Sharon Jones had plenty of fine opportunities to give up. The knockout soul singer, who appears Friday at the Mountain Winery, could have accepted the numerous music industry verdicts in her early days that nobody was interested in her classic style of hard-driving, heartfelt R&B. Turning 50 without a major-label record deal or significant public exposure easily could have been a turning point. Her diagnosis and treatment last year for an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer would have been a natural exit cue.
But Jones is nothing if not persistent. At the age of 57, she's beaten cancer and chemotherapy, established herself as one of the most exciting singers in the Aretha Franklin/Otis Redding tradition and established that success on her own terms via indie record labels and the like is not purely a young musician's game.
The long-time New Yorker has always been a fervid fan of James Brown-style soul and frequently wiped out the competition at area talent shows, but never found the right support. She worked for many years as a prison and armored car guard (honing people skills that eventually would make her a fearsome manager of her ace backing band, the Dap-Kings) and singing on the side. Her off-hours pursuits led to a series of gigs as a backing vocalist, a number of indie single releases as solo artists and a growing cult following among old-school R&B enthusiasts.
The accumulation of little wins was enough for Jones to take on music full-time and start her own record label, Daptone, in the early aughts. That led to the release of 2007's 100 Days, 100 Nights, the breakthrough album that won enough critical acclaim and media exposure to push Jones through to a mainstream audience.
Last year's cancer ordeal could have been a cruel footnote to Jones' mainstream breakthrough, but instead it's left her more inspired than ever to share her rousing, dare-you-not-to-dance music with the world. "God gave me a gift, and I live to be on that stage," she recently told the Buffalo News. "When I get to where I can’t move around or when the fans stop coming to see me and the energy is gone, then it’s time for me to retire. Right now, the energy is here.”
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings perform 7:30 p.m. Friday at The Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Tickets are $32.50-$60.