Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Long Slow Train: The Soul Music of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones (centre) and the Dap-Kings. (Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff)

Here is an excerpt from Donald Brackett’s upcoming book, Long Slow Train: The Soul Music of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, which is being published by Backbeat Books in Fall 2018.

“The heart of youth is reached through the senses; the senses of age are reached through the heart.” – Nicholas-Edme Retif 
“Too short, too fat, too black and too old . . . ” – perennial refrain from record producers responding to Sharon Jones in the early days of her music career.
Following their traditional performance pattern, when The Dap-Kings started a concert by playing a few instrumentals to get the crowd warmed up to a fever pitch and ready for their main attraction, they would introduce her by having the bass player boom out: “Ladies and gentlemen, 110 pounds of soul excitement, Miss Sharon Jones!” She was all of that and more, with not an ounce of falsehood in her.

This is a tale of triumph over adversity and the lifelong commitment to a pure and positive spirit. This is the saga of Sharon Lafaye Jones, May 4, 1956 – November 18, 2016, and her 60 years of raw, untutored, ramshackle, rambunctious and infectious energy. Performing at a concert in 2014, the year she was valiantly fighting off the pancreatic cancer that would eventually claim her only two busy years later, and going onstage to perform one of her typically boisterous and sensual sets, she was asked how it felt to be suddenly performing with a totally bald head. Not for Jones the feeble world of either wigs or hiding from reality. As reported somewhat jubilantly by Max Blau of Spin Magazine, she declared, “It’s going to be different. I’m just going to go with it. That’s what soul music is all about!” Sharon Jones was definitely different, and she was definitely what soul music was all about. She went with it, all right, all the way.

This is the chronicle of her early struggles, her rise to fame, her discovery by Gabe Roth of Daptone Records, and her musical and artistic triumph and its attendant challenges. It is a tale focused solely on the music of her soulful revivalist style and her artistry in interpreting a glorious tradition in a vitally new, purist manner. In particular, it emphasizes her place in the context of contemporary soul music, while also offering a short history and definition of soul as a style and its major female exponents for deeper context. In some respects the saga of Sharon Jones has everything that was missing from the life of the subject of my earlier book on Amy Winehouse: most notably the longevity, joy, persistence, endurance and sheer survival skills necessary to ring every atom of pleasure out of Jones’s sixty intense husky years on earth.

Whereas Amy may be considered a retro-artist, Jones pursued an approach to soul music which mirrored the religious revivalist messages in her early gospel roots. There are parallels, on the surface, between how Winehouse extended the torch song tradition and how Sharon Jones evolved the soul music tradition and succeeded in delivering a wild postmodern incarnation of its basic spirit and intent. Apart from that, it’s all apples and oranges, given that the tumult killed Winehouse at 27 but attention and acclaim finally arrived at Jones’s doorstep only once she was already 40 years old, somewhat ancient in pop music terms.

This book’s title conveys much of the spirit and content of its hopeful and optimistic narrative, and lord knows our culture could use more hope and optimism these days. This is especially evident in the fact that Jones began as a church singer who, like James Brown, was taken over (possessed one might say) by the raucous energy of a different sort of soulful singing, but one no less sacred in the final analysis. It obliquely references a famous film from 1973, one which featured a battle for the soul of a woman who encounters the devil and is given a chance to avoid going to hell by returning to earth and engaging in sinful and lusty activity. The title also captures the essence of what early audiences (generally white audiences) felt when they first encountered the raw emotional power of black soul music: that it was the devil’s music. Indeed it is; however, it’s also a devil who is ultimately on our side as human beings with a diverse range of emotions. Soul music is sacred to that devil in us who wants to fully celebrate being alive, come what may.

Our narrative places Sharon Jones in the context of historical soul music and provides an overview of her importance in that genre by demonstrating how she stretched the classical soul vibe and merged the raunch of James Brown with the female power of Etta James. My personal position on her historical importance is one that ranks Jones as not just the equal of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Tina Turner, but in many respects their superior. Indeed, there is still a considerable degree of sexism and ageism inherent in a youth-oriented music industry obsessed by appearances as a way of explaining the challenges faced by a female soul singer who was not a young, cute, svelte beauty in the traditional sense of those words, but whose sheer joy, humor and sensual exuberance transcended any clichéd limits she may have encountered, eventually. She beat all the odds stacked against her in a world fixated on glamour and glitz, but of course she couldn’t beat the odds of a rigged mortality.

