Sharon Jones

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

BY Sarah MurphyPublished Dec 9, 2015

She may have found success a little late in life, but Sharon Jones has been consistently charming listeners alongside the Dap-Kings for more than a decade now. The group's latest offering, It's a Holiday Soul Party, finds their soulful style of feel-good funk getting wrapped up in festive ribbon and shining brighter than the star — or menorah — atop the tree. The seasonal songs ring with sleigh bells and brim with joy, despite a trying time in Jones's personal life. She announced earlier this year at a screening of the documentary Miss Sharon Jones! that her cancer had returned. She's currently undergoing chemotherapy, but her feisty spirit remains just as lively and vibrant as her music.


What are you up to?
I'm not working on anything. Basically, I'm going through this chemo. That's the only thing, getting through this chemo. I have to try to relax and not overexert myself. There's healing time, and then I want to go on the stage and do my job. I had to tone it down a little bit.
What are your current fixations?
Like I said, I'm healing. So I do a number of things that keeps my mind — hold on I gotta take the dog out, sorry. I have a dog, he's 17 but we don't want to put him to sleep yet. He has Alzheimer's, he walks around in circles but once he falls he can't get up.
Why do you live where you do?
I was in New York, but I moved south, I moved back to my hometown, Augusta, Georgia. Go up the Savannah River and it's Augusta — I live in North Augusta. The city's just got too many people, the rent's crazy. It's just working to pay rent, you can't do anything else. I came home, I got my mother out of the projects and bought her a home back in my hometown and that's where I stay now. I've been there since 2011, but I've been touring and I've been sick, so I've been away from home for almost two years. I like it down here, when I go home, it's peaceful, quiet, and I go fishing.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
What's his name, when he put the stories together in the videos? It was a series with the song, I thought that was pretty clever. He did a video, a series of videos maybe three, four, five? He's one of those singers that got in trouble with the law, there was a situation with a young girl and he do that "Steppin'" song. I thought it was clever how he put the videos to the song… R. Kelly! ["Trapped in the Closet"?] Yeah, that one!
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I got to say right now, my most memorable gig is coming back on stage and singing after being off the stage for over a year with the cancer, and going back on stage with no hair — a whole different person, a whole different appearance. That was in New York.
What have been your career highs and lows?
The most exciting thing, my high, was when I got to be in a movie with Denzel Washington and getting to meet him and be in The Great Debaters. That was one of my highs. One of my lows was when I couldn't sing, those months when I had to be away from my fans. Cancelling shows really hurts me, that's one of my lows.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Mean things were said before my career took off. That I'll never make it or I was too old. You know, who's gonna come see me? Who's gonna come and see my old ass? That's what someone said. And the guy who told me I didn't have the look, that I wasn't what they were looking for in the music industry.
What should everyone shut up about?
How they treat our president. He's the president of the US of A. Doesn't matter what colour he is. Whenever we had all the other presidents, we all treated them a certain way and I just think it was so obvious how they treated this man in the last few years. And I know he'll be glad when he gets his ass — excuse me — when he gets out of there. I don't think he was treated right. He didn't get the respect that he deserved as the president. And they try to say that we're down and we're in a hole and we're worse off, I don't think so. They can shut the hell up and accept him. They accepted everybody else, Ronald Reagan and all the rest of them and Bush, no matter what decisions they made everybody accepted that they were the president. This person, they don't even call him "Mr. President." They say, "Obama." Disrespect. They need to get it together. Anyone who steps up there, they should get respect.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like the fact that I persevere. I go on, I never give up. People have said so many things to me over the years, I'll be 60 years old in May, and if I had listened to those things, I would have never made it. So I thank God that I continued on. I used to dislike that I would explode. I was one of those exploding people, the horns would come out when I was younger. But as I got older, I learned that people can call you names — as long as they don't put their hands on you physically — there's no reason to get all out of proportion. And you can handle things better by talking soft than yelling. I'm saying that now, but get me mad and you'll be like "What in the world?"
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
A perfect Sunday for me was just get up in the morning, get dressed and go to church. There was nothing like being in church, hearing the choir sing, a good sermon, being with people, being with friends. That was part of my life, growing up, that was a perfect Sunday. Now, the perfect Sunday is when I get some peace and quiet, taking a break. If we're on the road, Sunday may be a day off and you look forward to that peace and quiet, that rest.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
