For Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, 2013 has become a year of unforeseen challenges and transformations. Three months before the original scheduled release of the group’s highly anticipated fifth studio record, Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones, the lead singer and matriarch of the worlds’ #1 live soul act, was diagnosed with cancer. What was projected to be a hectic and exciting year of worldwide touring was quickly taken over by hospital rooms, doctors, and many unknowns. At 57, Jones has lived through her fair share of hardships and heartbreak, but being separated from the stage and her fans has proven to be the most difficult challenge yet.
Thanks to an extremely gifted medical staff, several months of recovery and the infinite love and support from friends, family and fans, Sharon is back, ready to once again join her Dap-Kings as they share their music with people around the globe. “My fans are what kept me fighting, and kept me focused on getting better”, Jones says. “Everything I love can be summed up by the moment I get on stage, and start giving the people what they want. That’s real love. That’s real music.”
While many artists have come and gone, why have Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings only continued to grow steadily in popularity around the world? How can they continue to sell-out huge theaters, headline festivals, and sell hundreds of thousands of records year after year with neither major label support nor a single radio hit? The reason is simple. People love their music. There is no other band around today that plays with the rhythm, feeling, or explosive power of the Dap-Kings, there is no other singer that can match the energy and honest soul of Sharon Jones, and there is no other record that embodies this captivating sound better than their latest studio endeavor, Give the People What They Want.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings formed out of the ashes of Desco Records, a fiercely independent label that developed an international underground following for releasing hard funk vinyl in the nineties. After the label’s demise in 1999, the family of musicians that populated it’s roster regrouped to form an all-star band that would become the core of the Daptone Records stable. It was obvious that the new label’s first release would be the debut full length of the fiery Sharon Jones. 2002’s Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings would prove to be the birth of a juggernaut.
Over the next ten years, the band toured vigorously, crafting electrifying shows that brought packed rooms to rapture, leaving only dropped jaws and sweat drenched dance floors behind them. They continued to record albums and 45’s to critical acclaim and public delight, and with each successive release found themselves in bigger and bigger rooms. 2005’s Naturally brought them their first network television performance on Conan O’Brian. 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights would sell over 100,000 copies in the states alone, a staggering success for an independent release, and 2010’s I Learned the Hard Way debuted at #16 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart outselling it’s predecessor in only it’s first few months.
Tremendous success on TV would follow, with the Dap-Kings appearing on The Colbert Report, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan, as the house band for Comedy Central’s Night of Too Many Stars, and as performers on 2012’s VH-1 Divas.
Beyond their own records and performances, others have tapped them consistently for a sound that simply cannot be found elsewhere. They have been sampled, licensed for film and TV, and called upon time and again to join other artists both on stage and in studio. This past year has been no exception.
Sharon and the band were invited by Prince to open for his shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden and in Paris, and joined John Legend and the National Symphony Orchestra to re-imagine Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On at the Kennedy Center. The Dap-Kings backed Beck as the musical core of his innovative Hello Again project; worked with David Byrne & St. Vincent, Ariana Grande and Sara Bareilles; laid down studio tracks with producer Bob Rock for Michael Buble’s latest album, and returned to the studio with Mark Ronson to record two Amy Winehouse tracks posthumously (after the band’s previous grammy winning performance on Winehouse’s Back to Black) for Lioness: Hidden Treasures. Sharon collaborated with David Byrne, They Might Be Giants, Rufus Wainwright, and Lou Reed, and joined Michael Bublé on Saturday Night Live to perform their duet “Baby (You Got What it Takes)”. She also acted and sang in the Denzel Washington film, The Great Debaters. Adding in their own heavy touring schedule as well as their participation in other Daptone outfits (including studio and road dates with The Menahan Street Band, The Sugarman Three, and Charles Bradley), it is not hard to see Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings have been in high demand.
However, with all of the commitments and distractions of success, the band has never lost focus on their objective: bringing their music directly to the people who need it. Last year, they returned once again to Daptone’s studio/headquarters in Bushwick, Brooklyn (affectionately known by many as “The House of Soul”) to write and record a new record. This time, the band (drummer Homer Steinweiss, guitarists Binky Griptite and Joe Crispiano, conguero Fernando Velez, trumpet player Dave Guy, tenor saxophonist Neal Sugarman, baritone saxophonist Cochemea Gastelum, and bassist/producer Bosco Mann) brought in background vocalists the Dapettes (Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan), who have been touring with the band for over a year, to round out the sound and in a few weeks emerged with thirty tracks of what would be their strongest work to date.
“The hardest part was picking the tunes for the record,” says Mann. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a session that was that exciting and productive before. It just seemed like everybody had so many songs and riffs bottled up from being on the road so long. The writing just came naturally, each one of us feeding off each other just like we do on stage. It was a real collaboration and I think that shows on the record. It obviously has all of the hard rhythm and drive that people expect from us – perhaps more – but we’ve definitely crossed into some uncharted territory. Our songwriting process has definitely blossomed into something pretty amazing, and Sharon never ceases to amaze us with her energy. She seems to sing better and better every day.”
From the drop of the needle onto the relentless stomping entrance of Retreat!, the lilting cathartic bounce of the anthemic We Get Along, and the irresistible syncopations of Stranger to My Happiness, straight through to the intoxicating fade out groove of Slow Down, Love, the Dap-Kings have fulfilled the seemingly impossible promise of their own career and brought us the next chapter in what’s proving to be an enduring story of a truly prolific band. Simply great music from a great band, because in the end, that’s all the people really want.