When blues music goes on a blind date with gospel music and has too much rhythm and blues to think, that unlikely marriage of heaven and hell gives birth to something called soul music. In some ways the parents of both these sacred and profane styles didn’t want their kids going out together, let alone settling down and starting a dance-mad family that would shake up the musical world forever. We enter the fray that would become the saga of Sharon Jones at the beginning of her long, hard climb to the stellar soul heights: in the hot Augusta church pews where fervent worship was the only spiritual dish on the community menu.

early Sharon Jones.

Though this is definitely not a biography, we will trace the tracks of her tears and follow her soul journey back to its origins, when she first encountered the devil in the jumping church choirs of black Georgia. Her second demonic encounter would be with another Georgian native, the devil’s chief disciple, James Brown, a friend of her mother’s. In the big, sprawling Jones family, with five siblings of her own as well as kids being raised by her mother on behalf of her deceased sister, the church was the centre of not just a community of faith but also one of living, breathing and sweating music. Early on the family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where literally four decades later Jones would make the fateful encounter with Daptone Records’ founder and writer, performer and producer Gabriel Roth, the abundantly gifted man who would give her a midlife chance to make her mark in authentic soul music.

Before that encounter, however, Jones would struggle to break into the business the old-fashioned way, singing in wedding bands (a thought which fills me with both delight and dread in equal measure) and talent shows, where she was always viewed with some degree of skepticism as a result of what I would call her rugged and unconventional beauty. She fought her way into the hotly competitive field of studio session work, often appearing as Lafaye Jones and keeping busy, but her dream of a solo recording contract was slow in materializing. She didn’t stop dreaming, however, even when she was working, in uniform, both as an armored car guard for Wells Fargo and as a correctional officer at Rikers Island prison. Lordy lordy.

Sometimes, destiny steps in. The recording session that made all the difference was originally organized by an exotic soul label called Pure Records, run jointly by both Philip Lehman (aka Philippe) and Gabriel Roth, and now a long-forgotten part of mature soul music history. When Jones was the only one of four booked back-up singers to show up for the session (she never missed a session) she was invited to sing all four of the planned vocals by herself and so stunned the studio staff with her raw but accomplished vocal style, and her equally raw and racy personality, that they invited her to record a solo track with them on her own. It was included on an album called Soul Tequila, released in 1996, and featuring the basic nuts and bolts of the stellar back-up band, The Dap-Kings, with whom she would be actively churning up the funk for the next twenty years, right up until the day she passed away in November 2016.

Gabriel Roth’s discovery of Sharon Jones would also be the birth of a new and gritty record label on a mission to restore the roots of unadorned, unvarnished, anti-digital soul music of the 60’s and 70’s variety most notably championed by the titanic James Brown. More than one listener and audience member would become gobsmacked at just how much like JB in drag the new Daptone star could be. Her first solo record was Daptone’s first record release ever. But before that came the slew of blistering singles. Hint: the title from one of her early songs, “Damn It’s Hot” (Part 1 and 2) is derived from the fact that she was in the recording studio singing it while still in her damp Wells Fargo officer uniform after work! The rest is herstory.

Originally classified as a funk/soul record, Dap Dippin’ is 45 minutes and 24 seconds of emotional intensity from start to finish, a suitable debut for both the 40-year-old vocalist and her new band and as the premiere release of a brand-new label. Its eccentric reinterpretation of a Janet Jackson song, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?,” still manages to succeed due to Sharon’s incomparable authenticity. Produced by Bosco Mann (the mercurial Gabriel Roth’s studio persona), it spawned a single with the stellar Jones song “Make It Good To Me,” demonstrating instantly that she was a force to be reckoned with, backed with a b-side instrumental, “Casella Walk,” featuring the Dap-Kings in a groove that they would stay in comfortably for the next fourteen years: Gabe Roth on bass / Leon Michels on tenor saxophone / Jack Zapata (Martin Perna) on baritone / Binky Griptite on guitar / Fernando Velez on conga / Earl Maxton (Victor Axelrod) on organ / Homer Steinweiss on drums / Anda Szilagyi on trumpet.

