Thursday, September 15, 2005 | There’s something to be said for showmanship. Not many musicians today are skilled in it, or are even aware of its power to captivate and energize live audiences.
Sharon Jones, the “Queen of Funk,” could teach today’s musicians a thing or two about what it means to be a true performer, one who doesn’t turn her back on the audience.
She and her band, the Dap-Kings, will perform tonight at The Casbah.
Wearing a short, sparkly pink dress, golden high heels and dangling gold earrings, the small-framed lady takes the stage with enough energy to light up the room. Backed by her eight-piece, suit-and-tie-clad band, Jones and company belt out fresh, funky soul tunes reminiscent of the JBs, Marva Whitney and Otis Redding.
Of course, comparisons to James Brown, long dubbed the “Godfather of Soul” and the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business” abound. And for a good reason.
Besides the fact that they were raised in Augusta, Ga., got their start singing in church and have birthdays one day apart (although born in different years), both Brown and Jones give explosive, non-stop performances that transform crowds into a hip-shaking, sweaty mass.
“James Brown is a man. I’m a woman. How can I be James Brown?” laughed Jones. But the comparisons don’t bother her one bit.
“I take that as an honor, I really do. And I hope that he should take it as an honor,” said Jones. “I’m not trying to take anything from him, I’m just adding. I’m just showing people how great a man he is.”
Jones’s sweet, but strong voice delivers sharp lyrics over the Dap-Kings’ driving drums, slick horns and rapid-fire bass lines. The young, well-dressed men all move in-sync while they play. Once she’s warmed up, Jones will take off her earrings and toss her high heels aside so she can really get into the groove. “I take them off for a couple songs, but I put them back on to show, ‘Hey I can move around in heels, too,’” said Jones jovially over the phone.
Throughout the two-hour-plus set, her stamina never fails as she continues to smile and work the crowd with her electrifying dance moves and sassy banter. Occasionally, she’ll pull members of the audience up on stage to dance with her.
“I’m 49. I don’t know how long I’m going to get to do this. But God has given me this gift, and it’s shining,” said Jones. “Right now, I’m taking my blessings and I’m thanking him….I just want to keep going.”
“Each one of those shows I get out there, it could be my last. I give you 120 percent of everything I’ve got. You never know, just go for it – whether there’s 10 people, 100, 200 or 500, I don’t care. They’re going to get the same show.”
Listening to Jones and the Dap-Kings, it’s easy to think that the music was recorded more than 30 years ago.
On the band’s 2002 debut full-length LP, “Dap-Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings,” Jones sings a deeply funky rendition of Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit, “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” that channels the past so well, one could mistake Ms. Jackson for covering Ms. Jones. Even the album art for “Dap-Dippin’” and their second release, 2005’s “Naturally,” look like old, long-lost records discovered in someone’s dusty basement.
Since the age of five, Jones has continued to sing. Starting with church gospel choirs and neighborhood bands, she spent several years singing at weddings, as well as providing anonymous back-up vocals on soul, disco and blues albums during the ’70s and ’80s.
In 1988, Jones supplemented her singing career by working as a corrections officer at Rykers Island Jail, a job that she has no regrets performing although she admits it wasn’t quite the right personality fit.
“Those inmates can change you. You know, I’m a very happy, peppy person. I was put with the men and they would say, ‘You’re not going to make it because you’re too spiritual, you’re too loving.’ And they was right, it wasn’t for me.”
During the mid-’90s, Jones got a gig with New York City’s indie soul and funk label Desco Records, singing with the label’s house band, the Soul Providers. Through an ex-boyfriend, Jones later met Bosco Mann, the Dap-Kings bassist and main songwriter. Mann was looking for three backup singers for a recording of the song “Take It or Leave It” by indie soul artist Lee Fields.
Jones recalls this fateful meeting. “I said, ‘Why use three girls when you can only use me? I can do all three-part harmonies.” And with that display of business savviness, Jones joined the eight-piece Dap-Kings, selling out shows on both sides of the pond.
“When I get on that stage and I’m looking at those smiling faces out there, that’s my pay, that’s my get high, that’s my everything right there. And when that stops and when those people stop smiling, when there’s no longer that energy there, then I’ll know it’s done.”
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings play tonight, with local blues band Lady Dottie and the Diamonds, at The Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd., (619) 232-HELL. $12. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
Please contact Claire Caraska directly at