Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff
Brooklyn Royalty: The Dap-Kings

Their musical lane may have been narrow, but they drove it in a monster truck powered by James Brown’s hairspray.

The synopsis of the new Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black, to be released in May of 2024, says it’ll follow her life from adolescence to the creation of her seminal 2006 album of the same name. I have one major question beyond the necessity of a biopic in the first place. If the film focuses on how the album came to be, does it give any attention to the musicians behind the record? Because if it does, it better give credit to the greatest Brooklyn-based funk/soul band of the 21st century, the Dap-Kings.

The Dap-Kings formed around 2000 from pieces of various New York-based funk and soul groups. The band released a string of spectacular R&B records with their late frontwoman, human spark plug Sharon Jones, until her death from cancer in late 2016. They initially set up shop in a basement in Williamsburg before building their own studio in a former residential building in Bushwick a few years later. Super-producer Mark Ronson hooked Winehouse up with the Dap-Kings, as their sound jibed with the retailored 60s aesthetic she was aiming for. Roughly half of Back to Black’s songs were recorded with members of the Dap-Kings and associates, including the hits “Rehab,” “You Know I’m No Good,” and the title track, in their studio, now known as Daptone’s House of Soul. The songs were recorded with the full band in one room, a refreshingly analog approach in an increasingly digital landscape. The band’s sound, horn-heavy and funkily Stax-esque, matched perfectly with Winehouse’s throwback vocals. The band later backed Winehouse on her first American tour to support the album.

Winehouse herself became a household name on the strength of Back to Black, but as is often the case, the studio musicians themselves were faceless limbs and mouths in the background. This is not to detract from Winehouses’s heartfelt vocals and lyrics, which are affectingly powerful and the album’s rightful focal point. The millions who bought the record likely had no idea they were enjoying the work of one of the best American bands of their generation unless they took the time to read the liner notes.
Seeing the Dap-Kings in person, often in support of Sharon Jones as she ran and danced non-stop across the stage, was an otherworldly experience. The band was drum-tight and deeply focused, easily switching tempos and grooves and getting everyone in the crowd moving as they sweated through their suits. Their musical lane may have been narrow, but they drove it in a monster truck powered by James Brown’s hairspray. Unfortunately, since Jones’ passing, the Dap-Kings haven’t recorded any new music under that name, and Daptone Records hasn’t released anything since 2021. One of Brooklyn’s greatest musical acts may have quietly retired with little fanfare or notice. It’s a shame, but we’ll always have nearly two decades worth of records and collaborations. And the next time you hear the soul-rattling horn bridge on “You Know I’m No Good,” don’t just think about the shooting star that Amy Winehouse was riding; think about the band that helped her stay on.

Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

Adam is just a dude based in Brooklyn who enjoys thinking about music in all forms. He enjoys cooking, board games, baseball, and arranging songs for ukulele that shouldn't be played on ukulele in an extremely amateurish way. Adam is shown here at age 13 on his way to a bar mitzvah.

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