Friday, October 4, 2013

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are an American funk/soul band. They are signed to Daptone Records, where the Dap-Kings are the house band. They are spearheads of a revivalist movement that aims to capture the essence of funk/soul music as it was at its height in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. Part of the way this is achieved is to shun modern digital recording methods in favour of using traditional analog recording equipment.

Desco: the early years

The original incarnation of the band, the Soul Providers, were formed in the mid-1990s by Philip Lehman and Gabriel Roth, AKA Bosco Mann. The Soul Providers began recording an album consisting of James Brown-inspired instrumentals and vocal collaborations with Deep Funk legend Lee Fields. It was during these sessions that Roth and Lehman discovered vocalist Sharon Jones after she recorded backing vocals for one of the Lee Fields tracks. They were impressed enough to record a solo track with Jones entitled "Switchblade", a track that had originally been intended for a man to record. This track along with another Jones solo, "The Landlord", were included on the Soul Providers debut release Soul Tequila, released circa 1996 on the French label Pure Records (defunct). Lehman and Roth then started a new label in Brooklyn, New York. Desco Records was born taking its name from Desco Vacuum, a vacuum cleaner store in West 41st Street underneath which they utilized the basement as studio space and an office to administer and distribute the label. Sugarman 3 organist Adam Scone just happened to live upstairs in the same building. The Soul Tequila album was then reissued as a vinyl only LP renamed Gimme The Paw. The record, which featured Lehman's pet dog Spike on the cover, only kept one of the Sharon Jones collaborations, "Switchblade", omitting "The Landlord".
Having established a scene in New York of performers, Desco aimed to showcase a stable of artists with revue style shows and concentrated on releasing vinyl 45 records by a number of artists including Sugarman 3, The Daktaris, The Mighty Imperials, Naomi Davis & The Knights of 41st Street, Lee Fields, Joseph Henry and Sharon Jones, who backed by the Soul Providers who had become the Desco house band, released three 45's on the label. Desco Records were gaining intrigue and reputation for quality amongst soul/funk collectors and enthusiasts. Many people who bought the early records were unsure that they were modern recordings as recording dates were deliberately omitted from the labels and were often marketed as being released in the 1970s. Two other Soul Providers albums were released, an instrumental soundtrack to a mysterious Sam Lung Kung-Fu film, The Revenge Of Mr Mopoji, credited to Mike Jackson And The Soul Providers and a Lee Fields solo album Let's Get A Groove On where the Soul Providers provided the backing.

Daptone: a new label and the birth of the Dap-Kings

In 2000, due to a growing difference of opinion, Lehman and Roth decided to go separate ways and both set up new labels. Philip Lehman set up Soul Fire Records (now defunct, the back catalogue is handled by Truth & Soul Records). Gabriel Roth went on to start Daptone Records with Sugarman 3 saxophonist Neal Sugarman. The Soul Providers split and a new band, the Dap-Kings formed. The band consisted of label owners Roth, AKA Bosco Mann, on bass and Neal Sugarman on saxophone, plus original Soul Providers: guitarist Binky Griptite, organist Earl Maxton, percussionist Fernando Velez and trumpeter Anda Szilagyi. Joining them were original members of the Mighty Imperials whose album, Thunder Chicken, was the last release on the Desco label: tenor saxophonist Leon Michels and drummer Homer Steinweiss.

Having secured a summer residency at The Boite, a club in Barcelona, Spain, the band recorded an LP, Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings in 2001. A few hundred copies were pressed, so that sales during the residency would provide financial backing on what would have otherwise been a financially disastrous trip. With promotional copies reaching notable funk DJs and reviewers, the album gained a significant reputation and was officially released as the first LP and CD on Daptone Records in 2002 to universal acclaim amongst enthusiasts. In their review at the time, quarterly hip-hop and funk magazine Big Daddy (defunct) suggested that it might be the best new funk album ever, credited Roth with being "one of the best analogue producers there is" and stated "this LP is a major triumph and a new standard has been set".

Following the album, three 45s not included on the album were also released: "What If We all Stopped Paying Taxes", released in 2002 just ahead of the U.S. Election, was a militant anti-war statement denouncing the Iraq War. "Genuine (parts 1 & 2" (2004) was an uncompromisingly hard funk record which firmly kept the interest of enthusiasts. And their cover of "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)", released in 2005, was apparently recorded for a KFC commercial in 2002 but was never used.


The Dap-Kings were then hired as session musicians on a number of projects associated with New York based DJ/producer/recording artist Mark Ronson. Most notable of these is their extensive inclusion and somewhat unheralded contribution to Amy Winehouse's album Back to Black (2006). Six of the album's eleven tracks feature various members of the Dap-Kings with two notable hits from the album, "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good", extensively featuring the Dap-Kings. A further engineering credit goes to Gabriel Roth and several tracks recorded at Daptone Studios are mis-credited as "Dapking Studios". Again various members of the band feature on Ronson's second album, Version (2007), providing contributions on all but one of the album's fourteen tracks. The Dap-Kings then became the backing band used on Amy Winehouse's first U.S. tour.

In 2007 the Dap-Kings worked with British singer Ben Westbeech to record a new version of his song "So Good Today"; it was released to mark the first anniversary of Brownswood recordings, the label Westbeech is signed to in the UK. Sharon Jones lends her vocals on one song "The Way We Lived", on Wax Tailor's second album Hope & Sorrow, released in April 2007. Sharon Jones is also featured on releases by They Might Be Giants (The Else) and Rufus Wainright (Release the Stars).

Jones recently contributed six period numbers by Bessie Smith and others to the soundtrack for the film The Great Debaters, recorded in the legendary Ardent Studio in Memphis. Jones is also a featured on the Verve Records Baby Loves Jazz books/CDs and has even had her own character books published by Penguin Books in conjunction with the series, entitled Ella the Elephant: Scats Like That.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are featured on Michael Bublé's 2009 album, Crazy Love, in the track "Baby (You've got what it takes)". In the fall of 2009 Sharon Jones and David Guy appeared with Phish for their musical costume at Phish's Festival 8 in Indio California, where they covered The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St..

The Dap-Kings horn section backed The Heavy in a January 18, 2010 appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

The Dap-Kings appear on the 2012 David Byrne and St. Vincent collaboration Love This Giant.

In October 2012, the Dap-Kings horn section also appeared with Muse on Saturday Night Live, providing support during their performance of Panic Station.

Sharon's vibrant delivery and electric performances with the Dap-Kings and her wide array of guest appearances certainly signify the return of soul singing (had it ever left?)...
That, in 2013, throwback music would be so popular and in-demand, warms this chronicler's heart.
Keep your dookie stick up and your hooptie shined! Aight?

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