Not My Job: Sharon Jones Gets Quizzed On Handshakes
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where great people agree to do silly things. It's called Not My Job. When Sharon Jones performs with her band, the Dap-Kings, she dances around with amazing energy and joy as she sings. That might be because it took her a fairly long time to get her big break and get to the big time. She's taking a break from the big time to join us. Sharon Jones, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SHARON JONES: Thanks. Blessed be.
SAGAL: So it's kind of true that you were not, shall we say, a child success. You were - it took you a long time to sort of get your career going. Is that the case?
JONES: Yeah, it was a little - took a little while. My first album, when - I was 40 when I got my first album out.
SAGAL: Wow. So what were you doing before then?
JONES: Just trying to make it. I caught the church, you know, working with the choir. But then I discovered wedding bands and then I even took on other jobs, deciding my music's not going to make it. Let me try to be a correction officer or - so I did other stuff and tried to make it, but here I am.
SAGAL: Wait a minute. You were a wedding singer and a corrections officer, a jail guard?
JONES: (Laughter) Yeah, I did all that kind of stuff.
SAGAL: How many - I mean, for those people who have never seen her perform - Sharon, can you describe your height, maybe, and just general size (laughter)?
JONES: I'm 4'11" and a quarter.
AMY DICKINSON: Tiny.
SAGAL: Don't you forget that quarter. So you're a 4-foot-11-and-a-quarter-inch-high jail guard. How'd that work out?
JONES: It didn't work too well. It just wasn't - (laughter).
SAGAL: Really? Were you - because you're also a very high-energy person. Did you - were you just able to intimidate them with your natural power?
JONES: I tried but, you know, the inmate would look at me and say, you're not going to make it in here, Ms. Jones. You're too nice.
DICKINSON: Aww (ph).
SAGAL: When you were a wedding singer, I mean, was there one song you hated to do?
JONES: No. Actually, we got to the point where it was pretty good, till they had to start telling us not to do a certain song.
SAGAL: What was that? What song was that?
JONES: That was that song, (singing) you know you make me want to jump in here.
SAGAL: Oh yeah. So...
JONES: ...Because usually by that time the groom and everyone is drunk, and they're throwing each other up and somebody falls on their head.
SAGAL: So for people not lucky enough to have heard you - which is a terrible mistake. Everybody fix that now. Your music - I find it very kind of a throwback to, like '60s R&B, to, you know, just really sort of - you know, lots of brass and lots of rhythm. And it's just sort of joyous and great. How would you call it? How would you describe it?
JONES: We're trying to keep it - like, that's what it is. Soul music, you know?
JONES: And - because the category now, what they call soul music - R&B is not soul.
JONES: It's pop now. They did change everything around. So we just like - you're right - the late '60s, early '70s, right before the soul music left and before things started changing.
SAGAL: Some of your songs and some of your performances, I've got to say, remind me of the godfather, James Brown. You met...
SAGAL: ...Him once, right?
JONES: Yeah, I've met him over - I met him twice. Once as a young - very young, standing at the stage and with my father. I'm like, dad, he's floating because, you know, my eyes was at the level of the floor. And to me, it looked like he literally was floating across the floor. And the next time I got to meet him was April of 2006 in Perugia. I was in Italy. And he - of course, 2006 December he - you know, he was gone. So...
SAGAL: Do you dominate your band like the way he did?
JONES: No. No, we don't have that.
JONES: I'm not that demanding.
SAGAL: You know, I've seen you perform. I've seen videos of you performing. People can watch them if they're, again, not lucky enough to see you live. You dance, like, in a manner I've never seen. Are you like - are you a trained dancer or is that just you being you?
JONES: No, I - it was all natural. Everything is natural.
SAGAL: Did you do that when you were a wedding singer?
JONES: Oh yeah, with my band - oh, my band was called Good and Plenty. We would kill. It was Good and Plenty, and we were the Good and Plenty girls.
JONES: Actually, the young ladies who sing background with me, Saundra and Starr, were also part of my wedding band when we was out.
SAGAL: Wow, that's amazing.
JONES: Yeah, we've known each other over the years, yes.
SAGAL: And tell me about the Dap-Kings. Where did they come from?
JONES: Oh man, the Dap-Kings are just - I mean, when I first saw them, I mean, they was really young. I mean, my drummer at the time was, like, 16. And Gabe - I saw him, I just said, I think he's been re-incarnated. I said, he's really an old soulful black man in a young Jewish man's body.
PETER GROSZ: Is he the bass player with the big curly hair and everything?
SAGAL: I've got to ask you something. You have more stage presence than - and sort of just sheer joy than any performer I can think of. So do you have any advice for Hillary Clinton?
SAGAL: Because she seems - I'm going to say she's a wonderful person. She's a very good politician in terms of getting stuff done. Being on stage? Not her strength.
JONES: You know what? I'm just going to tell her, loosen up, Hillary. Loosen up. Loosen up a little bit. You know, loosen your collar. You're going to be all right. It's going to flow right. You're going to flow.
