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05:51

Other segments from the episode on May 7, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 7, 2010: Interview with Sharon Jones and Gabriel Roth; Interview with LeBron James; Review of the film "Iron Man 2."

Transcript

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..PGRM:
Fresh Air
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Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings: A Little Funk And Soul

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

Some people have called Sharon Jones a female James Brown. She grew up in his
hometown of Augusta, Georgia, and imitated him as a child. Now, she sings with
the band the Dap-Kings. She was described in the New York Times as a timeless
soul singer, and the Dap-Kings were described as obsessive and skillful soul
revivalists. The band backed Amy Winehouse on several tracks of her hit album
"Back to Black" and also backed her on her first U.S. tour.

Our guests today are Sharon Jones and the founder of the Dap-Kings, Gabriel
Roth, aka Bosco Mann. They met when he co-owned the now-defunct label Desco
Records and asked her to record for it. Now, Roth runs Daptone Records, which
recently released the fourth album by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. It's called
"I Learned The Hard Way." Here's the title track.

(Soundbite of song, "I Learned The Hard Way")

SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS (Music Group): (Singing) Something's told me
inside that your love is untrue. You said girl, it's all right. I would never
hurt you. Just to be by your side, I would've walked through the fire. Now, it
hurts me inside just to hear your name, just to hear your name. I learned the
hard way that your love is cruel(ph). I learned the hard way about you.

When I opened my eyes, it was all around me. (Unintelligible).

BLOCK: Terry Gross spoke with Sharon Jones and Gabriel Roth in 2007.

TERRY GROSS, host:

How would you describe the sound you're going after?

Ms. SHARON JONES (Singer): More of a soul, Stax '68, '69 sound. Gabe?

Mr. GABRIEL ROTH (Owner, Daptone Records): Yeah, I mean, for me, I've always
just tried to make records that sound like, you know, sound like the records I
like. I never had too much of a very specific agenda that were going to try to,
you know, try to ape something or try to pass something off. We just wanted to
make records that felt good to us and sounded good to us.

GROSS: Gabe, would you describe the instrumentation of the band and what you
patterned it on?

Mr. ROTH: The instrumentation of the band is drums, bass, two guitar players,
baritone and tenor saxophones, a trumpet, percussion and Sharon, singing.

GROSS: Is it hard to find good baritone players who aren't full-time jazz
musicians now?

Mr. ROTH: Well, I'll tell you, the thing about this band is that it's actually,
it really is a band, and I think it's rare for a band to be this big and
actually be a band. It's a bunch of guys that are really part of it. We're not
using sidemen. We're not changing people out every gig.

You know, I mean, once in a while, people have to sub out for something, but as
far as baritone players, man, we have Ian Hendrickson-Smith, who is actually a
very talented and accomplished jazz musician in his own right, both on tenor
and alto and baritone and has put out a lot of records in his own name. But
he's a real barker in the band.

I think for the horn players, specifically - I mean, it's a good point you
brought up. Horn players are used to coming from more of a kind of jazz
mercenary background. That just tends to be the culture around horn players, as
opposed to guitar players and stuff.

But these are guys that really, really can feel the power and the energy of
playing in a section and being part of a whole, and I think it's that way for
the whole band. You really have guys that are not coming into it with ego, but
are coming into it with, you know, with the idea of everybody, you know,
playing a part together and achieving something that nobody can achieve
individually.

And I think that's something that's really refreshing, especially coming out of
circumstances, sometimes in jazz, where people are more sidemen or just coming
in to play solos and things like that.

GROSS: James Brown has obviously been a big influence on each of you. I'd like
you to each talk about the influence of James Brown on you. Sharon, let's start
with you.

Ms. JONES: Well, with me, just I guess being born in his hometown and my
parents, I found out later my mother knew him. They used to play together. My
father knew him.

GROSS: Wait, your mother used to play with James Brown?

Ms. JONES: Yeah, I guess that it's something like they used to – some kind of
way they crossed paths just going somewhere, doing something, you know, oh
yeah, you know.

GROSS: Wait, wait, do you mean play music with him or just, like, play as a kid
with him?

Ms. JONES: No, I mean, it was young. You know, when he was out there doing his
thing, like in front of the record store – before he owned anything, when he
was still dancing and shining shoes and making money, that type of thing. You
know, they knew each other from coming up.

And my Uncle Willy(ph) told me that he was like a – my father used to, like,
tap with James Brown, used to dance out on the streets. I was, like, wow, you
know, so I don't – you know, you never know these things. You know, when the
older people get up, and they start talking sometimes, and I just found all
this out like last year. So I was, like, why haven't I heard this before? So
you know, I'll let that go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JONES: I think Uncle Willy just wanted to be talking, you know, but still
I know that they did grow up. And once, he was performing somewhere in Augusta,
and I think I was maybe nine, 10 or maybe, you know, younger, and I went to see
him, and something happened.

He was on the stage, and I looked at his foot, and all I remember saying to my
father, turned around, somewhere like, he's floating. He's not even touching
the floor. And I was, like, right at the stage, eye level to James Brown's foot
– feet - and I couldn't tell if that man – it was like he was floating. And
that's an experience that I just remembered that experience with James. And
then the next when I saw him last year, April, in Italy, right before, you
know.

