The audio business is deeply personal for me, as it is for many of us. When I first met Leslie Ann Jones in 1991, I was thrilled to finally meet a female engineer. To see a woman in the boys' club and seeing her outshine the boys has been inspirational to me.
She is a multiple Grammy Award-winning recording engineer working as Director of Music Recording and Scoring at Skywalker Sound, a Lucasfilm, Ltd. company. She is the daughter of novelty drummer, percussionist and bandleader Spike Jones and his wife, singer Helen Grayco.
But to categorize Leslie Ann Jones as noteworthy because she's a woman is insulting. She is one of the most revered engineer/producers of her generation. She is extraordinarily competent with a keen sense of humor and enormously generous to her associates. I learned a great deal in the time that I spent with her.
What I also discovered was how respected she is by her peers. One recordist told me, "I strive to be like her every time I enter the studio." She has also been remarkably generous and involved with the audio community, having served in leadership positions with SPARS and NARAS and donating her time each summer to teach recording to girls at the Institute for Musical Arts in Massachusetts.
She was, and still is, my role model.
I wanted to talk a lot about your background — your childhood, your father and how that affected who you are now.
We traveled when we were younger, before we were in school. Then once we were in school, we only traveled with him during the summer breaks. So we'd spend a lot of time in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe — places like that. My parents performed on a ship on the way to Hawaii, and then performed at a hotel in Hawaii for a couple of weeks, so the whole family went, including my grandparents. That was fun.
Did you have interest in music as kid?
You know, I did, but not in any really specific way. I just remember being around music all the time. There wasn't really much for us to do at night when we were in Las Vegas, except to go watch my parents' show, or go see other people perform. So I was just surrounded by music quite a bit. My dad had a very eclectic record collection, ranging from Elvis Presley to classical music to Brazilian music and percussion music. My mom was a big fan of the great singers of her day. So we'd sit in her car on our way to church listening to Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra — I never was too far from it.
Did you ever go to a studio with your father when he was recording?
He did most of his recording before I was born. I recall spending more time in the television studio. At that time there were what were called summer replacement shows, so he had a summer replacement for The Danny Thomas Show. The tapings were every Thursday or Friday, and we'd go down to CBS Television City in L.A. and watch the taping of his show. Sometimes I'd go with him to radio interviews. But I actually do not recall ever being at a recording session with him.
How did you become a recording engineer?
Well, my father died just before I turned 14. I shortly thereafter ended up getting an electric guitar and a small amp and started playing. Then I was in a group with my cousins, and I was a singer and guitar player. It was kind of a folk vocal group. So we did a lot of recording when I was a teenager. We had a producer, Michel Rubini, who was Sonny and Cher's musical director. He took us under his wing, and was able to tack on our sessions at the end of other ones that he was doing. So during my teenage years we spent a lot of time recording what were called "sides". We'd do four sides. We were lucky to have some of the greatest session players in the record industry at that time on our records — in fact, I saw the movie recently, The Wrecking Crew, and many of the people in that group of musicians played on our records. But nothing was ever released. It was kind of the sad Hollywood story of the A&R guy that liked us getting fired, or the label we were signed to was sold and all the new label wanted were the bigger artists. Eventually I was with a band that I had bought a PA for, and when the band broke up I got the PA and I just started doing sound for other groups. I was kind of at that stage of my guitar- playing career where if I wanted to be a professional musician, I was going to have to go back to school and actually learn what the heck I was doing. I was already in my late teens, early twenties, was making a living and couldn't go back. I found I really enjoyed and had a real aptitude for mixing and sound and I figured if I needed to start at the beginning, I could do that. So I formed a PA company with a couple of friends of mine and we pooled our equipment together. We were doing live sound for bands, and I actually had a small recording studio in the basement of my...