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SHARON JONES was born Sheron Lafaye Jones in Augusta, Georgia on May 4, 1956. Like many rhythm and blues entertainers, she began performing in church at a very young age, where her voice would find a lifelong home and inspiration. As a teenager in the early 1970s, she began singing outside of the church in talent shows and with local funk groups. Later, she would make her living with a combination of sporadic session work as a mostly anonymous voice on various dance records (sometimes credited as Lafaye Jones), singing with wedding bands, and a handful of day jobs which included stints as both a prison guard at New York’s notorious Riker’s Island and an armored car guard for Wells Fargo Bank. In 1996 she was called in to sing backup at a Desco Records studio session for ’70s soul legend Lee Fields.
Desco was a small independent specializing in traditional funk and soul pressed exclusively to wax. Co-owners and producers Phillip Lehman and Bosco “Bass” Mann had called Jones in on a tip from a sax player who was seeing her at the time. As the other two girls never showed up for the session, Jones cut all the background parts for the session herself, and proceeded to cut the impromptu prison rap over Switchblade, which had originally been intended for a man.
Over the next four years, Jones sang frequently alongside Lee Fields, Joseph Henry, and Naomi Davis as part of the Desco Super Soul Revue backed by Desco house band the Soul Providers. Desco would release a handful of singles in her name, including “The Bump & Touch,” “Damn It’s Hot,” and “You Better Think Twice,” as well as versions of funk classics “I Got the Feelin’ ” and “Hook & Sling.”
Unfortunately, just as Jones and the band began to gain momentum and a reputation for a show that couldn’t be missed, internal business conflicts caused the demise of Desco Records in the early part of 2000. Though the Soul Providers would not perform again, it wasn’t long before Jones and Mann would regroup in another formation.
Guitarist Binky Griptite would remain at Mann’s side, as well as organist Earl Maxton, percussionist Fernando “Boogaloo” Velez, trumpeter Anda “Goodfoot” Szilagyi, and baritone saxophonist Jack Zapata, all from the original Soul Providers. From the Mighty Imperials, a young instrumental organ funk group that recorded at Desco, tenor saxophonist Leon Michels, and drummer Homer “Funkyfoot” Steinweiss would fill out the lineup. Both were only 17 years old at the time. Now, for the first time, the group would be billed as SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS.
In 2001, the group landed a summer residency at a club in Barcelona. Knowing that the trip would be a financial disaster without having a recording to sell, Mann penned a few new tunes and assembled the band to record. After a few weeks of tracking and mixing, the band’s debut album was completed. Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings would be Jones’ first full-length recording. Though a few hundred copies were pressed to sell on the road, it would take several months and the birth of a new record label before Dap-Dippin’ would be commercially released.
In late 2001, saxophonist Neal Sugarman and Gabriel Roth, Desco’s head recording engineer, joined together to form Daptone Records. With the intention of continuing on where Desco had left off, Daptone’s debut release would be the Dap-Dippin’ album.
Over the next three years, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings would tour extensively and build steadily upon a growing reputation as the unrivaled frontrunners of old-school soul and funk music. The band went through several changes in personnel before settling into what would be its permanent lineup. Sugarman joined the band to replace Michels on tenor saxophone. Michels moved to baritone, where he would stay until 2005, when he eventually left to give Truth & Soul Records his full attention. He would be replaced on baritone by Ian Hendrickson-Smith. The trumpet chair passed from Szilagyi to Todd Simon, and was eventually filled by David Guy. Maxton left the band in 2003 to play with Antibalas, leaving the band with no organ, and guitarist Tommy “TNT” Brenneck, of the Budos Band, would take up the slack in the rhythm section.
In 2003, Daptone Records had relocated to a dilapidated two-family house in Bushwick, Brooklyn. By the time the Dap-Kings came to record their second record in March of 2004, the studio had been outfitted with a 16-track tape machine. In January of 2005, Naturally hit the streets, and set Jones and the Dap-Kings loose on a relentless touring schedule.
A high point came when Daptone Records presented a Soul Revue at New York’s Irving Plaza to honor Jones’ 50th birthday. The sold-out extravaganza featured The Mighty Imperials, The Budos Band, Charles Bradley, Binky Griptite, Naomi Davis & the Gospel Queens, the Bushwick Philharmonic, Antibalas, and was of course headlined by the Dap-Kings and Sharon Jones herself.
In the winter of 2006, the band slowed its touring schedule to make time for a return to the studio. The resulting 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007) is arguably their greatest achievement to date. With much more extensive songwriting and arranging contributions from the members of the band, the songs take more distinct and well-crafted forms, enabling a deeper, more soulful return to traditional rhythm and blues roots. However, it is the raw fire and soul that Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings consistently pour into their music that will make this record an irreplaceable part of many people’s lives.