She had an immediately recognizable sense of style and grace, even right out of the starting gate, a personal delivery (directly from my heart to you, as the old Richard Penniman song put it); she was once characterized perfectly by Jon Pareles of The New York Times as being “a powerhouse soul singer with a gritty voice, fast feet and indomitable energy." It was this combination of singing and shouting that could instantly connect us with her brand of gospel-charged soul and funk and that was transmitted to us via a uniquely raw voice, a sound which “had bite, bluesiness, rhythmic savvy and a lifetime of conviction.”

For about thirty seconds I toyed with the idea of calling my new book The Gospel According to Sharon but veered away to avoid any unintended irreverence, even though that is a clear picture of the style she began with and never really left behind: gospel fury. It strikes me as even more pertinent in the context of a comment by Yolanda Adams: “There is a sound that comes from gospel music that doesn’t come from anything else. It is a sound of peace. It is a sound of, ‘I’m going to make it through all of this.’ ”

She demonstrated quickly that as a band’s front-woman she was an unstoppable force, a private weather pattern which they simply had to desperately try to keep up with. She also quickly established her basic repertoire of song material: love troubles with men, feminine power unleashed, hard times in life, but all without a trace of the moribund self-pity of younger and hugely famous stars who shall remain nameless. It was truly a brand of blues, but one proffered in a sassy shimmy and usually adorned with sparkling sequins.

She is also the peaceful ceasefire in the battle between Motown Records, trying to reach out to wider multi-racial audiences across America with Smoky Robinson, and Stax Records, trying to stay true to an ultra-raunchy brand of in-your-face blackness best exemplified by the percussive mania of James Brown. She travels from the root to the fruit of soul in the blink of an eye and she wants us to be completely messed up by her sound, but in a good way: the same way professed so passionately by diverse but equally soulful entertainers such as Willie Bobo, The Funk Brothers, The Four Tops, Etta James, Otis Redding, and The Blue Notes, even Nile Rogers and Chic, and by way of Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder – and even Santana and Prince (who once showed up at a 2011 Sharon Jones concert in Paris to contribute some of his majestic guitar to her steaming sonic stew).

And all along the way, her band is there behind her, rushing to catch up, to keep up, to lift up this amazing dame in front of them; and also while Gabe Roth is doing double duty at the analog mixing board with a simple but challenging job description: find the magic, support the magic and preserve the magic.

Her second release on Daptone, Naturally, came out on January 25, 2005 and was a brilliant follow-up effort which began to assemble the permanent wrecking-crew personnel of her band, including the stalwart Neal Sugarman on tenor, Dave Guy on trumpet and Tommy Brenneck on guitar and piano, and featuring great back-up vocals by the legendary Lee Fields, the same artist for whom Sharon had been tapped to provide back-up vocals for in her initial encounter with Roth back in 1996. The quirky inclusion of Woody Guthrie’s 1944 "This Land is Your Land" ended up creating a cult audience for her uniquely funked-out version of a classic piece of American folk music. Even more timely today is the lyric refrain from the original: “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me, / The sign was painted Private Property / But on the backside it didn’t say nothin’. / This land was made for you and me.” 

This was vintage musical spirit recorded on vintage sound equipment: man-made sounds captured by mechanical engineering in the old-school manner. From the beginning she also referenced, though totally unconsciously, what we could call the mythic and mystic origins of soul music: in the sanctified beats of faith out of control, of church clapping gone mad, of testifying private feelings publically, of the steam locomotive train tracks repeated rumble of click-clack, of the secret power of dimly-lit juke joints off the main street of popular culture, of the urge for dancing in the streets while still indoors, of tracing the tracks of her tears for all of us to see and hear. All while maintaining that special groove required to be considered authentic soul, the strange and exotic pattern that sometimes, in full flight, feels like a massive flock of birds all moving in the same direction at the same time, and then suddenly changing directions on a sweaty dime and going anywhere and everywhere, as long as it’s ripping along at 120 beats per minute, the speed of the average human heart. 

