Sharon Jones - Have You Met Ms Jonez
Friday, 19 October 2007
The soulstress from Augusta, Georgia, via New York, is only now experiencing her first wave of fame. Jones, though a relatively new name to many, is a seasoned performer. She progressed from singing in church to secular gigs but, while a great vocalist, struggled to land her big break. As with Missy Elliott years on, Jones suffered the brunt of music industry racism in the '70s, informed she didn't have “the look”.
“They told me I was too dark-skinned at the time,” the sassy 50-something says, husky from gigging at the Apollo. “They wanted me to bleach my skin, I guess.”
Later, Jones' body shape was critiqued, then her age. Sharon accepted depressing day posts - once as a prison guard at NY's notorious Rikers Island - with music her respite.
“It was a stressful job,” she recalls of Rikers. The spiritual Jones wasn't cut out to be a corrections officer. The first week she pulled a muscle. Then a truck hit Jones' car. She spent a year in a back brace. “It was like an omen - it wasn't meant for me to be there!”
When Jones returned to work, she felt incarcerated herself - and quit. “I just couldn't deal with it any more,” she says.
Jones' fortunes changed in the mid-'90s when she came to the attention of Desco Records. She met Bosco Mann, AKA Gabriel Roth, through an ex. He needed three backing vocalists for Lee Fields. Jones sang all parts.
She then fronted the in-house band Soul Providers. Desco folded, yet Jones continued vibing with Roth, leading the new Dap-Kings - soul revivalists rather than 'neo-soul'.
After sell-out shows in Australia, Jones is back with a much-anticipated third Dap-Kings LP, 100 Days, 100 Nights. Jones' gospel vocals have never sounded as fervent.
“My influence is something I've been doing all my life,” she says. Jones cites Stax, Motown, Aretha Franklin and James Brown (also from Augusta) as formative.
In the US, Jones has courted a wider fanbase since the Dap-Kings were hired by Mark Ronson for Amy Winehouse's Back To Black sessions. Jones is disturbed that the press is trying to “get some bad blood boiling” between her and Winehouse, even suggesting that the Brit sidelined her. “I don't take no backburner to anyone!” she states good-naturedly.
In fact, Jones respects Ronson for wanting to be schooled musically - and she recognises Winhouse's style. The exposure is tremendous. “I'm not angry,” she says.
At any rate, Jones is embracing new opportunities. She has a role in Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters. The actor-cum-director rhapsodised about Jones in the NY Times - and she jokes about printing a t-shirt with the slogan “Denzel says he loves Sharon Jones.” For Jones on set, Washington was “peaceful”.
“He's just so easy to work with,” she says. And the soul diva has been vindicated in another sense. Washington loved her voice, her vibe, her verve - and something else.
“I had the look, see!”
WHO: Sharon Jones
WHAT: 100 Days, 100 Nights through Fuse
WHEN: Out now