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- Posted on Oct 25th 2007 7:00PM by Mike Spinella
You recently performed with the Dap-Kings at the Apollo Theater. How would you describe that evening?
I've been practically halfway around the world and I've played at places with, like, 30,000, 40,000 people. But the Apollo was packed, and the way the crowd was accepting me, they were screaming, they stayed up through the whole show. I have been going through so much personal change this last year since December -- I've lost, like, 19 family and friends, and I've been to funerals, and [my mom] had a stroke a few months ago and I've been taking care of her. And just at that time I'm taking care of my mom and getting everything straight with her to prepare for the Apollo and to prepare to go away, so that night was just a burden to lift off me and it was such a cleansing. It was just a great night.
Would you say that's been the highlight of your career so far?
[Meeting] James Brown -- I did get to meet him last April, right before he passed away in December. I didn't get a chance to talk to him or anything, but his last words to me were "God bless you, daughter," then he looked into my eyes and he shaked. And I had my hand around his watch and could feel his heart beating through my fingers, and those were the last words he said.
This seems to be the perfect storm for you. The press is embracing the new album, and the attention level is high. What is your reaction to that?
I'm thankful for the press. Some of these groups or singers now are like, "I don't want to talk to no one." If you want to get known out here, the press can either make or break you, and so far they've had nothing but good things to say.
What's it like having this amount of success at this point in your career? Do you think people even realize you've been at this for a long time?
No, people don't -- I've been out doing what I'm doing with the Dap-Kings and, before the Dap-Kings, Soul Providers, like, 12 years now. There are, like, five albums, you know? But it doesn't matter how we get out, just that it's out now.
What is it like going from being a prison guard to singing at the Apollo in front of thousands and being in a movie with Denzel Washington?
You know, it's a long struggle. It's not like this stuff happened overnight. It's amazing that when I was in my early youth, I want to be this singer, I want to be doing hip-hop. They told me I didn't have the look, I was too dark-skinned, I was too short, too fat, and once I got past 25 I was too old. So from 25 up until now -- I'm 51 -- I had to do studio work, sing in wedding bands, and I was always singing in church and with choirs. And then again along came this funk group that was looking for someone to do something that I had in me, which is to get that soulful singing.
How has it been working with the Dap-Kings and being part of the Daptone label?
I've been with the Dap-Kings when they was [on] Desco [Records], and when the partners broke up and [Roth] started Daptone, I sort of brought up Daptone. I was sort of like Smokey to Motown [laughs]. That's the way I feel with Daptone, they're part of my family, they're a part of me. So I been there, I've been at the studio, I put the electrical plugs in the walls of the room where we go in and sing, so it's part of me. I watched it grow, so I know what we've worked hard for is paying off.
Would you ever consider signing with a major label or recording elsewhere?
I don't know what it means by signing with a label, because that means telling me what you can and can't do, and I've made it to where I'm doing what I'm doing with nobody's opinions. If I'm going to sign on to some major label, somebody must be doing some very good work taking care of me. But I have to still do what I do with the funk stuff with the Dap-Kings until they don't want me. That's the only way I would stop singing with them, because that's like my family, that's my baby, that's my project.
What was your reaction when you found out that Denzel Washington had courted you for a role in his film?
At first, after being rejected so much in life ... then when my manager Alex told me -- I was at the airport -- "Sit down." I was like, "What?" "You want to be in a movie?" I was like, "Come on, Alex, stop playing." He said Denzel asked. Then he was like, "For real -- as soon as you get back, you gotta do a screen interview." Thursday night, they bring me back to Daptone at 2 o'clock and they hired this piano player. And I learned the [audition] song [for the movie] as he was learning the song, with the lyrics in front of me sitting at the piano, and I sung out that song 'I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl.' They got that tape out right before UPS closed Thursday night, and Denzel got it Friday. I was biting my nails all day Friday: "Alex, did you hear anything?" "Nothing." Once it got dark, I said, "Eh." Nine o'clock, Alex called me up, "You got it!" I was up I my room, no one in there but me, and I just went, "Yes! I got it I got it!" And I started crying and I started thanking God, and I got so happy, then I got a pain in my chest and thought I was having a heart attack. I was laying on my bed saying, "O Lord, please don't kill me, you just gave me this and now you're gonna kill me! All this happened in, like, ten minutes' time, and I literally had to lay on my bed and just take deep breaths till the pain in my chest go away.
Have you met Denzel yet?
Yes, when I did the movie -- now he directed the movie and he's starring in it. Denzel was so nice, and as soon as I came on the set he crossed the room and just said, "Sharon," and I couldn't say a word.
What do you think of the Budos Band and all the other music happening on Daptone?
I like it, it's good. It makes the label grow and keeps it interesting. You know you're not gonna get bored.
Amy Winehouse has cited you as a big influence and is now a platinum artist. How does it feel to have such a successful artist view you as an inspiration?
Before I even found out who she was, the Dap-Kings said we gonna play behind [her] ... "Who's that?" "Oh, she's this girl from Britain and she's got a great voice and she's really been admiring you for a long time, and that why she wanted the Dap-Kings behind her." I'm like, "Cool," but I never got a chance to hear her until the stuff was finished and they were getting ready to go on tour. And we met when I was down in South by Southwest. I'm thankful for Amy and [Winehouse producer] Mark Ronson, because that's how we got mainstream. By them putting the Dap-Kings out, it was a different crowd of people ... they would see us on MTV. And so I'm happy for her, and my prayer is out for her to hope that she can get herself together and get on back out here and continue to make some more music.
I did an interview with her probably about a year ago now, and she said that she had never met you and was real excited to.
It's just a shame -- she says to me she's been working real hard, too, I guess, I don't know how hard she's been working. I mean she's only twenty ... I don't even know if she's that age, but I think that she's just too young, a baby in this music thing. And you're just falling while you're climbing, you know. And it seems to be this trend with these young people when they're doing it, I mean come on! I think this stardom came at them too fast. They're too young, they don't know how to handle it. And I guess now, with things coming at me, you can't give me too much money, you can't give me too much attention, because I'm ready to deal with it. I don't need to be in the top clubs partying. I don't need all that. You can find me somewhere on a lake or a boat somewhere, a fishing rod in my hand -- just Mother Nature, that's my thing.
Would you say that soul and funk are experiencing a real revival?
I've been trying to accept the fact that it's coming back. And I thank God that we didn't let it go. I mean, if you look back, there's been like maybe 12-15 years it's been getting popular, we've been out here 12 years. And when we started running, I think there was maybe two other independent record labels, who had bands doing funk stuff only in Europe. And now it's widespread. And we were part of that beginning of that, so it's great. And I'm feeling very proud to be part of a revival. It's like I'm in church and we have those revivals -- that's what it's all about. Bringing back the good times and bringing it all out.
People ask what do I mean by soul -- it's music that comes from the heart on the inside. You can see when me and the Dap-Kings are on that stage and we ain't playing around, it's coming from our heart. A lot of these young'uns coming out here try to imitate me. They have soulful voices, they practice and imitated enough to get someone to sound like a deep, really good soul singer. But they got to live it. And if they continue it and let it become part of them, then they can, you know, live it. It's not an act. When I'm on that stage I'm not pretending, I'm not trying to be somebody from back in the '60s, you know, I am from back in the '60s. You don't just get out and get one or two or three songs, and you get a front cover and stuff, and you let the stardom and clothes and stuff take you away. Especially if you got a gift, and I see these young'uns coming out of rock and bring the soul back in. You got a soulful voice, that's a gift, you know. Don't waste it.