SAGAL: Yeah. Hillary? Get your flow on.
JONES: Get your flow on.
GROSZ: I'm not sure there's any young girls who watch Hillary Clinton on stage and turn to their dad and say, she's floating.
SAGAL: She's amazing. One...
JONES: ...Maybe if she watched a couple of my tapes she might, you know, pick up a couple of little...
GROSZ: ...Yeah, exactly.
SAGAL: I think if Hillary Clinton were to come out on stage dancing like you do, the election would be over instantly.
JONES: (Laughter) Yeah, one of my slogans is make America dance again.
SAGAL: (Laughter) Oh, yeah.
DICKINSON: All right.
SAGAL: Well, Sharon Jones, it is so much fun to talk to you. And we have invited you here today to play a game we are calling...
BILL KURTIS: Let's Shake On It.
SAGAL: So you preside over the Dap-Kings; masters, we presume, of the dap, an elaborate handshake. But what do you know about normal handshakes? We're going to ask you three questions about...
JONES: ...Normal handshakes.
SAGAL: Handshakes, you know?
JONES: OK, I'm going to try this now.
SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about the traditional greeting in which men try to hurt each other. So get just two of these questions right and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail.
JONES: Oh, sure. Come on.
SAGAL: All right. Bill, who is Sharon Jones playing for?
KURTIS: Sam Allison of Portland, Maine.
SAGAL: All right. So some people take handshakes, just your basic handshake, very seriously, as in which of these? A - the famously germophobic President Grover Cleveland appointed what he called a handyman to shake hands for him. B - in 2015, the sisters of the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority sued a sister who leaked the details of their secret handshake. Or C - at a bathroom fixture conference in 2011, two vendors reportedly shook hands for 39 hours straight because no one was willing to let go first.
JONES: I'm going to go with sorority. That sounds like something someone would try to do.
SAGAL: You're right. That's the one. Phi Sigma Sigma...
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL, APPLAUSE)
SAGAL: ...Sued a member for revealing the secret handshake. It turns out that there are specific handshakes for specific purposes. Which of these is real? A - the sailor's handshake. It's a special handshake used by sailors in the olden days to detect if women they met had syphilis. B - the vanilla handshake, a failed dessert beverage for cannibals. Or C - the Hando Calrissian (ph), the handshake you give before betraying somebody.
JONES: Well, you know, it doesn't matter - I'm going for Sam. I want to win, Sam. I want to win this, Sam. I'm going to go with one.
SAGAL: You're going to go with one, the sailor's handshake?
SAGAL: You're right. That's what it was.
SAGAL: Yeah, sailors apparently used to shake a woman's hand and then grab them by the elbow as they did it to see if their joint was swollen, which apparently was the sign of syphilis. Sharon, is there somebody there helping you?
JONES: And even if there was, I would say no.
SAGAL: I understand.
SAGAL: Well, what is the point of having backup singers if you can't use them for other things?
SAGAL: Let's give one more question. Let's see if you can be perfect here. There have been many handshakes of great historical significance, as in which of these? A - Eric Clapton shook Prince Charles' hand after taking a dozen Quaaludes, earning him the nickname Slow Hand.
DICKINSON: Oh God.
SAGAL: B - King George - of the madness of King George fame, that guy - King George III once shook hands with a tree thinking it was the king of Prussia. Or C - at the wedding of Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton when the minister said, I now pronounce this a loveless political alliance, you may now shake her hand.
JONES: I'm going to go with one. I'm going to go with one.
SAGAL: Wait, what? I can't hear you.
JONES: (Unintelligible) Just go with it.
SAGAL: You're going to go with which, Eric Clapton?
JONES: Yeah, A. I'm going to go with Eric Clapton.
SAGAL: Oh no, I'm afraid that's not why he's called Slow Hand. No, it was actually King George, the crazy madness of King George.
JONES: King George? And he really shook hands with a tree?
SAGAL: Tried to shake hands with a tree.
JONES: I mean, I knew they say he was a maniac, but I really didn't think he was that crazy.
SAGAL: Well, he was pretty crazy apparently. That's...
JONES: ...Hey, I got two out of three. Come on, I'm doing good here.
DICKINSON: You've got it.
SAGAL: You are.
DICKINSON: You've got it.
SAGAL: Bill, did Sharon get two out of three and is doing pretty good?
KURTIS: She did, two out of three wins. Sharon, good for you.
JONES: I win, look at that. Come on.
SAGAL: Congratulations, Sharon. Sharon Jones is the lead singer of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Her new documentary, "Miss Sharon Jones!," is out now. Sharon Jones, thank you so much for talking with us. What a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER THINGS")
JONES: (Singing) I'm a better woman than I have been 'cause I don't think about way back when. It takes two to love but only one to leave. It was you who did that dirty deed. I've got better things to do, better things to do, better things to do than remember you.
SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill smizes (ph). It's the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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