Neal Sugarman, Cochemea Gastelum and Binky Griptite of Sharon Jones‘ backing band the Dap-Kings, reflect on writing and recording “Sail On!” in the latest installment of Rolling Stone series, “Levels.” The song appears on Jones’ final album, Soul of a Woman, which was released in November, one year after the beloved soul singer died of cancer.
Gastelum, Sugarman and Griptite give a detailed musical explanation of “Sail On,” describing the genesis of the bass line to the horn riffs, and how Jones crafted the arrangement and lyrics with the band.
Soul of a Woman was originally going to be an orchestral record, Gastelum explains, after the group was inspired by a recent series of live concerts. But as Jones’ cancer worsened, she pushed the band back towards a “red hot, bluesy R&B” sound. “Sail On!” was a chance for the Jones and the Dap-Kings to capture the vibe they adored in Bobby Bland’s “Road of a Brokenhearted Man,” which had been a staple of their live show for years.
“Once she owned a song and she made it her story, it just took on a whole new life,” Gastelum says of Jones, sittng at his piano. “And the band could feel it. The energy on stage was just elevated to such a level that you could just feel it in your body.”