And he was a little weak, and I got to take the picture, and I was trying to
get word in to him. Oh, Mr. Brown, you know, my name is Sharon Jones with the
Dap-Kings, and you know. And he was, like, looked me right in the eye and said,
God bless you, daughter. And that was it, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So what influence has James Brown had on you as a singer and just as a
stage performer?

Ms. JONES: Well, basically, with Daptone when I met them, it was like, it
sounds so much like it reminded me of James Brown and the J.B.s, that music,
and that I knew where it was coming from with me singing. And I guess just
doing the music, hearing the music and always around these guys playing the
J.B.s and the James Brown thing, and I fit right in. I guess I was that female
James Brown, the sound.

GROSS: Well, while we're talking about James Brown, you know, James Brown was
often introduced on stage in this, like, hyperbolic way. And you, I know, have
done that on record. I don't know if you do that for all the shows. But why
don't we play the introduction from the first Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
album, and this'll give a taste of what I mean. Here it comes.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BINKY GRIPTITE: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the
Daptones super-soul review. My name is Binky Griptite, and we are the Dap-
Kings.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. GRIPTITE: Thank you very much. Right now for your enjoyment and pleasure,
we would like to introduce to you, the funky and dynamic sister whose exciting
dance (unintelligible) across the nation with her dynamic new sound.

Soul brothers and sisters from coast to coast, get up and get down whenever her
records are playing. They're doing all the funky new dances. They're doing the
bump and touch. They're doing the dap-kick, everything. Ladies and gentlemen,
I'm talking about 110 pounds of soul excitement coming for you. This sister is
so bad, she's badder than bad. I'm talking about the same sister that brought
you (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. GRIPTITE: And now, ladies and gentlemen, the star of our show, the super
soul sister with the magnetic je ne sais quoi, Miss Sharon Jones.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: That's the introduction from the first Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
album. God, can you guys do that for me, like, when I host FRESH AIR?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know, that would just be so great to have that kind of introduction.

Mr. ROTH: We can't do that, but I'll tell you, you've got to hire Binky
Griptite.

Ms. JONES: You've got to get Binky.

Mr. ROTH: Binky Griptite has been a very integral part of our whole operation
for the last, you know, dozen years, you know, and he's not just – I mean, he's
a great, great guitar player, but just as far as showmanship, he's kind of the
guy that, as an emcee, brings the show to another level as far as our live
show, you know. And he's definitely inspired - not just by James Brown, but by
Danny Ray, who always used to introduce James Brown.

GROSS: Does this help you really get in the mood to be on stage, hearing that
buildup?

Ms. JONES: Oh, yes it does. I mean, when I'm behind the stage, and Binky out
there doing (unintelligible). I can't even say that, magnetic je ne sais quoi
or whatever. Yeah, and I'm just back there, and they're just screaming, and
Miss Sharon, this – you know, I get so hyped. You know, the blood starts
pumping. It feels like I'm getting ready to go on to a Rocky show, a ring, you
know, get ready to go in the boxing ring.

Mr. ROTH: You know, the live show we do is real different from the records.

Ms. JONES: Oh yeah, definitely.

Mr. ROTH: And we don't try to do the same thing in the studio as we do on
stage, and vice versa, because it works differently. But as far as the live
show, it is really influenced, not just by James Brown, but by Stax and all the
other kind of soul reviews that were going on in the late '60s.

There's a sense of showmanship in that and excitement that you don't see in a
lot of shows nowadays, and you know, we kind of – we do – you know, it's not
formulaic, but it's very similar. We usually start with some instrumentals, and
maybe Binky will sing a few songs, and we kind of get the crowd going, and
he'll talk to the crowd and get them, you know, kind of build up the suspense.

And then he gets into this huge intro, and that was – I mean, the one that you
just heard, that was from, what, five, six years ago or something. That was
about seven years ago. So now it's a lot more hooked up.

You know, the band is settled in, and there's a lot of - there's a lot of
fireworks in the show, you know, and Sharon's coming out, and the band's
blasting, and we're cutting from one song to another. So in that way, it's
exciting.

GROSS: My guests are singer Sharon Jones and Gabriel Roth, the leader of the
band The Dap-Kings. They'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are singer Sharon Jones and Gabriel Roth of the band The Dap-
Kings. Sharon, I've got a few questions for you, and then Gabe, I've got a few
questions for you, and Gabe, feel free to jump in if there's something you want
to add to what Sharon says here.

First of all, actually, I've got a question for both of you, which is, how did
you find each other?

Ms. JONES: Well, Gabe was looking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JONES: He was looking for three background singers to do some vocals for
Lee Fields. And my ex used to play the saxophone with The Daktaris, with the
guys when they was, you know, Soul Providers. And he was, like, well, my lady
sings. And they were like, can your lady sing? I was, like, yeah, I can do all
three parts.

So when I went in, Gabe heard me. Everything worked. Everyone was happy.

Mr. ROTH: And then we ended up cutting two more songs that day with you singing
lead.

