Daptone's 100th 45-R.P.M. Record: An Exclusive Look Inside the Earth-Shaking 'Soul Fugue'
Vinyl singles have played a crucial role to the independent label's legacy, so for it's going big for its hundredth release on the small format.
Nearly two decades after the very first Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings single led to the launch of Daptone Records, the label will release its 100th 45-r.p.m. record on June 28 celebrating the soulful, belting and brass-blasting family it has cultivated.
In the summer of 2001, Jones and the Dap-Kings were preparing to temporarily relocate to Barcelona for a nightclub residency when bandleader Gabriel Roth pressed the group’s single “Got a Thing On My Mind” to 7-inch vinyl so they would have merch to sell. Roth and Neal Sugarman founded Daptone Records shortly after that and the 45 remained a crucial part of their business as they independent operation grew.
“When we started, that was a way for us to raise money,” Sugarman tells Billboard. “Even before we were putting out albums, it was a way for us to put out singles. There was a real culture for that. DJs we liked were playing 45s; the records we were buying were mostly 45s. It’s just still a super cool format.”
Roth wanted the 100th 45 to stand out from the rest and he savored the opportunity to make sure that every detail -- from the die-cut of the picture disk to the composition of the songs themselves -- speaks to that. Side A is “Hey Brother,” a re-working of the Frightnrs song that appears on their 2016 Daptone debut, Nothing More to Say. This version showcases the superlative singers of the Daptone roster, including Saun & Starr, Lee Fields, Naomi Shelton, Duke Amayo of Antibalas and James Hunter, as well as the Frightnrs’ lead singer Dan Klein -- who passed away following complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2016 -- and Jones and Charles Bradley, who recorded their vocals before they died in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
“It’s like ‘We Are The World’ -- we got everybody on it,” says Roth of “Hey Brother.” “We got all of our singers together, trading verses and lines and stuff. That’s the first thing that celebrates the family and the sound and our friends that we’ve been making records with for so long… Everybody seemed to really like the tune, but more than that everybody seemed to really love the idea of being together on a record like that and having a kind of celebration for the hundredth thing. Every one of those singers that I asked, after I explained what we were trying to do, they really jumped through hoops to try to make it happen.”
Side B bears the “Soul Fugue,” an instrumental triumph and mathematical one, too, as the five-minute fugue spans across 100 measures and fits perfectly on one side of a 45. Like “Hey Brother,” the “Soul Fugue” gathers Daptone all-stars on one track, only this time of the instrumental sort. The woodwinds and brass players march towards each other to beats of their own respective drummers and Roth mixed the “Soul Fugue” so that the dueling clusters of saxophones, clarinets and flutes and trumpets, trombones and sousaphones blare through separate speakers to preserve that concept.
“I’m super impressed with how that piece came out. I think it’s going to blow people’s minds, too -- when they’re able to drop a needle on something like that,” says Sugarman. “I don’t think there’s much symphonic music that’s pressed on 7-inch. It’s going to be pretty fun to be able to turn people on to that.”
The “Soul Fugue” is one of the most challenging endeavors Daptone has attempted, logistically: There was no way Roth could squeeze this small army and their instruments into Daptone’s intimate studio and coordinating the schedules of players across Daptones’ roster was borderline impossible. Roth eventually found a single day that worked for this 100 Knights Orchestra -- the name given for these players assembled from the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, the Budos Band, the Menahan Street Band, the Extraordinaires, the Soul Providers and the Daktaris -- and they managed to record the “Soul Fugue” on Feb. 29, 2016, coincidentally a leap day.
“These guys had played in the same bands, but because they played the same instruments, they never played together,” Roth says. “There were probably six different trumpet players that played with Sharon and eight different sax players, but none of them ever really made records together. To be playing alto [sax] next to six other guys who are playing alto -- not just six other guys, but your buddies -- that’s pretty cool.” For Roth, the big bands backing greats like James Brown and Fela Kuti were role models for Daptone’s bands, who aspired to live up to the standards set by for their teamwork and cohesive prowess. The “Soul Fugue” drew that into focus.
“I wasn’t playing nothin’, just kind of in conducting and standing in front of these guys, looking at eight or nine trumpet-playing friends of mine blasting together,” Roth recalls. “The sound was unbelievable. The whole building was shaking when they were playing this stuff. The power of it, I don’t think [it] matches anything else we’ve ever recorded.” (A live performance of the "Soul Fugue” has happened only once on a bittersweet night in Brooklyn: Jones and the Dap-Kings played what would turn out to be their last hometown gig together in Prospect Park that night and Klein died hours after watching the 100 Knights Orchestra convene to play through the fugue.)
Daptone’s 100th 45 will take two forms: as the standard black 45 and a limited edition die-cut picture disk featuring the logo of the label. It will be available to purchase via the Daptone online retail shop June 28.