- R&B royalty: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are typically described as a throwback to American funky-soul essentials, steeped in the legacies of Stax/Volt and Hi Records. Onstage, Jones is five feet of sturm und drang, stalking the stage with the muscular prowl of a Tina Turner. Her band, the formidable Dap-Kings, is also decidedly old-school: horns stepping to and fro in lockstep; guitarist Binky Griptite announcing the singer preacher-style; bassist and musical director Gabe Roth standing shaded in hirsute cool like a circa-'79 Duck Dunn.
As legend would have it, the diminutive siren was brought in from her job as a Rikers Island prison guard to sing backing vocals. Roth and his cohorts saw and heard her potential -- a previously untapped connection to "the real thing" -- and released several Jones-led records on their Brooklyn-based labels Desco and, later, Daptone. The sound on records like Naturally and 100 Days 100 Nights is simple: Jones' aching wail over MGs grooves and Al Green-style horns.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings is one of the best live bands in America -- as most who've seen their multi-hour sets will attest. But take a second to consider what's allowed them to remain that way. Daptone combines elements similar to the Stax-like studio system (talented in-house musicians), the self-perpetuating empire of Fela Kuti (the self-contained lifestyle of Daptone's organization) and the indie-rock label renaissance of the late '80s and '90s (which included such successes as Sub Pop, Dischord and K Records).
Each step in the Sharon Jones narrative has been about Daptone creating tiny legends in the music marketplace while retaining the band's artistic integrity. They balance cult status (45 rpm records with Lee Fields) with pop recognition (touring as Amy Winehouse's band). And their new-media savvy (the Daptone iPhone app) is balanced with passion for folkloric roots (the commercially suicidal, but artistically and historically vital Como Now collection of contemporary a cappella gospel).
By synthesizing the band's popularity into a unique mini-empire that manages to double-down on talent with business acumen and a fanboy's enthusiasm, Daptone Records has become one of the most balanced models for independent-label operations in a contemporary music biz that desperately needs them.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings with Steel City Soul Club. 7 p.m. Sat., Jan. 23. Diesel, 1601 E. Carson St., South Side. $22 ($25 day of show). 21 and over. 412-431-8800 or www.dieselpgh.com