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Clip: Juddy on Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

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  • Carl A Zimring
    Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings Keeping Up with the Jones Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER Isaac
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2 6:21 PM
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      Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
      Keeping Up with the Jones

      Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER

      Isaac Hayes sits at the piano; in front of him, Sam and Dave stand, brimming with energy, and Donald “Duck” Dunn pouts characteristically while chugging along on his bass. Shadowed but visible is Booker T. Jones, tuba in hand. What sounds like a cheesy made-for-TV movie scene is actually a well-known photo of the average day at the Stax Records studio/office. And it’s the kind of thing that sends chills running down Dap-Tone Records co-founder Neal Sugarman’s spine -- and ideas shooting through his mind.

      “We look at those photos of our role models, like Stax,” says Sugarman, “everyone just sitting around the piano working -- that’s what we aspire to. So we rented a house in Bushwick -- the basement’s a rehearsal space, then there’s a 16-track analog studio, the top floor’s a kitchen where everyone hangs out, and the front part are offices for the label. On a good day, there’s a rehearsal, a recording, and just a bunch of people in and out all day.”

      Dap-Tone’s large but tight family of musicians, based Stax-like out of that house, recombines in various settings to form a litany of today’s funk and soul revivalists, including Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, jazz-funkists Sugarman Three and, perhaps most successfully, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. (All three bands often feature Sugarman on sax.) Perhaps it’s only fitting that Sharon Jones’ band is the one beating the pathway to music-biz notoriety -- sold-out shows nationwide, massive popularity in Europe, and headlining gigs at festivals oriented toward everything from jazz to folk to jam bands. After all, despite the humbleness of Jones’ early career as a studio backup singer -- she spent most of the ’90s as a corrections officer on Rikers Island -- it was her strained, soulful voice that provided the raison d’etre for Dap-Tone in the first place.

      “Sharon had come down to [Dap-Tone predecessor] Desco Records years ago to sing on Lee Fields’ Let’s Get a Groove On,” says Sugarman. “She came into the studio, and we knew then and there that someone was going to have to put her in front of a band.”

      So, when Desco folded, label head Gabriel Roth teamed up with Sugarman to form Dap-Tone and release Dap Dippin’ by Sharon Jones and the label’s newly formed house band, The Dap-Kings. A stream of singles by Jones, Lee Fields, the Kings and other funk and soul groups followed, which the stable pulls from for its soul-revue live shows, including instrumental tunes from the band and even a turn at the mike for guitarist (ready for this?) Binky Griptite. But as even a cursory spin through Naturally, this year’s sophomore Sharon Jones full-length, will tell you, it’s Jones who’s the star. Casually sassy (“Fish in the Dish”), dragged-down but strong (“All Over Again”), simply raw and cathartic (“How Long Do I Have to Wait For You?”) -- she can do it all with such take-it-as-it-comes ease.

      Unfortunately, Lee Fields has bowed out of the upcoming Dap-Tone revue at the Johnstown Folk Festival. But the group plans to stay true to its three-hour-set promise, with the Dap-Kings instrumental and vocal performances, and a good long set from Sharon Jones. Even to Sugarman, a decade-plus into this game, it’s still a massive thrill to witness the proverbial real thing.

      “For us,” says Sugarman, “guys that were just really into this music and wanted to play and make records just like the records we listen to, to play night after night behind a powerhouse singer like [Fields or Jones] -- that’s as close as we can come to someone like Otis Redding.”
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