Saturday, November 19, 2016
Five Reasons to Miss Sharon Jones or A Beginner's Guide to Grief.
Why am I sad, as a music lover/collector/occasional musician about Sharon Jones? When you deal with older musics, you have several roads that you travel.
1. Wasn't _____ great?
2. Wasn't _____ overrated? You SHOULD be listening to ____!
3. ____ WOULD have been great if not for _____.
4. These new people remind me of ___________, but they aren't as good.
Number one is the most common. Number 2 is the stuff of much debate among crate-diggers, critics and some musicians. 3 is the stuff of biographical sketches and books. 4 is as well, and that encompasses the stereotype of the elders shaking their canes at the foolish youngsters.
Sharon Jones was number one. She was great. No, she wasn't the greatest singer, even in her own genre, but that does not detract from my point, especially since another talent, who also didn't have the best voice.
Sharon Jones was number one.
I've spent considerable time in my life collecting music. Over the years, you get used to disappointments. There are people that you cannot possibly see, folks that are a shadow of their former selves, talents that are still great, but neglected, people that are in your wheelhouse or pretend to be and are more popular than one feels that they should be, great work being done, but is buried by bad distribution and/or bad production, shifty management, mental issues and substance abuse.
I saw Chris Clark ("Love's Gone Bad") and while she looked great and she had a good time, her voice was shot. A friend of mine saw Thurston Harris at a mall, roaring drunk and not really able to perform. Eli "Paperboy" Reed was absolutely chewed up and spit out by Warner Brothers in their quest to find the male Amy Winehouse. I would have paid any amount of money to watch Guitar Slim enter a club riding on the back of another musician, playing his axe with an extra long cord. The Misunderstood's "Before the Dream Faded" is a document of a superior band that left behind amazing music and resulted, at the time in only ONE issued 45.
You can't say any of this about Sharon Jones. She had a good and sympathetic label, good production values on her recordings, good writing, a fine voice and an energetic stage show and national exposure. Songtracking has become something of an art nowadays. I heard "Black Monk Time" by the Monks in a Powerade commercial, "Who Knows?" by Marion Black was used in an episode of "Weeds". However, imagine my surprise and the elation of my internal cheerleading squad when I heard Jones and the Dap-Kings' version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land".
I am of a certain age. I know full well that Jet Magazine used to list shows in which we made appearances. We NEEDED to see Black models because we needed to be told that we were aesthetically pleasing and worth something. Heck, I remember when it was just nice that we lived through a movie or a TV show. As of this writing, there is a Black President. Jones' achievements are muted somewhat by that, (for extremely good reasons!) but it cannot be stressed how big and significant Jones cultural contributions are.
The music scenes I deal with are quite esoteric and can even be quite catty. This person should be bigger, not this one, because they play the real whatever-it-is. This person/band is a carbon copy of that one. Their compositions are derivative, etc.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were quite rare. ALL of the elements came together:
1. They started well and got better album after album. At no time do you hear dilution or impending commercialism detracting from their sound.
2. The songwriting was top notch and MAN, did it sound good. There are few fussier about production values than myself. It's almost always better to see a group like this live, but their recordings are quite vibrant and a very just document of their legacy.
3. Daptone Records are easily obtainable and their roster is nothing to be sneezed at. Charles Bradley, Saun and Starr or Naomi Shelton are worth a listen.
4. She appeared on David Letterman's show, Conan O'Brien's show and she even was set to perform at the White House last month, which she had to cancel, due to pneumonia. She was a success, with decent album sales and YouTube views in the millions.
5. No less than James Brown gave her his blessing. In the documentary "Miss Sharon Jones" ("She warranted a D-O-C-U-M-E-N-T-A-R-Y!", go internal cheerleading squad, go!).
It was all in place. It was many of my dreams come true. I was glad that I saw her twice.
And now she's gone.
Bless you Ms. Jones. You showed us that it was possible. Thank you.
And that is why we should grieve.