Ms. JONES: Yeah, that's right, "Switchblade" and...

Mr. ROTH: And "The Landlord," I believe.

Ms. JONES: "The Landlord," I believe, yeah.

GROSS: There's a great story I'd like you to tell, Gabe, about recording Sharon
doing a track that was intended for a man. The track is called "Switchblade."
Tell us the story.

Mr. ROTH: Well, originally, Sharon just, like she said, she'd come into the
studio to sing backgrounds, and there were two tracks on this album that we
wanted backgrounds for. One was the one for Lee Fields, which she nailed in a
second, did all three parts, blew me away. All of a sudden – it was the first
thing I ever did that sounded like a record to me.

And then there was this other song called "Switchblade," and there was this
guy, this kind of comedian friend we had, that wanted to do this whole long
kind of – you know, this whole long talking rap – well, when I say rap, I mean,
you know, he's just talking about oh, I just out of prison. I'm going to cut
you with my switchblade. And then Sharon would come in with:

Ms. JONES: (Singing) Switchblade.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTH: Yeah, so she cut all those background vocals, you know, and she was
having a gas. Anyway, while I was cutting the last track of backing vocals, she
just started talking smack, and we were rolling on the floor.

It was much funnier than the guy who was going to do it. So I just rewound the
tape real quick and just told her to go for it, and I ran the tape at a little
bit higher speed so she could – because she was trying to do kind of a low
voice anyway. So I just ran the tape a little bit fast for her, and she just
went through the whole thing: I'm going to slit you where the good lord split
you and all that, the whole thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTH: And she went off for about three, four minutes straight.

Ms. JONES: Talking.

Mr. ROTH: And just in one take, and that was – man, we had a gas. That was
actually – it was strange because that was really the first lead vocal that we
cut together, and it wasn't really a vocal. She was just talking smack.

But, you know, it was something. It was kind of my first glimpse into the kind
of personality and the kind of wit and the charisma that she had that, you
know, enabled her to kind of create an entire show sometimes out of – you know,
people are just staring at her, and she's just talking nonsense sometimes, and
people are having a blast.

And, you know, after that, we did a bunch of 45s and eventually an album and
another album, and here we are.

GROSS: Well, "Switchblade" is really hard to find. It's out of print, but
fortunately, you have a copy for us to hear. So why don't we listen to it.

(Soundbite of song, "Switchblade")

Ms. JONES: I done told you to get away from me. Don't make me cut you with this
switchblade. I'll cut you up. I'll cut your back. I'll cut you so bad your
momma won't know 'ya. Just step away. I'll slit you where the good lord split
you, double, twice and three times more.

Just get on away from here now. Don't make me slice you. Don't make me slice
you because I'm bad, and I'm mad. Now, you're talking about grooving? Grooving?
The only that's going to be grooving is blood going to be flyin' when I finish
slicing you up now. Move on away now. Step on back. (Unintelligible). That's
why they call me, switchblade...

GROSS: So that's "Switchblade," with my guest Sharon Jones, recorded so she
could be slowed down and sound like a man. And my guests are Sharon Jones, who
is the lead singer of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and Gabriel Roth, who is
the founder of the band, the lead songwriter and the bass player.

So Sharon, I know you spent some time as a prison guard at Rikers Island. Did
you record this rap before or after you held that job?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JONES: After.

GROSS: So you had inspiration for this.

Ms. JONES: Oh, yeah, I was ready. I think maybe that's why when I went in, it
was so sharp. Everything just came real fast, you know. And actually, I
remember when I went in the studio, the asked the question, pretend, you know,
some guy, you know, like, you know, a bad guy I'm going to cut you so fast with
a razor, you know, back in the day, just talking smack like in the alley or
something. And so that's what I went to, a junkyard dog, tuck his tail under
and run when he see me coming.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JONES: And it was all just, like, spur - I mean, just the words just flew
out. It was, like, I didn't even think of what I was saying, concentrating on.
I just went with it.

GROSS: While we're on the subject, how did you get the job as a prison guard at
Rikers Island in New York?

Ms. JONES: Oh, I took the test. There was – I took a lot of tests at that time.
I took the police test, you know...

GROSS: What was the test like? I mean, what you really need to do is to be able
to, you know, get people to respect you. How do you pass a test on that?

Ms. JONES: Oh, they give you a psychological test, you know, the physical test
you have to go through, background check on you, you know.

And it was great. I think I would've – I would've still been there, but it just
took me away from my singing, you know, the music, you know. It was like a
career, and after being in there, it was like an omen.

My first week, they stuck me outside, and I pulled a groin muscle in the side,
I fell. Then I came back, and I was in – believe it or not, it's so weird – a
car accident, a truck hit me, and I was out for another, like, nine months.

And they forced me back to work, and that same day I came to work, I had a back
brace and neck brace, you know, and I'm walking on it, and I fell on the curb.
So now I'm injured again.

GROSS: Oh now.

Ms. JONES: I'm telling you, it was an omen. It wasn't meant for me. I fell on
the job, and I was confident I'm out again for another couple of months, and so
when I finally came in, they said, you know, the lawyer said, why don't you
just resign? This way, they won't fire you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JONES: And so I resigned for medical reasons.

