look' and that’s what happened."
Not many professional musicians can say they were a Corrections officer before they actually made it big. So if she hadn’t ended up as a soul singer, what does she think she would have ended up doing instead?
She answers, "I knew Corrections wasn’t for me when I went in there, the things that happened, the accidents that I was in... It was like an omen. They finally said 'look, you come back in or we will fire you,' so I resigned. From there I went to Wells Fargo Armed security, and I am like 'what am I doing here when I just need to be singing.' I would have gone for a postal or a state job, something that secures you after 25 years to retire and have a nice home or something somewhere. I took the police test, the sanitation test I took it in the 70s, one of the first women that took it in NY and I even made the news. Who knows what kind of job I would have had? I could be laid off or fired by now. I am just grateful for everything the way it worked, the way it is. That’s why I know God had me in His plan. I just had to keep the faith and hold on and I think that’s what I did. That’s why when I met Gabe of the Dap-Kings, I knew that was it. That was like the glove, I was the hand and the band is the glove. And we just get out there and when we’re connected, we’re connected."
After a brief break to avert a sandbar, the interview resumes with questions about whether she prefers to play clubs or festivals.
She says, "Clubs are cool, they are better, but at festivals you get a variety of people that get to see you but never heard of you. The thing I hate about the festivals are the porta toilets."
As for geographic preferences, she says, "Australia is a beautiful country and the people are so hungry for soul music and to see the live performance. Over in Europe, like England and France, they get to the point where they don’t care. They like what we are doing, but there is so much variety like in the US."
Internationally, is there more craving of soul compared to the US? She responds, "I believe so, except for Europe like London and France, that’s where all the artists went, over there. Why do you think Tina Turner and all of them made it over there? It’s just that they appreciate it more over there. But Australia, they don’t have it there. And they have a lot of young groups coming out of Australia doing more soul and stuff too. I always tell people you don’t have to be all black just to do soul music. And a big example of that is Amy and Eli Paperboy, they’re young kids and they imitate those singers well from back in the day. And they are going to imitate them long enough and going to keep growing and become themselves."
“100 Days, 100 Nights” will probably be the most notable song to people who have only heard one Sharon Jones song and she says, "every night I sing that song, it’s different. To me, I will never get sick of these songs. I have had fans get mad because we didn’t play a song. I will sing 100 Days a million times if I have to, and I will enjoy singing it every time, as long as someone asks me to sing it and they enjoy it. That’s what keeps me going. Never gets old to me, I love what I am doing and I was meant to do this. I am going to do it until I can't do it anymore."
At 54, does she have advice for upcoming talent that’s trying to make it now? She says, "If I would’ve listened to what people told me, I wouldn’t be here right now singing. I would have given that up and just tried to work those jobs and raise a family and forget about singing. I’ve seen so many people [who've] done that now and then they go back and say they wish they could've continued their music. And me, I feel that I followed it all the way out and it just took me a little longer. Don't let anyone discourage and turn you away. I knew God had given me a gift and I knew a long time ago and whatever those people told me, I didn’t believe God had brought me this far not to let me sing. So I had to follow that."
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings will perform Friday, September 17th at Busters. (An additional interview with Sharon Jones will appear on page 12 of the print edition of the September 16 Ace).