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It’s not every lead singer who, abandoned by her band for a younger, thinner and more tabloid-friendly British pop star, finds herself courted by Denzel Washington, the Weinstein brothers and Lou Reed. But for Sharon Jones — whose stage mates of 13 years, the Dap-Kings, left her side last year for the embrace of Amy Winehouse and her producer, Mark Ronson — that’s just the case.
So, while the Dap-Kings did their thing — including recording tracks on Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Ronson’s “Version,” and backing up the tabloid-fodder singer on a tumultuous U.S. tour last spring and a few high-profile gigs with Ronson — Jones was calmly doing hers. The 51-year-old Jones was tapped by Washington to record the soundtrack for and perform in his recently released directorial debut, “The Great Debaters,” though she downplays her role, calling it “that stuff with Denzel.” She felt comfortable enough to turn down Lou Reed when he asked her to tour with him for two months, and when Jones mentions the Weinstein brothers, you’d think she was a longtime friend of the family.
“Harvey loves me,” she says. “I did his wedding [to Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman]….I’m there, singing ‘At Last’ because Harvey asked me to and, lo and behold, who am I singing to? Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony!”
Jones isn’t even rattled by questions about being perhaps “passed over” by the same popular music press that has heaped credit upon Winehouse and uberproducer Ronson for the birth of a supposedly new, “retro soul” sound. This in spite of the fact that the sound in question was produced by none other than Jones’ own Dap-Kings, whose work on “Back to Black” included providing instrumentals on the hit single “Rehab.” Instead, Jones sounds genuinely thankful about it all — a sentiment that might have something to do with some major props she received from the cat-eyed British chanteuse.
“I read this interview where Amy said that I — Sharon Jones — inspired her,” recalls Jones. “I was like, wow. That changed my whole outlook about how I felt about her and Mark. I mean, I’m here saying that Aretha and James Brown and Tina Turner inspired me, and she’s saying that’s what got her into singing — me and the Dap-Kings? Then, hey, that’s a big plus for us.”
And so, with a tip of the hat from Winehouse, Washington and even a Weinstein, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are together again and back at it. They are now in the home stretch of their very own U.S. tour, which culminates with a New York show at the Beacon Theater on Feb. 15. They also released their third full-length album, “100 Days, 100 Nights” (Daptone Records), in October.
In a sense, nothing’s changed — they’re still performing the brand of old-school funk and R&B that they’ve been making for more than a decade from their home base in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Intact, too, is their unconventional look: Jones is the short yet substantial black woman to the mostly white, mostly Jewish, thirtysomething Dap-Kings. “I’m old enough to be their mother,” jokes Jones of her eight bandmates.
As to whether she picked up any, well, unmotherly habits during her years in the biz, she says: “I think the only thing you’d ever hear about drugs in my band is a little marijuana or something like that. And I don’t consider marijuana ‘drugs.'” Clearing her throat, Jones continues, “But you don’t need no drugs, you don’t need to be high. I’ll be on stage now and people swear that I’m doing something like cocaine to get me all hyped like that, and I tell them, ‘I’m just hyped on love. That’s just happiness.'”