Leonard Jones was one of the standout seventies dancers on Soul Train with his wide smile and together dance moves as well as those sharp and chic suits he wore. Aside from being a Soul Train dancer, Leonard was blessed with musical talent since childhood and in the years since Soul Train has become a sought after musician and producer working with major artists. But it all began when he danced on Soul Train.
SoulTrain.com: Before you danced on Soul Train, what were your aspirations growing up?
Leonard Jones: Basically what I am doing right now, writing music and producing songs. God gifted me with the ability to recreate whatever I heard. I used to walk to school singing songs and in church I played drum and piano so what I am doing now just kind of grew out of those experiences.
SoulTrain.com: Were there any artists who inspired you or influenced you?
Leonard Jones: Yes, Donny Hathaway and Dexter Wansel were two artists that appealed to me.
SoulTrain.com: How did you become a dancer on Soul Train?
Leonard Jones: I did a martial arts exhibit at LLCC, and after it was over a young lady who was there and I started talking and she said she was a dancer on Soul Train and she liked my moves and asked if I would like to come on the show as her dancer partner. I said yes and the rest, as they say, is history.
SoulTrain.com: What do you remember about that first day on Soul Train?
Leonard Jones: It was an extremely long day! I had never been in a television studio before, so that was a first for me. Also, I got a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch! It was great seeing, meeting, and fellowshipping with all of the dancers and getting to know everybody, and it grew from there as the Soul Train family we have now. To all the dancers who have passed away, including Little Joe Chism and Jermaine Stewart, I pay my respects to them because without them we wouldn’t be here. So many of them have passed on. When I watch the old shows, it’s sad that half of the guys are gone.
SoulTrain.com: Indeed. As I always say, the seventies Soul Train dancers were the roots that influenced the dancers who followed, including myself definitely. You wore some really together suits and dressed so sharp. Where did you get your suits from?
Leonard Jones: Out of a store called Zeidler & Zeidler, which had a large chain of clothing stores and I was one of their number one salesmen. As a matter of fact, because I worked at the store I was able to utilize the store’s clothing and would wear them in various issue of Right On! Magazine. I used to be called the “GQ of Soul Train.”
SoulTrain.com: You must have done the Soul Train Scramble Board like ten times! Do you still have any leftover containers of Ultra Sheen or Afro Sheen products you won as prizes?
Leonard Jones: I did it about eight or nine times! But you know what’s funny? I never received any of the Ultra Sheen or Afro Sheen products. I got the 8-track cassette player but I never got the Ultra Sheen or Afro Sheen products!
SoulTrain.com: I never received anything either after doing the Scramble Board, but at least we got the KFC!
Leonard Jones: Yeah! I actually did get one or two bottles of Afro-Sheen, but not a year’s supply of the products. But those were some really good times.
SoulTrain.com: I know you’ve seen numerous artists perform on Soul Train, but were there any particular artists that stand out from your memory that performed on the show?
Leonard Jones: For sure! Labelle, Minnie Riperton, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye. When Nancy Wilson came on the show, she kissed me on the cheek and told me I was cute.
SoulTrain.com: I’ll bet you didn’t wash your face for a week!
Leonard Jones: I had a big crush on her. There were many artists I was able to talk to. They would be in the green room, but for some reason we were able to strike up conversations with them which was cool. Marlon Jackson and I were pretty tight back in the day. I lived in Tarzana and the Jacksons lived in Encino and I would always run into them. I remember going to the Jacksons’ house on Hayvenhurst Avenue and showing Marlon how to do flips. Another group I recall on the show was the Commodores. I was Lionel Richie’s favorite dancer. I was able to meet him at Hitsville West, Motown’s recording studio in Hollywood, and got a chance to see them rehearse. Fast forward years later, I was working for and touring with Lionel. I also worked with Walter Orange of the Commodores.
SoulTrain.com: Did you have a favorite dance partner while you were on the show?
Leonard Jones: Crystal, Keedah, and Benita Hill—who is Chaka Khan’s cousin, and a whole bunch of others, but I thoroughly enjoyed those first three I mentioned.
SoulTrain.com: Since I am a robot dancer, I have to say that I really admired your robot dancing. I saw one particular show and you were roboting like Michael Jackson.
Leonard Jones: Thanks! Back then all of the dancers you saw that we did on Soul Train we were doing at Maverick’s Flat on Crenshaw. That was the place. We’d see all kinds of people there like Richard Pryor, Undisputed Truth, Lakeside who was called the Ohio Lakeside before they became famous. There was also a Soul Train dancer named Karl Grigsby who was a comedian who performed there. He was a really funny comic. John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever had nothing on us at Maverick’s Flat at all!
SoulTrain.com: Indeed, not at all! I heard from all of the other dancers that those clubs in Los Angeles were really something, like the Climax and the Citadel.
Leonard Jones: Yeah, the Summit and Disco 9000. Those clubs were the places to be.
SoulTrain.com: Did you ever interact with Don Cornelius?
Leonard Jones: Don was a little standoffish, although he liked the way I dressed and I was able to get on the risers. I also have to give a shout out to Pam Brown and her cousin and brother who passed. It was just one big happy family on the show. We had a great time. Aretha Franklin’s son, Eddie Franklin, Jeffrey Daniels, and I were the closest of buddies at that time. We hung out at Aretha’s house and I played on her piano and ate her great cooking. We also hung out at Jody Watley’s house. Those were just some great times and experiences.
SoulTrain.com: There was one Soul Train line when you were coming down the line and you pulled up the hem of your pants to show off the socks you were wearing.
Leonard Jones: Yes! I wore and showed off my multi-colored socks and did my little dance.
SoulTrain.com: Did you ever have any funny or embarrassing moments on Soul Train like tripping on the Soul Train line or falling off of the risers, like some of the other dancers told me?
Leonard Jones: No, I never fell or anything. The only thing that was embarrassing for me wasn’t on the show; it was when I had a place in Santa Monica and I was trying to impress this girl by showing her my pool and I fell in the pool!
SoulTrain.com: What was your first professional music job?
Leonard Jones: I worked with a local artist first, but the first real big job was working on the soundtrack of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Prior to that I had done Jermaine Jackson’s Don’t Take It Personal tour and the guy who hired me for Disney was Denzil “Broadway” Miller. I had my own recording studio and he hired me to do the pre-production for The Little Mermaid, and it grew from there. I worked with Ray Charles during the last seven years of his life. I also worked with Earth, Wind & Fire and Phillip Bailey on his solo project. I mixed and mastered Al McKay and the All Stars’ Live in Mount Fuji, Japan. I also worked with The Whispers, The Commodores and Domino from Ghetto Jam and many others.
SoulTrain.com: Who are you working with currently?
Leonard Jones: There are some new artists I am working with now. I am working with is Derrick Gambrell, a multi-platinum award-winning producer.
SoulTrain.com: What would you like to say in memory of Don Cornelius?
Leonard Jones: Because of his vision, I am able to have a life. Blessings to you, Stephen, for helping to keep the spirit of Soul Train alive. There are so many lives that Soul Train definitely touched. When you see programs like So You Can Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, Soul Train influenced them. Tyrone Proctor and Jeffrey Daniels and other former Soul Train dancers are still working, based upon what we did as kids on Soul Train.
SoulTrain.com: What word of wisdom do you want to share?
Leonard Jones: Whatever you want to do, do it with passion. Find something that you love to do and it will make room for itself.
Journalist, actor, filmmaker, dancer, performer, writer, poet, historian and choreographer. That’s Stephen McMillian.