Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings don’t care if fans buy their new album, 100 Days, 100 Nights.
Actually, that’s not entirely true; obviously any artist who records wants to sell albums. But what the band really wants is for fans to come see a live show because that’s where it all comes together for this nine-piece funk / soul revue.
Alex Kadvan, the band’s manager, agrees. Kadvan has known Dap Kings bandleader and producer Bosco Mann since college and has worked with the group since its early days.
"That’s where they shine," Kadvan told Pollstar. "I mean, the records are fantastic, but the live show just brings you to a whole different level.
"Sharon’s energy on stage is magnificient. She’s out there like the Energizer bunny. She’s so full of energy and life, and she connects with the audience."
The seeds of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings were planted in 1996, when Jones talked her way into a gig singing with ’70s soul legend Lee Fields.
"Bosco Mann was trying to start his record label, Desco, and he needed some background singers for Lee Fields," Jones told Pollstar. "He needed three girls to back him up. My ex used to play saxophone with him, so he said, ‘My lady sings; maybe she knows two girls.’
"So he called me up, and I said, ‘Why use three girls? You can pay me this amount of money, and I can sing all three parts.’ And almost 12 years later, here I am."
Over the next four years, Jones sang as part of the Desco Soul Revue, backed by house band the Soul Providers. The group released several albums and toured internationally, with Jones quickly earning the title "Queen of Funk."
Internal business conflicts caused the demise of Desco Records and the end of the Desco Soul Revue in early 2000. Jones and Mann, along with Soul Providers guitarist Binky Griptite, organist Earl Maxton, percussionist Fernando Velez, trumpeter Anda Szilagyi and baritone saxophonist Jack Zapata drafted tenor saxophonist Leon Michels and drummer Homer Steinweiss to form Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings.
The new group toured extensively in the U.S. and abroad over the next six years, with a few lineup changes along the way.
Although the band quickly built a sizeable following in Europe, The Billions Corporation’s David Viecelli, the band’s agent, said it wasn’t as easy for them to get taken seriously in the States.
"Early on, I think it was easy for people to say, ‘Well, it’s sort of a revival kind of thing. It’s some white guys playing R&B and soul, and they stumbled across this singer with amazing talent,’" Viecelli told Pollstar. "But I think at this point, the band has established their pedigree, not only in terms of work they’re doing with other artists and production projects, and they’ve become such a whip-crack live outfit.
"There’s complete integration between Sharon and the band. They are her equal, but they are her band. It’s no longer somebody fronting a group of musicians, it’s a unit. People get blown away."
Jones keeps busy too, touring with the live production of Lou Reed’s Berlin, recording vocals for a children’s album, writing a companion book, singing with Rufus Wainwright and They Might Be Giants and achieving one of her life-long goals – acting. She recently finished filming a role in the upcoming Denzel Washington film, "The Great Debaters," a part for which she was hand-picked over other contenders, including Mary J. Blige, by Washington himself.
Could all of these side projects threaten the existence of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings? Kadvan said although it can be a challenge to get everyone going in the same direction, he doesn’t see that becoming an issue.
"If anything, I think all of the attention Amy Winehouse has received is opening doors for us," he said. "People are realizing they’re not just studio musicians. They’re hired as a band and they’re not just playing charts.
"There was a point, when Amy was blowing up, that there was a little bit of, ‘OK, what did we get ourselves into here?’ And also, ‘How will it affect the perception of Sharon?’ but in the end, I think it’s actually had a very positive effect."
Viecelli said he thinks the group’s work ethic will keep it together.
"The band loves to work. Sharon loves to perform," he said. "I think that they all recognize that the live show is their strongest, most immediate calling card. So certainly there’s no lack of willingness to work. They’re dedicated to it and they find time."
Jones agreed with Viecelli and explained her philosophy on the subject.
"Everything is combined," she said. "You do the album, and then you go do shows. When we slack down, we can do things separately, and then we get back together and keep trying to put out an album every year."
As for that thing about selling records, here’s Jones’ final word on the subject: "I’ll tell people in a second, ‘Buy my album, but you need to come and see a show.’"
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings will kick off a U.S. tour at the Apollo Theatre in New York City in October and plan to be on the road in the States and abroad through the middle of next year.