It hurts when one of our musicians has to leave us because they have to be closer to home or closer to kids, but as for kicking someone out, man… The only time I remember doing that was I got a band started in New York when I was a teenager and I got these girls together as a group and they ended up kicking me out of the group. I know who I am, I'm bubbly and I would just sing. I started the group and asked them to back me up and one of the girls starts going with the band leader and the drummer, and they said "Well, we can kick her out and keep on going." You know, that's how it goes. I don't like kicking out people. If you're going to kick someone out they gotta really be doing something, like, not their job. For me, as long as you come on that stage and play and do what you do, I don't care what you do out — as long as you don't bring it on the stage. Once you start bringing it on the stage, it's affecting me and the music, it's time for you to get kicked out. But so far with the Dap Kings, we've been together almost 20 years. In 2016 it'll be 20 years.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
When I think of Canada, I'm so close but yet so far away. I would just love to get up there with all that water, fishing, maybe come up and do some ice fishing when it really freezes up. I've never done that. Between Canada and Alaska, I would like to do that all, but Canada's closer.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
If I can remember right, it'd be Jackson 5.
What was your most memorable day job?
Working corrections, I think that was pretty crazy. Getting up and going in there with the inmates and dealing with the officers too. I think that was a crazy gig. You know when you go in to do training, they don't tell you you're going to be that close to the inmates or in with them, so you go in on your day training and they take you inside, and you're like, "What in the world?!"
How do you spoil yourself?
To spoil myself, it's just getting away. Maybe get a boat and go on a lake somewhere and be at a cabin and just away from everyone and music and just be with nature. That's pampered life, that's what I like to do.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
I probably would've been in one of those jobs, still working corrections, getting ready to retire in the next five years. Or just home, every day, maybe going places to fish. People don't understand what it's like when you work hard and you do so much on stage and you're around people all the time. Me? I like the quietness. So you'd probably find me on a lake or a pond in a boat if I could.
What do you fear most?
Right now, I fear this cancer. I fear it constantly coming back. I just want it to go away and stay away. So, that's one of my fears. At one time in my life I feared that I wasn't going to make it and do something and have a great job and end up being homeless and have to be on welfare or something like that. I think that's why I worked so hard, so I'd never have to deal with those things. But my next fear is my health. The fear that this cancer won't go away.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
You know what? Sometimes it doesn't have to be "Oh, he gotta be blond," "He gotta be big," "He has to have blue eyes," "He has to have brown eyes," "He has to have muscles" — I just think sometimes, at my age and where I'm at now… in my younger days, sometimes all it took was a glance or a look, whether it was lust or love. Sometimes it was just a voice, how he could sing. Or a smell! I always had a cologne, when I smelled that cologne it was like "What the!" It's just like "Boom!" It was always Grey Flannel. That would turn me up and make me want to take it all off. Doesn't matter how you look, I'm like "Come here!"
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Strangest would be Aretha Franklin. Scary, you know, wanting to meet her. And when I got to meet her, it wasn't what I expected. She turned me down, made me feel bad, even made me cry a little bit — one tear went down the side of my face. It was just the way she was cold and the way she treated me. I was singing her songs at the Apollo and I went to meet her. I was all excited, I was like a little kid. And she went "Hmmph." Never said anything but "Hmmph." She took a picture with me, but that was it. That was one of the strangest and most hurtful ones. But I still look up to her, I still love her, she's still the queen.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
If James — Mr. Brown — was alive, I would love to have him and Oprah sitting at my table. Denzel, you know. Just sitting there, sharing interesting things about your life. What would I serve them? Oh my god, I don't know. Only thing I really love is collard greens. It would have to be some sort of collard greens with something.
What does your mom/family wish you were doing instead?
They knew I was gonna sing, they're glad it finally happened!
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
It would probably be "Precious Lord Take My Hand." Because my mother made me sing that at different people's funerals. I always sang that song, it's the song you do at a funeral. [sings] "Precious Lord, take my hand; lead me on, let me stand."

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