Quincy Jones Used to Shine Shoes for Pimps When He Was 12 Years Old — And Here’s How They Like It Done

Quincy Jones has got 28 Grammys, seven Oscar nominations and more wild stories than you can count. It’s no surprise — the 84-year-old music producer is behind some of the most iconic artists, songs and films of all time.

Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” “Thriller” and “Bad” albums are just some of the masterpieces in his portfolio. But it was his first job as a youngster performing shoeshines that helped influence his work ethic.

“I was working for a pimp then, when I was around 12 years old,” Jones recalled on Saturday at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, Calif., where he celebrated the launch of his collaborative shoe collection with Buscemi.

“All the brothers wore Stacy Adams shoes back then — all the pimps,” he explained. “They would get brand new Stacy Adams with the white strings in them; they would take two razor blades and put two cuts on the sides to get bunion comfort. They’d wear white silk stockings under that.”

Jones would take a methodical approach to his duties, which earned him a reputation for high quality.

“The other guys would not dilute the juice — they’d put it on top and mess up their silk stockings and they never saw them again,” Jones said. “I put a toothbrush with some Clorox on it and I’d do the shoe strings first, then I’d get the black shoe liquid and go around the sides. The last place I’d go is where the razor cuts were and it never went into the socks, so they came back. Whatever I do, I want to be the best at it.”

Later, as a touring musician, Jones developed his own penchant for style. “Suede, ascot — everything,” he said.

Jazz musicians such as Lionel Hampton and Kenny Clarke inspired him at the time; he was around 18 years old. “All of them, they were my models, and Malcom X, too.”

Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson grammys
Michael Jackson (L) and Quincy Jones
CREDIT: Rex Shutterstock

Jones has a history of political activism, and while his experience with a young Malcom X was strictly transactional, he was fond of the late activist’s fashion sense. “We used to buy weed from him in the Majestic hotel in Detroit — before he went to jail. He [later] became another Martin Luther King,” Jones recalled. “He had on Italian stuff, amber glasses, like a chameleon.”

As Jones established his career, more boldface names entered his life and influenced his style, like Frank Sinatra, who gifted him a gold ring emblazoned with the Sinatra family crest.

“Sinatra left me that — he wore it for 40 years and gave it to me,” he said of the late musician’s jewelry, which he had on during the kickoff event. “When I go to Sicily I don’t use a passport anymore, I show them that.”

Quincy Jones and Ray Charles
Ray Charles (L) and Quincy Jones
CREDIT: Rex Shutterstock

After completing the score for Steve McQueen’s 1972 drama “The Getaway,” Jones received a bracelet from the film’s star: “It said, ‘I always knew you’d amount to nothing.’” Ray Charles had something even cheekier to say on a trinket: “‘I hope your career is as long as your tongue’ — he put it on a bracelet and gave it to me. These are some ghetto cats.”

Buscemi x Quincy Jones
Buscemi x Quincy Jones
CREDIT: Courtesy of Buscemi
Buscemi x Quincy Jones
Buscemi x Quincy Jones
CREDIT: Courtesy of Buscemi


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