Shelly Yakus is one of the true legends of the engineering trade, and his storied career demonstrates the value of an early start.
You might even say he was born to record. His father and uncle were co-owners of Ace Recording in Boston, and young Shelly was a studio “rugrat” as far back as he can remember.
As a young man, dazzled by the excitement of the New York studio scene, in 1967 Yakus applied for a job as an assistant at Phil Ramone’s fabled A&R Recording.
After cutting his teeth on sessions by The Band (Music from Big Pink) and Van Morrison (Moondance), Yakus moved on to another staff position at The Record Plant.
There he recorded and/or mixed records for everybody from John Lennon (Walls and Bridges) to Patti Smith (“Because the Night”), Blue Oyster Cult (Agents of Fortune), Alice Cooper (School’s Out), and the Raspberries (“All the Way”) among many others.
While still holding his staff job at Record Plant, he started freelancing with producer Jimmy Lovine; one of their first efforts was Tom Petty’s breakthrough album, Damn the Torpedoes.
After that, as a freelancer and later as chief engineer at A&M, Yakus logged credits on hits by Don Henley, U2, Lone Justice, and Bob Seger.
In this interview, Yakus touches on sessions by the Band, Van Morrison and John Lennon while reflecting on the essential elements—both immutable and ephemeral—of the music recording art.
The interview took place in August at Yakus’ new recording home, Tongue and Groove Studios in downtown Philadelphia.
Owned by vintage instrument and gear collector Michael Block and his partner Dave Johnson, Tongue and Groove is a place with the 1950’s analog gear intertwines with the 21st century digital reality—the starting point of our conversation.