GROSS: How many days did you actually work?

Ms. JONES: Okay, I would say out of the two years, from '88 to '90, maybe eight
months.

GROSS: So when you were there, given how you kept injuring yourself, and you
weren't in the best physical shape, how were you able to convince the prisoners
that you were strong enough and focused enough to do the job and keep them in
line?

Ms. JONES: Let me tell you, it's a look in my eyes. You may have, like 80
inmates to maybe three officers or two officers. So it was really weird, but
you could not show fear. And that's one thing I didn't show, you know, and I
got the respect from them right there, and they knew that I didn't take stuff.
I wasn't scared.

GROSS: Let's hear another track from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. And this
song is called "Humble Me." And this is another song, Gabe, that you wrote. Do
you want to say anything about writing or recording this track?

Mr. ROTH: Well, it's a very simple song. There wasn't much to write. It's just
a couple chords and some simple, heartfelt words that Sharon could really get
into. I mean, the thing I learned about writing is that, you know, I've never
been a genius or anything, but I learned how to kind of get out of the way of
great musicians and great singers.

So, you know, if you listen to the song, there's not much to the writing in it,
but I think Sharon puts a lot of heart into it, you know.

Ms. JONES: Because actually, I think that song, like, you was writing something
about me, the inside of me. But I think, you know, by knowing me all these
years, Gabe knew that – how I am at the church. I'm always saying that, you
know, I'm so thankful for what God gave me.

So that's why I'm always saying if you see me like I'm higher than everybody
else, you know, bring me down. Let me know I'm not. If you see me up here
wanting all these here fancy things, which he knows they don't ever see me out
flashing and wearing stuff. But if you see me doing that, I want all these
shoes that cost $2,000, $3,000, think about that man over there who don't even
have – a foot is cut off, you know, don't even have legs, you know.

And then I'm also thankful, humble for when I'm on the road. People come out
and pay to come and see me, and I get on that stage, and I'm humble for them
coming out to see me every night, and I'm so thankful for them, for God, for
having me to be able to dance and jump and sing and keep my voice open. So that
song is just about me thanking God, being humble for my blessings.

GROSS: All right. Well, here it is, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, "Humble Me,"
from their CD, "100 Days, 100 Nights."

(Soundbite of song, "Humble Me")

Ms. JONES: (Singing) Humble me, humble me. Don't let me forget who I am. Humble
me, humble me. Don't let me forget who I am.

When I start talking down like I'm hovering above, like I'm made of something
better than what you're made of, and when you hear me asking for all kinds of
fancy things, things you never had, no, and things you know you can't bring,
don't be afraid to humble me, humble me. Don't let me forget who I am.

BIANCULLI: That's "Humble Me" by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, produced by
Gabriel Roth. They have a new CD called "I Learned the Hard Way." They'll both
be back, continuing their conversation with Terry, in the second half of the
show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross. Let's
continue Terry's 2007 conversation with singer Sharon Jones and Gabriel Roth,
the leader of the band the Dap-Kings. Their new CD produced by Roth is called
"I Learned the Hard Way." Here’s another track from it.

(Soundbite of song)

SHARON 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 got better things to do. Better things to do.
Better things to do than I remember you. I got better things to do. Better
things to do. Better things to do than remember you.

GROSS: Dave - now, you write songs under the Bosco Mann and you perform under
the name Bosco Mann. Where does that name come from and why did you feel like
you needed to have a stage name?

Mr. ROTH: Well, it’s actually, it’s very different now than when we started
making records. We first started making records, it was a very different kind
of business for us. We were, you know, I was about 19, 20 years old and we were
really into these old records and we would make kind of these fake old records,
you know, reissues of a sound - the first record album we do is a reissue of a
soundtrack to a kung fu movie that never existed. You know, we just kind of
made this stuff up. And so we were just having a blast making things up and
putting them out, and people were buying them. And then we said, oh great, man,
people really like this music, so we started using, you know, we'd do a real
name and say, okay, this is a new record we just recorded, and nobody was
interested.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTH: We couldn’t give them away. So we got kind of more into the fake - we
did a lot, man. We all used a lot of fake names. Man, we did, you know, fake
sitar records and African records, all different kinds of stuff with all kinds
of crazy names. But really, and once I got deeper into it, I had another
problem, which was that the first record label that we had going, Desco
Records, was funded a lot by credit cards and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTH: ...you know, other people that I'd borrowed money from. So once we
did start selling records, I was real worried about putting my real name on any
of them because I had so many collect - I mean I was sleeping on somebody's
floor and I had - was paying so much money to credit card companies every month
and so many people coming down on me trying to take money, I just didn’t want
to put my real name on anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTH: But you know, in the long run it actually worked well because, you
know, when I'm on the road and somebody comes up to me and they say hey Bosco,
it's good to see you again, I know right away this is not somebody I'm real
close to. So I can say, hey, it’s good to see you too, and I can try to
remember who they are. But...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So how did you come up with the name?

