The Weekly interview: soul singer Sharon Jones

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings play the Pearl Tuesday night.
Annie Zaleski

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are one of the most dynamic live bands out there, a horn-peppered soul-funk collective steeped in tradition. It also helps that the group is fronted by the magnetic Jones, whose powerful, expressive singing voice ranks among the genre’s all-time greats: Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Tina Turner, to name a few.

How did you guys end up on this Tedeschi Trucks Band tour? [After we did a] Central Park show with them, we did interviews, and they asked [Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks] the question, “How did y’all decide you and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings [would tour together]?” Susan and Derek said they chose us because they like what we’re doing, our music is real. I’m so grateful they chose us.

I saw the video of the Sam Cooke cover you guys did together after that Central Park show. It sounded like you had been singing together for years. That was the first night! My first-time ever singing with [Tedeschi], just opening my mouth to sing with her. We had such a great blend.

Are there any other songs you’d like to cover with them? We’re going to be on the road for the next few months, so ... as we’re out there, we’ll probably grab some more songs to do. I would like to maybe try to find a gospel song to do with [Tedeschi], or see what they have in their repertoire and find something I can sing with her. We still don’t know what we’re going to do yet.

As a musician, what does it mean to you for someone to say, “Hey, we want to tour with you and your band because you’re so genuine and authentic?” That’s what we want. We want to be that authentic stuff. We don’t like adding all that other stuff in it, distortion. I don’t need a vocal tuner. “I’m singing out of key, don’t worry about it, we’ll straighten that out…” No, no, no, no, no. You’re going to straighten that out while you’re in the studio. To me, if you can’t sing a note right, why the hell are you out there on the stage? If you can’t sing, then why are you going to use a machine to make you sing? You’re just selling your look? Not the talent, the real talent, the singing part. We don’t use any of that stuff.

Susan and Derek are real, and they have a band and they’re playing good, true music. Music’s from your heart. Even though we don’t call them soul [music], that’s what it is. It’s just getting up there, and they’re being true.. And the same with us. If I mess up a lyric, [I’ll say] “Ooh, I forgot the lyric, sorry y’all!” They’re like, “Why did you tell them?” I’m like, “That’s what you do! You made a mistake, you made a mistake!” Don’t be all [affects gasp in fear], acting crazy, trying to look at the band and make believe somebody else made the mistake. You messed up, you messed up (laughs). Keep on going.

It happens to the best of us. I remember Ella Fitzgerald did it on TV. If I go somewhere now, [I] have to have a monitor with these lyrics if it’s a song I’m not too familiar with, because I need to look at the words. And Ella Fitzgerald, what she did, she [Jones starts scat-singing] “I forgot the lyrics, but you know what, let me scat!” [Jones scats again] You know? (laughs)She scatted the melody, and then when the lyrics came back, she started singing again. That’s how you do it.

As a performer, you have to be prepared for anything. Did you ever see the VH1 Divas that came out that I was in, [when] they were honoring Amy Winehouse? They asked me to do one of Amy Winehouse’s songs. Miss Wanda Jackson was [also] singing. When she came out [to perform her song], she missed her cue, and I went to the band and I was like, “Start it over!” And everybody was like, [makes exaggerated gasp] “It’s live television!” Binky [Griptite, Dap-Kings guitarist] looked at me, I started from there. I forgot a lyric or two, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to make sure that woman was comfortable. They were so proud of me at VH1 for being nice to her, and giving her my song and treating her nice. You know, that’s how you do things.

And she’s a legend! You don’t disrespect a legend. And also that night, I was there with Miss Martha Reeves, and I backed her up. At first, she didn’t take to me a little bit, she felt a little threatened, I guess. But my little warmth, I got God in me, and I just said, “Miss Reeves, I’m not here to show you up, I’m here to enhance, just to help you out.” At the end, she thanked me; at first she was a little tough. She said, “I’ll be damned if somebody’s going to sing my lead to my song!” I said, “You’re right, Miss Reeves” (laughs). They [originally] had me to sing lead, and I went right on that background. You got that, Miss Reeves.

What else have you guys been up to this year? Writing any new music? We’ve got a Christmas album! It’s done. And we have a Hanukkah song! Wait till you hear the songs—we took ’em to church, some of them came out like rock ’n’ roll. I almost want to sing some to you. (laughs)

We’re also working on our next album, which we want to bring out in 2016. When we get off the road at the end of August, we have a couple of weeks and we’re going to go back in the studio and record. We sorta got the songs ready, just a matter now of getting them together. Matter of fact, while we’re on the road, I might throw one or two of the songs in our set, add it to our setlist.

Back in March you were part of a David Byrne tribute and covered “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads. Have you known David for a while? I was on David Byrne’s album a couple years ago he put out [2010’s Here Lies Love]. When they asked me to come out and do [the tribute], I’m like [Jones lowers her voice, as if she’s speaking out of the side of her mouth] “I don’t know a David Byrne song,” and then I was like, “What songs did he write?” And they said, “Well, you know …” [Jones sings chorus to “Take Me to The River”] I was like, “I’m singing that!” They’re like, “Nope, Cee Lo Green is doing that.” I’m like [makes exaggerated groaning noise]. They’re like, “What other song?” My manager is like, “Do ‘Psycho Killer.’” I was like, “I ain’t no psycho killer! How am I gonna do that song? And it’s French!”

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings opening for Tedeschi Trucks Band, with Doyle Bramhall II. June 9, 6:30 p.m., $53-$133. Pearl, 702-942-7777.

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