HERE'S what soul success looks like at 56: single, living out of a suitcase, and recording albums that hark to the '60s on an Ampex eight-track machine for an independent label.
But Sharon Jones wouldn't have it any other way. A major label? Forget it.
A Sony representative once put Jones straight.
''The guy told me, 'You're too black - we need to get some stuff and bleach your skin - you're too fat, you're too short, and you're too old','' Jones recalls by phone from Augusta, Georgia, where she was born. ''All I could do is what I did. I just thank God that [God] blessed me; my voice is a gift, and one day people will accept me for my voice and not the way I look.''
Oh, but plenty do: Jones' midlife big break came hooking up with the Daptone label and the Dap-Kings. The next was National Public Radio and surprisingly young US audiences taking to their retro sound and her outstandingly soulful voice.
''Well, you know, we do the real stuff,'' Jones says. ''College stations, thank god for the college stations.''
Before fame, Jones was a prison officer on New York's Rikers Island, but it is her earlier life, growing up one of six children, that invites biographical readings. Take She Ain't a Child No More from 2010, whose lyrics begin: ''She used to run when you raised your hand …'' Jones' parents never laid hands on her, she says, but her parents physically fought with one another.
Her mother raised her six children alone on welfare, and Jones was the only one to finish high school. ''I thought, 'I just gotta keep on goin', and I struggled,'' Jones says.
The singer only two years ago put down a payment on a home that she has yet to properly furnish. She has just finished recording again with the Dap-Kings - enough material for two albums - but constantly touring is necessary to support herself, the musicians and her siblings financially.
Jones says her parents' failed marriage may partly explain why she never married or had children. Is there someone special in her life now? ''Um, no, no,'' she laughs. ''Ah, no, no, no. I don't have time. I'm on the road, and last time I was in a relationship and I would come home and … [he'd] be jealous of this and jealous of that … to me that's totally nonsense.''
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are at Mossvale Park Summer of Soul, Mossvale Park, Strzelecki Highway, South Gippsland, on Sunday, January 6, and the Corner Hotel, Melbourne, on Tuesday, January 8.