Mr. ROTH: Well, the Bosco part of it – actually, my dad wanted to name me
Hieronymus after Hieronymus Bosch and was going to call me Bosco for short. And
my mom wouldn’t let him do it so eventually he named his dog Bosco.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTH: But, so that was for him. And the Mann part of it was one of the
first two records we did there was a guitar player name Scott Mann that played
on the record and, you know, he used his real name, Scott Mann. I just thought
it would be cool to have some brothers in the rhythm section, so I said yeah,
I’ll be his brother. I'll be Bosco Mann.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTH: But yeah, I didn’t really think that much of it, you know. It's
always the things that you don’t really think out too much that end up - you
end up explaining for years.

GROSS: One of the things that the Dap-Kings are known for is that in your
studio you don’t use digital recording technology. You use reel-to-reel tapes.
These are recorded on vinyl. But anyways, you shy away from like the new
digital technology. Why? Like what do you hear? What kind of sound can you get
on analog that you feel you can't get on digital?

Mr. ROTH: I mean there's a lot of differences, but the main difference - I mean
the thing is I've had a lot of technical - I have - very often engineers or
producers or something will try to, you know, will engage me in these very
technical conversations about what gear are you using, what kind of mics, or
what kind of tape machines. But really, you know, my answer every time, which
is, you know, is not trying to be modest or anything, but just being truthful
is that really 99 percent of what's in a record is what's coming out of the
musicians.

And I think that the arrangements and the sound that musicians have on their
instruments that, you know, Dave Guy on the trumpet and Tommy playing guitar
and Homer Steinweiss playing drums, these guys, all of them, the whole band,
everybody's got a sound on their instrument and they actually sound like that.
And a lot of people think I'm doing some crazy studio tricks, but really most
of it is them.

As far as that last one percent, I think there's a lot of disadvantages to
modern approaches to recording. One of them is that they tend to approach
everything digitally with as many tracks as possible with everything's recorded
to a computer so you can hit undo. If somebody's recording a solo you can have
them record it 35 times and then take the best notes from them. And if they
say, oh, well do you think that was good? Well, I don’t know. Maybe try it
again and we'll see.

When you’re using – when you're recording to like an eight track tape machine,
you’re recording mostly live and things are being mixed together, and if
somebody goes back and they say, man, I don’t about that solo I played, you
know, I look them in the eye, I say, hey, are you going to play it better than
that? And they either have to say yes or no. And you need great musicians to go
back in there and either play it better or not. And there's definitely good
sound out of the tape. You know, the sound of recording to tape has a certain
compression and a certain warmth that's desirable. But I don’t think that's a
huge part of what we're doing. I think that it has much more to do with the
approach of the musicians and just the approach of recording, just the, you
know, the strategy of it.

GROSS: So one more question before we have to end. I haven't had the pleasure
of seeing you on stage, only of listening to your recording. So what do you
look like, all of you on stage? How do you dress? I mean some of the soul
reviews, you’re talking about like really loud clothes?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JONES: Well, I don’t think it's loud. (Unintelligible)

Mr. ROTH: Well, no. We keep it sharp. Everybody's got suits and ties and shined
shoes and locked in step, man. The horn section has got some unbelievable
steps. The band's always stepping together and playing together, and Sharon
always looks unbelievable. She comes out and is usually a blur from the
beginning of the show to the end. You’ve never seen something move so much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTH: So yeah, visually it's definitely an event too.

GROSS: I guess those injuries from your prison guard days aren't holding you
back.

Ms. JONES: No, they're not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. ROTH: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, thanks to both of you for talking with us. It's really been fun.
Thanks a lot.

Ms. JONES: Thank you.

Mr. ROTH: Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Singer Sharon Jones and producer Gabriel Roth. Their newest album by
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings is called "I Learned the Hard Way."
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Two-Time NBA MVP LeBron James Is 'Shooting Star'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Our next guest, superstar basketball player LeBron James of the Cleveland
Cavaliers, has made headlines almost every day this week for different reasons.
He's been voted the league's MVP for the second year in a row. He was just
named to the All-NBA First Team for the third year in a row. And he's playing
in the playoffs right now with an injured elbow. James and the Cavaliers are
tied with the Boston Celtics at a game apiece and Game 3 is tonight.

LeBron James has been a sports star ever since he was on the cover of Sports
Illustrated at the age of 17, when he was still in high school. He was the
number one NBA draft pick out of high school and at 19 he became the youngest
Rookie of the Year in NBA history.

James told his story in his memoir "Shooting Stars," now out in paperback.
James, who was raised in Akron, Ohio by his single mother, also is the focus of
"More Than a Game," a documentary now out on DVD, about the tight bond between
James his closest childhood friends, who shared not only a love of basketball
but also a level of trust.

James has known Dru Joyce, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee since junior high, and
Romeo Travis since high school. They all talk about their friendship in this
clip from "More Than a Game.

(Soundbite of documentary, "More Than a Game")

Unidentified Male #1: We had a natural feel for each other. I'm not sure what
it was. I guess it was just meant to be, but we had a chemistry for each other.
It was basketball but it was more a friendship than anything.

