Sharon Jones is the sparking turbine powering most of the best new funk records from the Daptone camp. She speaks now moments after returning from the hospital to comfort a sick relative, but wouldn’t consider postponing the interview even for a few minutes. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
When you were in a wedding band, you used to come out with the same energy you have with the Dap-Kings—how did people handle it?
They wouldn’t. People would be sitting there and I’d be like, ‘Come on! Get up!’ This was years ago—I started singing in this band in the ‘80s. Believe it or not, in the ‘80s they didn’t even have women singing in wedding bands. And then for me to be in an Italian band—I was really one of the first black women to start doing wedding bands. My band leader took a chance on me—in ’86 or ’87 he took a chance. We had one couple who told my band leader she didn’t want any blacks—she said, ‘I don’t want any blacks at my affair.’ And he said, ‘You know what? You’d best get another band.’ That was the only incident and you’re the first one I ever told that to. I was born in ‘56 in the South and in the late ‘70s when I was in my early twenties singing, me and this girl were singing and the producer from Sony came out and said I was too dark—I should bleach my skin and all that. So I was used to that. Being born in the south in the ‘60s, I was there when they did segregation so I had been through it. And people go, ‘Oh no, that’s not still…’ but yes, it is. Don’t you even worry about that. That’s just the way it goes. Look at Obama, what they were saying before he got elected. And then look at this Spanish lady for the judge—they’ve gone crazy. Why? Why? They’re still showing their true colors. People can say what they want—racism is here. It’s breaking down but it’s here. And you expect that. I don’t get mad at people when that happens—you just look at them and feel sorry for them. You feel bad for their ignorance because it don’t make any sense. That’s all. As long as they don’t insult me or physically—you know what I mean? I can deal with it and keep on going.
You’ve said before that people are learning that it’s just your voice that matters.
Yeah—it’s the voice. That’s all that matters and I always said that. A lot of people asked, ‘What made you stay in it?’ and I said, ‘God, it’s a gift and I always felt that one day people would accept me for that gift, not how I look. That doesn’t have anything to do with it.’
Tell me about the day you looked out the window and saw the Queen of England.
Oh my God! That was so long ago. We weren’t even in England—we were in Wales and that’s the first time she had been to Wales in 25 years or something. And the people in Wales weren’t too fond of her. And then the hotel—I can’t even lie to you—it was just ragged. I would call it the crack hotel. I didn’t sleep that night because we were over a club and they had this rock band going, ‘DUH NUH NUH NUH NUH NUH—DO ME IN THE ASS!’ and I really did not believe what he was saying. It was so funny. And then the next morning—I don’t even think it was 8 o’clock and I saw this colorful parade and this Rolls-Royce and stupid me, I started screaming, ‘Oh my God, the fucking Queen of England!’ I’m screaming out the window —‘See! Even the Queen came to see the Queen of Funk!’
When did people start calling you the Queen of Funk?
The first time I ever went to France. The first time I think I got that title—you ever heard of that magazine Big Daddy? They no longer exist now but they had like two pages—you open up the cover and it was me and they got ‘Queen of Funk’ and I was like, ‘Who’s the Queen of Funk? They called me the Queen of Funk.’ They never called anybody the Queen of Funk before! The Queen of Soul—that’s Aretha of course. But never Queen of Funk. Queen of Pop, all that—
And that’s a lifetime title.
Oh my God—I know, I know.
Is it true you do your best shows when you’re a little bit pissed off?
They just wrote that for a little bit of publicity! But I think I do my shows under pressure people would never know. When 2007 came in, I had just lost my brother on the 29th and I had to do three shows—I had to play New Year’s and play that night. I’ve been on stage plenty of times through deaths—but in 2006 I lost like 24 friends, girlfriends and families. 24 people died in one year that I knew that were close to me. I’d be on the road and I’d check my message and it’d say, ‘So and so’s son died’ Oh my God! But I couldn’t get to the funeral. Then I come home and have to go to a bunch of other funerals. And I had to do shows. I had to go in there and do these shows. I think I’d take all of that, whether it’s positive energy or negative energy and it goes into the performance. When I’m feeling it and the guys are feeling me, we feed off of each other. And I think that’s what makes us unique from the other bands. Other bands put all kinds of artificial stuff up there—like fifteen dancers or twenty dancers and people don’t know who they’re looking at. I think we just get up there on stage with the make-up running under your eyes or a shoe comes off and I pick it up and put it back on—that’s just it. That’s a show. Let me tell you this. If you ever see me come off the stage and I didn’t bust a sweat—you didn’t see me perspire anywhere—then you can be like, ‘She didn’t feel it.’ When you see me come off stage and I’m not like—[pants breathlessly]— then it wasn’t a good show.
When you were a little girl were you a better shot with a bow or with a slingshot?
Slingshot. My father made me a bow and arrow, too—a little one, but you know I can do the most damage with that. We would bend the top of a Coca-Cola bottle and put it on a stick and that made it go straight. But he also made me a slingshot—I had a front pocket full of marbles and the other pocket full of rocks for the slingshot.
You were a warrior.
I was a little tomboy. I used to always try to compete with my brother and he used to go out and dance and do James Brown and I used to be like, ‘I can do that, too!’ I could do the splits when I was a kid—I can’t do that now. I could if I wanted to but I might get down there and break something—I am 53 years old now. I don’t think James Brown did too many splits in his fifties and sixties.
James Brown said ‘Soul makes you fear God more.’
Oh, you know—that’s James Brown. He can say what he wants to say. Me? Soul is comfort inside. Because soul ain’t got nothing to do with color. To me it’s a gift. When you’ve got somebody that can come and they’re singing from their heart—when you get the goose bumps, that’s some soul. It ain’t something you can learn or pick up and read off a paper. You have to feel it—it comes from inside the heart. To me the heart is the soul.
SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS WITH MANY MORE ON SAT., JUNE 13, AT THE PLAYBOY JAZZ FESTIVAL AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL. 2301 N. HIGHLAND AVE., HOLLYWOOD. 2:30 PM / $20-$40 / ALL AGES. HOLLYWOODBOWL.COM. SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS’ 100 DAYS, 100 NIGHTS IS OUT NOW ON DAPTONE. VISIT SHARON JONES AT DAPTONE.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/SHARONJONESANDTHEDAPKINGS.