Biopic Ready

Over the years Hollywood has produced a lot of great biopics of famous musicians. You know the names: Ray, What's Love Got to Do with it, Walk the Line, The Doors, etc.

Some bright young Hollywood screenwriter ought to start working up a script treatment on Sharon Jones.

Sure, Sharon Jones, lead singer of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, may not necessarily have the fame and legacy of a Ray Charles or Johnny Cash – yet – but her story is pretty damned interesting.

All the ingredients are there: engaging characters, distinctive settings, stern adversity and, of course, lots of great music.

The film would invariably open in Augusta, Georgia where we would see a young Sharon Jones and her brothers imitating James Brown – who, of course, is also from Augusta. Then later we'd see a slightly older actress portraying Jones singing in the church choir. Flash forward a few years to Jones, now in Brooklyn, where she is a session backup singer on numerous gospel, soul, blues and disco recordings, though she would often go un-credited for her work. Eventually Jones would be told (I picture Adrien Brody as the evil music producer) that she was too short, too heavy and too black to be a star.

As the film enters into its second act we see Jones left with few options as a musician and forced to take various day jobs to support herself. The most interesting of which is as a corrections officer at the notorious Rikers Island. Surely, there is montage in here somewhere.

But just when things start to look there bleakest opportunity knocks. In 1996 she is hired by Gabriel "Bosco Man" Roth and Philip Lehman to do some session backing for funk legend Lee Fields. Roth and Lehman are so impressed by Jones abilities that they ask her to record a few solo tracks that would eventually go on to be released on an album by the now defunct Soul Providers.

Roth would go on to form the also now defunct record label Desco Records where Jones would release several singles, earning some notoriety among soul and funk enthusiasts. Then Roth forms the Dap-Kings to be Sharon Jones backing band and Daptone Records to release her stuff. She finally gets attention from outside the tight-knit circle of soul aficionados.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are largely credited – along with Amy Winehouse who had backing on several tracks from the Dap-Kings on her Back to Black album – with launching a funk/soul revivalist movement. Starting in 2002 with the album Dap Dippin' the group have released four studio albums including their latest I Learned the Hard Way, which debuted at number 15 on the Billboard 200. It’s a feel good story: Now in her mid-50s, Jones has finally earned the success she tried so hard to achieve during the '70s and early '80s. Maybe that’s what gives her records that authentically late '70s soul sound so many artists try to emulate now. But that's not to say they make new music that sounds old. Pretty much the opposite, actually, as her group has a unique ability to make old sound new again.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are scheduled to perform at the Orpheum Theatre this weekend, and if there’s a venue in Phoenix worth of the silver screen, this is it. Actually, it’s be a nice place to end the flick, maybe transposing shots of Jones with footage of her old home town hero, The Godfather of Soul himself, playing there in 1997.

The final song is sung, the film fades to black as the happy crowd gives a standing ovation and then the credits roll.

Sun., Sept. 26, 8 p.m., 2010


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