Unidentified Man #2: We were all kind of like friends and then we really
bonded.

Unidentified Man #3: You know, I wanted to finally have some brothers that I
could be loyal to and be trustworthy. I think we all kind of shared that bond.

Unidentified Man #4: I just remember being over LeBron's house one night and
they was just talking like (unintelligible) good friends, you know what I'm
saying? And it was weird for me for somebody to express theirself to me
(unintelligible) another dude - another boy to me like that, you know what I
mean? I think it was more giving. They was more accepting, you know what
saying? It just got more comfortable.

Unidentified Man #5: The Fab Four, that was like our identity.

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross spoke with LeBron James last year.

TERRY GROSS: LeBron James, welcome to FRESH AIR. Do you remember the very first
time that you dunked?

Mr. LeBRON JAMES (Basketball Player): Yeah, I was in eighth grade, and my
middle school every year has a teachers-versus-students game. You know, they
play the basketball team. And in warm-ups - I have no idea what got into me,
but it was so - it was so electric in this gym. I think this gym holds
probably, like - whoo, it holds probably like, I'd say probably about 45 people
in there. That's a lot, right, for an eighth-grade game, 45 people?

And you know, the crowd was, you know, the students was having a great time
and, you know, we got out of school early. And in the warm-ups I just decided,
I don't know, I was going to jump as high as I could and try to dunk. And I did
it. You know, I went up and dunked the basketball. I don't know what got into
me that day. And then when the game started, I got a breakaway and did it
again, and the crowd went crazy. And that was like one of the best moments of
my whole life.

GROSS: You're one of the people who went very suddenly from poverty to wealth.
You write in your book, you know, your mother had you when she was 16. Her
mother died when you were three. It was hard for your mother to support you.
You had to keep moving a lot because of eviction notices and, you know, rent
problems. Did you think of basketball as a way out, as more than just a game?

Mr. JAMES: Oh, I think it is more than a game. Basketball, and I think sport
period, gives you an opportunity to forget about anything that may be going on
in your life, back away from that particular sport that you may be playing. You
know, I definitely used the game to get my mind off some of the bad things that
may have been going on as a child.

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. JAMES: You know, just things you never want your kids to see, you know,
violence and things like that. You never want your kids to see that. So, you
know, I used the game of basketball to keep me away from that.

GROSS: Now, how did you meet the three players who, along with you, became
known as the Fab Four, three players that you went to junior high and high
school with and became real winners together?

Mr. JAMES: Well, I met Little Dru through the same Little League team, through
the same league. It's the ARB. It's the Akron Recreation Bureau. And Little Dru
just so happened played on our rival team. We was the Summer League Hornets and
he played for the Ed Davis Dream Team All-Stars. So we were rivals, and you
know, we met through that way. Willie played on my team. He played on the
Summer League Hornets with me, and I met Romeo on the football team, where I
played before basketball, on the East Dragons.

GROSS: What was it about this group that made you work so well together? Like
what was - describe something about, like, the chemistry on and off the court
that made you work like that.

Mr. JAMES: Well, the chemistry off the court is why we were so good on the
court. You know, we looked at each other as brothers. I mean, at the time it
was the Fab Four. It was myself, Dru, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee, and we, you
know, we used that off-the-court friendship, that, you know, going to - I don't
know - going to McDonald's together, playing basketball outside together, you
know, driving to West Virginia to play in the AAU tournament, you know, things
like that. And then when we got on the court, it was, like, okay, this is the
easy part.

GROSS: Little Dru was called Little Dru because he was little. He was...

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: He was, what, 5'3" or something when you were in high school?

Mr. JAMES: Yeah, when we was freshmen. No, that's, that's good for him. When we
was freshmen, Dru was about 4'11"...

GROSS: Whoa.

Mr. JAMES: ...when we were freshmen in high school.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JAMES: When he came off the bench that year, our freshman year, and he was
a heck of a shooter - and you know, any time you left him open, he for the most
part wasn't going to miss, and you know, he did that from game one all the way
to the last game of the season in the state championship.

GROSS: So you, Dru, Willie McGee and Sian Cotton wanted to go to the same high
school together so that you could continue to be teammates. And you went to a
high school that no one expected you to go to. Everybody expected you to go to
- is it pronounced Buchtel?

Mr. JAMES: Buchtel.

GROSS: Buchtel.

Mr. JAMES: Yup.

GROSS: Which you describe as the school of choice for black athletes. It was a
public school, but instead you went to a predominately white Catholic school,
St. Vincent's. Would you explain how you ended up, the four of you, going to
St. Vincent's?

Mr. JAMES: Well, we ended up going to St. Vincent's because Little Dru at the
time - remember I told you he was only about 4'10", 4'11" - he didn't think
Buchtel was going to give him an equal opportunity to play for them. And when
Dru realized that, you know, he was like, you know, I'm not going there. He had
started going to this Sunday night clinic that our high school coach
eventually, Keith Dambrot, was holding. And he'd seen how much confidence he
had in Dru, and Dru was like, hey, I'm going to St. V, guys. And it was - it
was tough at first, you know, because we knew really nothing but Buchtel at the
time.

