A FEW MINUTES WITH… Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings

December 1st, 2015, 11:00 am by Greg

Interview and story by Don Wilcock

“We’re all going,” says Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings about death. “I would love to go a little later. No, I ain’t ready to go right now.” She chuckles. “You ready to die? Not right now. You know what I’m saying? Give me a few more years.”

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On Saturday, November 14, as the high-energy Dap-Kings were cruising into the last couple of songs of their set in New Jersey, Jones lost her breath. “I couldn’t breathe, and I had to walk off the stage. It freaked me out, but I’ll be ready for the next one. I’ll just cut out the dance routines.”

She fought off pancreatic cancer once in 2013. Then, in June of this year, it came back. She’s now in chemo therapy a second time, but she’s maintaining her touring commitment. She played SPAC with the Tedeschi Trucks Band in July, and now she’s swinging back through Greater Nippertown for a headlining concert at The Egg’s Hart Theatre on Saturday (December 5).

Chemo is the ultimate oxymoron. It’s a poison that may kill you as it’s trying to cure you. “Don’t get me wrong,” she says. “It may be killing every cell in my body, but it’s healing me, too.”

She is a scrapper. On their new It’s a Holiday Soul Party CD, Jones and her nine-piece band do a song called “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” about a reality that’s not a white Christmas but is worth celebrating. She worked as a corrections officer at Rikers Island in the ’70s at a time when sounding like early Tina Turner wasn’t fashionable, and in 2011 she told me that the world told her she was too old, too fat, too black and too short. Now some of those same people are telling her she’s too sick.

And she ain’t having any of it!

“I told my manager when I knew I had these gigs not to cancel the job. Let me do ’em. Let me see what I can do. I’ll get all my shows done. That’s why God gave them to me, and he’s gonna see me through these shows.”

The doctors are giving Jones steroids in tandem with the chemo, but her music is more powerful than any drug. Just talking about her sound jacks her up. When she first came on the phone for our interview, she sounded spent, but she rallied during our conversation about a sound that’s taken her from an uncredited background singer in the ’90s to gigs with Michael Buble, a Madison Square Garden opening set for Prince and five highly lauded albums with the Dap-Kings.

“There’s nothing retro about me,” says the woman whose been compared to Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and Carla Thomas. “I’ll be 60 years old in May and to me retro is some young singer trying to imitate somebody from back in the day, and I don’t think I’m trying to imitate. Of course we may imitate a sound from those years, but that’s different.

“So if you hear a song, and I remind you of Tina Turner, James Brown or Otis Redding, that’s because of the influences that we share. We’re not trying to take the music and copy it, we try to make it ours. If we take an old song from Motown, we’re just trying to update it. Or come out with something new.”

She’s right. While the character and energy of her material with the Dap-Kings fits comfortably within the context of those ’60s soul sirens, the result is as if she is Tina Turner’s competition at a time when Ike Turner was jacking up the heat.

Fear can be a constructive emotion when it charges one to react in a self-protective way. But cancer causes a kind of fear that in some ways is more debilitating than the disease itself. My mother had breast cancer 60 years before she died, but in her mind she died a million times, always looking over her shoulder for the Grim Reaper. Sharon Jones refuses to give in to that kind of fear. And if her music isn’t enough to keep her going, her
determination to inspire her rabid fan base is.

“They say I’m an inspiration, but I feel there’s somebody out there that’s sitting at home and hears my story and says, ‘Hey, I got cancer. Why am I sitting here?’ As long as I’m an inspiration to someone, I’m back on that stage because of the fans.”

WHO: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
WHERE: The Egg’s Hart Theatre, Empire State Plaza, Albany
WHEN: Saturday (December 5), 7:30pm
HOW MUCH: $34.50-$49.50

One thought on “A FEW MINUTES WITH… Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings”

  1. Fred says:

    This is a superb interview. Sharon is the real deal–I still am in awe of the show she did at The Egg a few years ago.

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