The third studio album for Jones and The Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights, was released on October 2, 2007, right in the middle of the global mania surrounding the young, doomed singer-songwriter who would shoot to the stratosphere after Mark Ronson borrowed Jones’s band to record his protégé Amy Winehouse’s multi-Grammy-winning second record, and Amy would in turn borrow her band to go on a global concert tour. In 2006 Sharon and the band 
 well, especially the band  had their profile go through the roof when young Ronson borrowed her boys to play studio sessions for his brilliantly produced Winehouse album Back to Black, and they accompanied her on her frequently turbulent and increasingly chaotic concert tour across the globe in support of that record. For a time it was natural enough for Jones to feel slightly sidelined, to say the least, while she watched the troubled singer-songwriter gain massive fame, win five Grammys and then feverishly embark on her eventual and maybe inevitable path to self-destruction.

The 100 Days album was again recorded in the tiny Brooklyn studio home of Daptone, again using vintage analog equipment direct to two-inch tape, as well as utilizing the vinyl format that most delighted revivalist tastes for authentic 60’s funk. The title refers to the time it takes, in Jones’s estimation, for a man to reveal his true feelings and unfold his heart, and the vibe also contains a nod of respect to precursors like James Brown with a song called “For the Godfather.” The CD pressing of the album also included a bonus disc with a mock radio station presenting an imaginary show improbably called “Binky Griptite’s Ghettofunkpowerhour,” as a vehicle for releasing almost an hour more free music containing twenty-seven additional tracks selected from Daptone’s extensive back catalogue. 

Rhapsody, an online Seattle music service, ranked the album at #9 on the best albums of the decade list, declaring, “Maybe there’s something anachronistic about a band that plays funk music in the 21st Century as if hip-hop never happened. But when the music’s this good, those concerns fly out the window. Jones pours everything she’s got into this album, and her gruff, passionate, brassy style grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go until the end. The Dap-Kings restrain themselves behind her, shuffling and jangling but leaving her plenty of space to maneuver a clutch of good songs.” Ian Hendrickson-Smith joins the crew at this stage on baritone, and would remain an anchor to this day, with additional spice to the mix being provided by the Bushwick Philharmonic Choir, The Dansettes (old wedding-band chums) and The Gospel Queens.

Also in 2007, Jones performed six period numbers by Bessie Smith for a film soundtrack, with Sharon being the ideal choice of voice and oopmh to embody Bessie’s basic down-home blues style, and she also played the perfect role of a juke-joint singer, ironically really playing herself, in the Denzel Washington film The Great Debaters. That same year, The Dap-Kings would appear on Mark Ronson’s own solo record, Version, an astutely curated selection of cleverly recorded cover songs.

Her next outing 
 perhaps the most ironic record title in history, given how long she had been struggling to reach for the brass ring in the music industry but how swiftly younger and perhaps more conventionally cute singers were elevated to the lofty pop kingdom of superstardom  is perhaps her strongest yet. 

Her fourth album, I Learned The Hard Way, shows her returning to form after regaining some personal and professional balance post-Amy, with her band back in action where they belonged, with her. Released on April 6, 2010 after production at House of Soul Studios during 2009, this one finally indicated that she was getting her due after paying her dues for so long, debuting at Number 15 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and selling 23K copies during the first week, a possible indicator also of the increased profile provided by the band’s association with delirious diva Winehouse. It also received consistently positive reviews from critics who were beginning to recognize how special she really was

This time the record was released on CD, vinyl, MP3 and FLAC formats, with the vinyl format also containing a code for a free MP3 download of the whole album from the Daptone Records website, and a digital version including an exclusive bonus track, “When I Come Home,” later also available as a 7-inch single. Daptone, true to its tradition, still believed not only in vinyl records but also the copious release of singles, an echo of bygone industry days which happily competes creatively with the monolithic world of online streaming and single song access generated electronically in a youth-obsessed era. 

Listeners as well as critics were praising Jones’ maturing voice (ironic, considering she was 54 years of age) as well as the usual soulful technical mastery of The Dap-Kings, their incorporation of regional soul-music styles and the ability to both swagger and stir the soul by “fitting in with tradition without being beholden to it.” In general, the public and the industry had come to realize that when Jones sang of infidelity, hard times and tough lessons, she was doing so out of personal experience and with complete authority, not impersonating existential damage in the youthful and theatrical Taylor Swift or Katy Perry mode of operation. 

