Although raised in Brooklyn, Sharon Jones was born in Augusta, Ga., and sent back south every summer by her mother to get her out of New York. Her Southern roots show up in her deep-dish delivery, and her taste as well. "The sound is just me," the 52-year-old singer says of the soul and funk she belts out, backed by the Dap-Kings. "I just grew up in it, and it's just a part of me."
As we speak, Jones is working out her taste buds when reached by phone boarding the ship for the Jam Cruise 6, where she's performing alongside Toots and the Maytals and the Funky Meters.
"I'm all down in the cafeteria. I'm so hungry. I just hate when people be talking and doing this [to me], but I got to do it because I gotta eat, too," Jones says, her words tumbling out in a rush. Today, everybody wants a taste of the soul Jones has fortified herself with; but when she tried to break into the market in the '70s, her appetite and appearance worked against her.
"They told me at that time that I didn't have the look," the 4-foot-11-inch singer says. "They told me I was too dark-skinned, too short, too fat. And once I got past 25, they told me I was too old. So this is what I've been dealing with coming up."
That was before Amy Winehouse gave retro-soul a retrofit. But if the U.K.'s latest soul import helped whet palettes for the true-school sound delivered by Jones and the Dap-Kings on 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone Records) and others singers such as Bettye Lavette – who also had a breakout year in '07 with The Scene of the Crime (Anti-) – it was authentic artists such as Jones who lent Winehouse their seasoned salt.
When Jones laid some background vocals for soul man Lee Fields on the small funk label Desco in '96, it birthed a relationship between her and the backing band, the Soul Providers. As the band morphed into the Dap-Kings, Jones and crew developed a cult following through their overseas releases and a U.K. tour in '99. A summer-long gig in Barcelona in '01 boosted her funk-diva status across the pond. Over the next couple of years, fans and critics stateside began to acknowledge what she was serving up.
The Dap-Kings sound like they stepped out of the '70s, with a sound that rivals Booker T. and the MG'S and the Mar-Key Horns. "They sound identical," Jones says of the band, whose drummer Homer "Funkyfoot" Steinweiss was only 16 when he started with the Dap-Kings. "That's what got me there, that they're so real," the singer says. Amy Winehouse agreed enough to hire the Dap-Kings to cut her Back to Black album and tour with her. Jones didn't get an invitation.
"People try to get me to say bad things about Amy," she says. "But it was a good thing. They didn't leave me out of the job. I guess they only needed one singer, and that was Amy. But they wanted the sound, so they got the Dap-Kings."
Jones did get to meet Winehouse, who told Jones how much she had inspired her. "I wanted to do it. I was like, 'Hmm, you sure you don't want me? Oh, all right,'" she whines cattily, then laughs.
Right now, she's got other business to attend to. "All right now, I'm getting ready to sit down here at the table. Got my plate fixed," she says. But before she loads up on soul food, she's got one last wish. "God gave me this gift and I wanna be remembered for my gift, for my voice, for my singing, for my personality, for my music, for what I'm doing," the Dap queen says. "That's about it."
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