And we went to all the Buchtel games and all the Buchtel events, the football
games, everything, and we were - our minds was going to Buchtel. So you know,
when Dru just made that decision, you know, it was difficult for us. But, you
know, when we finally sat down and really came together as friends, we was
like, hey, we, you know, we need to stick together, and, you know, we're going
to let you make this call, Dru. We're going to follow you.

GROSS: Now, you write in your book that some people turned against you when you
decided to go to St. Vincent because they thought you were turning your back on
the African-American community. Could you describe that period and what your
response to that was?

Mr. JAMES: Well, it was difficult. I mean, in the summer of - let me see - I
went to - in the summer of '99, I think that was my freshman year. That summer
before, you know, in between the eighth grade and ninth grade, you had to - you
know, even though we had decided to go to St. V, we were still playing in the
black community. We were still playing basketball against those same kids and
those same adults that really wanted us to come, you know, to Buchtel. So it
was difficult, but I think our friendship and what we had with Coach Drew was
way more powerful than anything anybody else had ever said for us or, you know,
about us.

GROSS: You won the state national championship your senior year. So the bet
paid off.

Mr. JAMES: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: The fact that you and your three friends decided to go to St. Vincent
together, it paid off. And then, you know, you were an NBA draft. You joined
the Cavaliers when they were in last place. I know you're very fond of
Cleveland. You grew up in Akron. Why would you want to join a team that was in
last place?

Mr. JAMES: Well, first of all, if you - you know, I had no choice. You know,
that's why it's called a draft. They pick who they want, and...

GROSS: Good point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JAMES: ...and things like that. But the fact is, when I was drafted to that
team, I felt like I could make an impact. I felt like I could help. You know,
they only won 17 games the year before I got drafted. But, you know, I felt
like my talents could help that franchise. And, you know, I think the city of
Cleveland has some of the best fans that the world has to see, and, you know, I
was happy to go into that experience and then and take my talents to that team,
also.

GROSS: I'm sure it was your dream to be in the NBA. When you go there, how did
it compare to what you expected?

Mr. JAMES: It was everything and more. I always wanted to be in the NBA and
have a uniform with my name on the back, that say James across the back of the
jersey. And I can remember my first NBA game, which we played in Sacramento.
And to just be out there and to see the fans and to see, you know, the cameras,
and to see my teammates and see the opposing team on an NBA floor in an NBA
game, it was, like, wow. It was somebody, like, please don't pinch me because I
know I'm dreaming.

GROSS: Now, you know your one-handed, full-court shot?

Mr. JAMES: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How'd you develop that?

Mr. JAMES: Um, I don't know. It's just - I guess I'm the chosen one, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JAMES: I guess Sports Illustrated was right.

GROSS: There you go. Now, describe the feeling of taking a shot, and the
ball's, like, circling around the rim and then it, like, falls out instead of
going in...

Mr. JAMES: Well, that happens.

GROSS: ...and the game's really close.

Mr. JAMES: Now, that's happened multiple times. It's not a pleasant feeling,
you know, especially when you feel like that was the one. You know, you shoot
the ball. All - basketball players know when that shot feels great, you know,
and then the ball gets on the rim, and it plays with the rim, and it's like,
goes in, and then it feels like an imaginary hand punches it back out of the
net. That's, like, it's not a really good feeling at all.

GROSS: Now, you said that you think what makes your approach to basketball
different, like, your approach is based on, like, your mental approach to the
game. I'm paraphrasing here, but it was something like that. So what do you
mean by that?

Mr. JAMES: That my mental aspect of the game is what?

GROSS: That that's the key to your...

Mr. JAMES: Oh, it is. I mean, I think the game more than I really play it. I
mean, I can play the game pretty good, too. But I really think the game and
approach the game mentally more than physically, you know, and that's watching
film. That's knowing your opponent's likes and dislikes, his pros and cons,
what he like to do, what he don't like to do, who are we playing against this
particular team. You know, what do they like to do? What do they don't like to
do? And that's the way I approach the game. I feel like skill-wise, I'm going
to be okay. Who's going to out-think the game more than the next man in front
of him?

GROSS: You know, we've been talking through the interview about the three other
friends, teammates, who you went to junior high and high school with. What are
they doing now?

Mr. JAMES: Well, my four best friends right now, Dru Joyce is playing
professionally in Poland. Romeo Travis is playing professionally in Germany.
Sian Cotton is playing football at Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, and also
in school. And Willie McGee is getting his - is going to graduate school at the
University of Akron and also working with the men's basketball team.

GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. JAMES: Oh, well, thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

BIANCULLI: LeBron James speaking to Terry Gross last year. "More Than a Game,"
the documentary about his loyalty to this closest childhood friends, is now out
on DVD. And James and his Cleveland Cavaliers play tonight in the NBA Playoffs
in game three against the Boston Celtics.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "Iron Man 2." This is FRESH AIR.
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'Iron Man 2' Is So Money (And Totally Knows It)

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

In 2008, Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man came to the screen starring Robert
Downey Jr. as billionaire arms mogul Tony Stark, who wears an iron suit that
lets him fly around and zap bad guys. In light of that film's superheroic box
office total, Downey and director Jon Favreau are back with "Iron Man 2," which
also features Mickey Rourke as an electrified villain called Whiplash.

Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: As I watched "Iron Man 2," one phrase went through my head.
It's the compliment the male characters paid to one another in director Jon
Favreau's first film, "Swingers,": You're so money. "Iron Man 2," you're so
money.

I don't mean garish or gaudy or without a sense of humor. But in all the
superhero leagues in all the world, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark has the
swankiest pad: a cliffside Malibu mansion that would make Bruce Wayne drool
with envy. In his cool, low-lit lab, a computer with a smooth British voice
supplies his needs, while sexy A-list foils like Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett
Johansson sashay in and out.

Viewers might ask: Can money buy a good movie? Not always, but in this case,
yes. "Iron Man 2" is a smart piece of work. It doesn't have the emotional heft
of "Superman 2" and "Spider-Man 2," those two twos that outclassed their ones.
But Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux have paced it like a screwball
comedy, with fast-talking dames and ping-pong zingers that show off Downey's
expert timing. After promoting Paltrow's Pepper Potts to CEO, he needs a new
assistant — and Johansson's Natalie Rushman, from the legal department, looks
super promising.

(Soundbite of movie. "Iron Man 2")

Ms. GWYNETH PALTROW (Actress): (as Pepper Potts) She is from legal and she is
potentially a very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit if you keep ogling her
like that.

Mr. ROBERT DOWNEY (Actor): (as Tony Stark) I need an awesome person.

Ms. PALTROW: (as Pepper Potts) Yeah, and I've got three excellent potential
candidates all lined up and ready to meet you.

Mr. DOWNEY: (as Tony Stark) I don’t have time to meet. I need someone now. I
feel like it's her.

Ms. PALTROW: (as Pepper Potts) No it's not.

(Soundbite of dialing phone)

Ms. PALTROW: (as Pepper Potts) What are you doing, Googling her now?

Mr. DOWNEY: (as Tony Stark) Mm-hmm. I thought I was ogling her. Oh wow. Very,
very impressive individual. She's fluent in French, Italian, Russian, Latin.
Who speaks Latin?

Ms. PALTROW: (as Pepper Potts) No one speaks Latin. It's a dead language.

Mr. DOWNEY: (as Tony Stark) No one speaks Latin?

EDELSTEIN: "Iron Man 2" does have a plot, and it's functional. It starts where
the first film ended, with Stark admitting publicly to being the guy in the
iron suit flying around battling baddies. "Iron Man" peddled a bogus but
appealing fantasy: that an American from a family that made its fortune selling
weapons to kill people in far-off countries could himself become a weapon — for
peace. So you could, if inclined, applaud the anti-military-industrialist-
complex message but also cheer for a superhero who's the product of military-
industrialist ingenuity. Either way, America is so money.

At first, "Iron Man 2" adds a new wrinkle. Stark gets subpoenaed by a Congress
that resents his boast of having quote, "successfully privatized world peace."
But his chief Senate antagonist, played by Garry Shandling, turns out to be the
puppet of unscrupulous rival weapons-maker Justin Hammer, played by Sam
Rockwell with the perfect ratio of unctuousness to menace. So the politics, in
the end, are moot, and we're left with special effects fighting other special
effects.

To be fair, they're sensational, and we never lose sight of the characters
behind them. Stark has a plug in his chest made from the element palladium that
keeps him alive — but is also poisoning him. So his feats are double-edged: the
more superheroic, the greater the cost to the superhero. Plus, he's facing off
against a Russian supervillain, Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko, who has a chip on
his shoulder the size of an asteroid. Even in prison, it's clear Vanko has the
upper hand. Stark has no idea where Vanko got the technology for his own
electrified supersuit — or how the two men are linked.

Mr. MICKEY ROURKE (Actor): (as Whiplash) You come from a family of thieves and
butchers and now they're all guilty men. You tried to rewrite your own history
and you forget who the likes the Stark family has destroyed.

Mr. DOWNEY: (as Tony Stark) Speaking of thieves, where did you get this design?

Mr. ROURKE: (as Whiplash) My father, Anton Vanko.

Mr. DOWNEY: (as Tony Stark) I never heard of him.

Mr. ROURKE: (as Whiplash) My father is the reason you’re alive.

Mr. DOWNEY: (as Tony Stark) There's no more lives because you had a shot, you
took it. You missed.

Mr. ROURKE: (as Whiplash) Did I?

EDELSTEIN: Mickey Rourke's recent re-emergence is a beautiful thing, the way
Dennis Hopper's was after "Blue Velvet." They're actors who entered death
spirals of excess and were resurrected, though much the worse for wear, and are
equal parts inspiring and scary.

As Vanko, Rourke sports messy tattoos and a mouthful of metal from which he
spits blood — smiling, of course. Decked out as "Whiplash," he throws out arms
extended by long and lethal electric tendrils. He gives "Iron Man 2" a badly
needed sting — a glimpse of personal demons a movie so money can't buy.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can join
us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. And you can download
podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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