Boston Phoenix
critic Jeff Tamarkin praised their commitment to retro soul (though technically it was really more revival) and noted that they never left the impression that they were trying to recapture past glory because their music just felt “right” and therefore also quite contemporary. This take was echoed widely, especially by The Washington Post, where Sarah Godfrey applauded the band’s vintage sound by declaring it so entrenched in retro soul that it creates rather than emulates those 60’s sounds. She was seconded by critic Bryan Sanchez, who called the album “a beautiful representation of what real, honest and true soul music really is.” Hear, hear!

For me, the most accurate assessment came from Nate Chinen of The New York Times when he opined that it sustained a “plaintive air” with its songs about eroded trust, exasperated patience and wounded indignation. This album also upped the ante on the instrumentation and arrangement aspect of The Kings and the solid foundation they erected for Jones to stomp on, complementing their usual lineup with an additional twenty-eight musicians, including strings, flutes, clavinet and timpani. The sonic results were astronomically deep, and they still are. Try a taste for yourself.

In 2013, while preparing to complete and release Give the People What They Want, Jones was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the project had to be delayed. This period on her life and career was well documented in the heart-stirring film directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple (director of Harlan County U.S.A. and American Dream), Miss Sharon Jones! Eventually, their sixth release and fifth studio recording arrived on January 14, 2014 and would be nominated for a Grammy for Best R & B Album the following year. Jones has often rued the fact that she is placed in the R & B category and not soul, where she belongs. But of course, weirdly, there is no soul category. The Dap-Kings' superb horn section would also be utilized again by the erstwhile producer performer Mark Ronson at this stage, adding to the temperature of the “Uptown Funk” track, among several other tunes, on his Grammy-grabbing solo album featuring Bruno Mars, Uptown Special

Once again it was clear to critics and listening audiences alike that this album and her music in general were both preserving a tradition while also exploding and amplifying it at the same time, no mean feat, and Rolling Stone called them both a national treasure and an instant soul party. For Spin Magazine’s Anupa Mistry it proved that “music from another time can still thrill us in this one because of its practically tyrannical insistence on bliss.” This insistence on bliss is both the key to the basement of her style and the reason for her personal survival. 

Damn, but this woman has struggled. She had early struggles, she had late struggles, her whole damn life has been one long struggle. But here’s the thing: after Lafaye, struggle was her other middle name. 

During periods of remission from her illness, Jones chose not to rest but to go back to work, among other things to complete her final album, and she described what she did as “therapy,” saying that she knew she was supposed to be resting and sleeping but that she wanted to work, because that her was job. “You got to be brave. I want to use the time that I have,, she told the Associated Press. British producer and performer Mark Ronson knew whereof he spoke when he sadly mourned what the world lost when Jones departed, and, in what almost seems like minutes after she passed, he told the BBC news: “Sharon Jones had one of the most magnificent, gut-wrenching voices of anyone in recent times.”

It remains to be seen how and even if The Dap-Kings will manage to continue on without their blistering and spirit-baring frontline singer. Obviously they can’t simply replace someone like her. Do they become the kind of purely instrumental soul/funk unit they’ve proven themselves to be so often over the years? Do they become creative consultants and work with other producers to provide the firm foundation for another gifted singer to bounce around on? Do they call it a day? Stay tuned. Gabe Roth, wearing his record-executive hat, has already started to drastically expand his Daptone label repertoire by recording rock records in the same distinctive analog manner. Old-school rock records! The man is a single-minded analog-renaissance genius.

In one of the oddest of many glowing obituaries, The Sunday Times identified her as an American singer who once worked as a prison warder and lent her retro-soul sound and backing band to Amy Winehouse, then correctly concluded that without Jones, the world might never have heard of the doomed torch singer at all. The Sunday Telegraph chose to headline her passing with a similar irony: “Sharon Jones, who has died at age 60, was a former prison guard who found success in middle age as a leading exponent of old-style soul music.” 

