Telluride Blues & Brews: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Telluride Blues & Brews: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Tickets and passes to the 22nd annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival here. 

Please scroll down to the bottom of the story to listen to my interview with the iconic Sharon Jones.


The blue-flame intensity of Sharon Jones’ voice should burn up the silver screen when the soulful documentary about the life of the singer with the magnetic je ne sais quoi premieres at the 40th annual Toronto Film Festival.

And it should burn up Town Park when Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings perform at the 22nd annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, Friday, September 18 – Sunday, September 20, 2015. The power-packed line-up also includes headliners ZZ Top, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Gregg Allman, plus John Hiatt & The Combo, Taj Mahal Trio, Anders Osborne, Blackberry Smoke, The Revivalists, Otis Taylor’s Hey Joe Opus, Rich Robinson and more.

Kopple’s film follows the singer’s year-long battle starting in 2013 with cancer, and her struggle to hold her career together and return to what she loves most: the stage. We watch as they try to work around Jones’ treatment to complete their 2014 (fifth) album Give the People What They Want and during preparation for a months-long world tour.

By the end of this film, what you’ll want is more and more of Miss Sharon Jones.

And happily that’s just what Blues & Brews audience will get when one of the most formidable and consequential live acts performing today takes to the Main Stage.

Jones is back, all better now and better than ever. Get ready to shake your tail feathers:

“God gave me a gift,” Jones told me prior to her last Telluride Bluegrass gig. “Once you get moved by the Spirit, you just gotta’ let it out and share it with the people. I treat every concert as if it could be my last. I will give you everything I’ve got and more. You will feel it in your bones, in your heart, everywhere. You will feed on our energy and we will feed on yours. Together we will party down memory lane.”

The names are legend: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson… They were Motown, the first record label started in 1959 by African-Americans to showcase African-American talent.

About 40 years later, in the early part of this century, when the partners of Desco Records parted ways, two nice Jewish boys from Brooklyn, Bosco Mann, a.k.a. Gabriel Roth, hooked up with Neal Sugarman, a fellow musician and together they launched Brooklyn-based Daptone Records, a company dedicated to vintage soul and raw funk. The next Motown was born and one of the label’s house bands, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, found a place in the heart of music fans around the world.

Sharon Jones

Sharon Jones

Jones and the Dap-Kings play retro-funk, minus wah-wah clichés and bell-bottomed conventions, reaching back to the original source of the music: sincerity, integrity, melody and an unwavering loyalty to rhythm. Bold horns accented by piano, vibes and strings, the road-tight rhythm section is a perfect complement to Jones’ gospel-infused, smoky sweet vocals:

“With every note that passes her lips,” Sugarman once explained, “with every moan, she reminds us that before Whitney, Mariah and Jay-Z there was Tina, Aretha, and the J.B, the Godfather of Soul.

Ironically the lady often described as “the female James Brown” was born and raised in James Brown’s hometown of Augusta, Georgia. Like many great soul singers, including J.B. and Aretha, Jones began singing in church at a very young age.

Jones moved north to Brooklyn at age three when her parents separated and spent her childhood dividing her time between New York and Georgia.

Post high school, Jones became a studio singer, doing mostly uncredited back-up work for gospel, soul, disco and blues artists:

“My earliest influences were Aretha, the Supremes, all the Motown acts. I loved Diahann Carroll and James Brown. I told myself when I was very young one day I would be on TV just like my idols. Now I hear myself being called the ‘Female James Brown.’ Sometimes I feel he and I are connected. His birthday is May 3 and mine is May 4.”

Today Jones also cites Michael Jackson, Prince, Erykah Badu and Beyonce as artistic influences.

Over the years, Jones opened for some of the top names in soul: Four Tops, Peaches and Herb, The Drifters and Maceo Parker, but for years she struggled in her music career, told she was “too black, too short, too old,” so Jones took other odd jobs: in the 1980s, she worked as a corrections officer on Rykers Island:

“After two years, I realized the job was not for me. After I injured my back, I was able to retire ‘for medical reasons,’ but the real reason would soon become apparent.”

There was a stint as armored-car guard.

The breakthrough finally came midlife when Jones joined up with the Brooklyn-based Dap-Kings.

In 2002, under the name Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, the group released an album Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, receiving immediate attention and acclaim from enthusiasts, DJs, and collectors. With three more albums under their belt, Naturally (2005), 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007) and I Learned the Hard Way (2010), they are regarded by many as the spearhead of a revivalist soul and funk movement.

The Dap-Kings became particularly well-respected among their fans and contemporaries for successfully capturing the essence of soul as it was at its height in the late-1960s and early-1970s.

Sharon Jones, again

Sharon Jones, again

In the early years of the new millennium, there was a part as a juke joint singer in the 2007 film “The Great Debaters,” starring Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker. Jones sang backup for Phish. She performed on tour with Lou Reed and with David Byrne.

The Dap-Kings attracted everyone from Prince to Beck, John Legend and Michael Buble.

Not to mention, countless fans.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings played all the major festivals, arenas and clubs all over the world, including The Hollywood Bowl, The Sydney Opera House, and sold-out nights at New York’s Apollo Theater.

Everything was coming up roses until June 2013 and the cancer diagnosis.

Thankfully today, the lady British press once dubbed “The Queen of Funk,” still wears the crown, and in October, the Dap-Kings release a brand new Christmas album, “It’s a Holiday Soul Party.”

Telluride Blues & Blues is the warm-up.

To learn more, listen to my conversation with the one and only Sharon Jones.

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