That’s putting it mildly and obscurely, to say the least, since I suspect she may have been one of the greatest soul singers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including all of the ones whose names are household brands, and especially since she didn’t just sing soul music, she lived a soul life. On the Vulture Culture website, Lauren Schwartzberg shared her interview with Jones, in which the singer demonstrated just how she managed to cope with “one damn thing after another.” Jones remarked, “I knew I was going to be famous later in life.” Her mother had sent her as an 18-year-old to visit a neighborhood tea reader, Madame Cohen, and the soothsayer told her, “You’ll travel, play music, be happy and be well off.” At the time of that February 2014 interview, Jones wistfully declared, “I’m almost 57 years old and things are finally happening for me,” with her usual sunny demeanor, even though less than a year beforehand, just when she had reached her full artistic and financial powers, she had been diagnosed with stage-two pancreatic cancer, which has a survival rate of less than 10 percent. Destiny is such a double-aged sword: first it sets you free and then it cuts you loose

Sharon Jones rebounding from cancer in 2013 (Photo: Jesse Dittmar)

When Schwartzberg spoke to her about her life history, she felt almost like she was listening to the plot of a Russian novel: the stint as a prison guard, another as an armored truck guard, with a brother who lost his marbles as a result of some ill-advised psychedelics, a mother who shot a gun at her own husband because he was cheating on her during her pregnancy, her fiance from hell, and her life as a well-known singer who ended up living with her mother in the Queens projects barely a couple of years before reaching Number 15 on the Billboard charts. The final straw seems to have been watching the televised election of a president who appeared to represent everything that was anathema to her, and whom she only half-jokingly blamed for the stroke that quickly laid her to rest. It might have been the final indignity in what many of us would have described as an unfair life in which she was cheated out of her musical success until the last few years, and then cheated out of it again once she finally had it. But not Jones; that wasn’t her way. And no matter how hard her climb to the top had been, or how briefly it appeared to be fated to last, she always saw a bright side to what befell her that most people couldn’t even imagine. Her inner light shone on brightly. 

In a final demonstration of her indomitable spirit and grit, Sharon Jones insisted on creating a new song, yet another sparkling single, ironically written for the soundtrack of the documentary meant to chronicle her own mortality, and she titled it “I’m Still Here” with typical tongue-in-cheekiness. Even though she was barely five feet tall she looms large in our lives, and she always seemed to grow taller the longer she sang, until in the end she seemed even taller than Aretha with Tina sitting on her shoulders. 

By way of contrast and counterpoint, despite the visual appeal and obvious beauty of a Beyoncé Knowles, once Sharon Jones starts shimmying her sequins at you, growling her emotional testimony your way and flying around the stage so wildly that sooner or later she has to kick off her high heels and stomp barefoot, any memories of Beyoncé’s carefully choreographed bottom quickly fade from the listeners' minds. Her rather soulless delivery of computerized sonic structures pales by comparison to the power imbued in the dervish-like Jones, a force which makes B’s material sound quite mechanical, mostly because that’s exactly what it is. 

Jones, in contrast, is not limited to happy or sad songs, since true soul music alerts us to the fact that sorrow and happiness are not mutually exclusive, that life is not an either/or scenario but a complete package of both sensation and spirit. Jones is making music that is a user’s manual to the human heart, an operator’s guide to the machinery of survival under any and all conditions: she is all about the mechanics of bliss, not the mechanized menu of momentary pop pleasure. In an age where some so-called soul music is merely syncopated schlock, Sharon Jones is a mother lode of the real deal, the kind that lasts. Jill Scott put it very well when she remarked, “Soul music is about longevity and reaching and touching people on a human level, and that’s never going to get lost.” 

Jones has finally been found. Her whole life was a blues song, not in her music but in her actual embodiment of the blues. If she did sing blues one could easily imagine her identifying with the classic twelve-bar mode of Albert King’s “Born on a bad sign, / Been down since I began to crawl, / If it wasn’t for bad luck, / I would have no luck at all.” But she didn’t; she sang soul, which transmutes human sorrows into transcendent joy, more along the lines of an anthem like Richard Farina’s “Been down so long that it looks like up to me.” This tiny titan called Sharon Lafaye Jones cast a long shadow on our contemporary pop cultural stage, and in a compelling way her final song says it all, since she herself may be gone, but her music is still here.

– Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based popular culture journalist and curator who writes about music, art and films. He has been the Executive Director of both the Professional Art Dealers Association of Canada and The Ontario Association of Art Galleries. He is the author of the recent book Back to Black: Amy Winehouse’s Only Masterpiece (Backbeat Books, 2016). In addition to numerous essays, articles and radio broadcasts, he is also the author of two books on creative collaboration in pop music: Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years of Creative Chaos, 2007, and Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter, 2008. His latest work in progress is a new book on the soul music of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, slated for publication in Fall 2018.

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