Posted by Billyjam, September 4, 2008 01:25pm | Post a Comment
MC Lyte stops thru Leopold Records Berkeley
Any longtime Bay Area music fan knew and loved the long gone Berkeley record store Leopold Records (circa '68 - '96), which used to be located at 2518 Durant in the block above Telegraph Ave. and down from Bowditch Street. Back in the day you could go spend lots of time (and money) as the hours slipped past and you got lost digging in their never-ending rows of music, invariably getting assistance along the way from the store's dedicated staff, who really knew their stuff and were more than happy to share that musical knowledge.

At one point, Oakland emcee Del tha Funkee Homosapien even worked at Leopold! The store, for Bay Area rap fans, was the number one destination when you wanted to get the latest hip-hop releases. The store also had many artists stop by, including MC Lyte (pictured above) and Saafir, who once did an in-store (well, technically an out-store, since it was right outside the building) at Leopold. (See video clip in the second part of this two-part Leopold Records' Amoeblog.) Scroll down below to see Joan Baez at a Leopold instore performance from 1993, singing a version of "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" that includes, much to the crowd's delight, a spot-on imitation of Bob Dylan. Michael Jackson even did made an appearance at Leopold's back in his heyday.

Leopold's many former employees went on to other music industry positions: former rap buyer Daria Kelly now works at Six Degrees Records in San Francisco. Read her Amoeblog interview recalling Leopold Records' role in the hip-hop community in Part II of this Amoeblog remembering Leopold's.
Many Amoeba Music employees also worked at Leopold's and consequently, it seems, have carried over that tradition of truly caring about the business that they are in. Amoeba Music's Karen P (in pics both above & below) is one of those people who used to be a part of Leopold's. I recently asked her if she thought there was a connection between her old place of employment and Amoeba Music. She replied: "Yes, there definitely is a connection, both philosophically and in spirit. Part of it might be that much of the beginning (and even current) Amoeba staff started at Leopold's." Karen listed some of those individuals as Mark Beaver (in B&W picture below), Craig Bishop, Lisa Loomis, Stacy Young, Roxanne (in MC Lyte pic), Barbara Ballesteros, and Lynne Brady. (Read Amoebite Lynne Brady's wonderful stream-of-consciousness rap recollections of Leopold in Part II of this Amoeblog -- to be posted tomorrow, Friday.)

That philosophy or mind set, said Karen P, is that, "It is all about community...the music community and the community of music: creating a place where people can come together and share music [in] an independent place which reflects the community it is a part of. I feel there is a definite synergy between Leopold's and Amoeba. Amoeba was almost an evolution of Leopold's and some of the great independent record stores."


For hip-hop fans like myself, that was certainly the case. Leopold Records was the first destination for most rap fans hankering for the latest releases, especially indie label hip-hop on vinyl and cassette. Amoebite and former Leopold employee Roxanne agreed with Karen, recalling recently (and coincidentally as she was wearing a Leopold T-shirt) that Leopold, "Was very much into promoting hip-hop and hip-hop artists in our community. We did all we could to bring hip-hop to the forefront." Proof of this commitment to local music lies in the Leopold Bay Area Hip-Hop Top Ten Chart from January 1996, to be reprinted in Part II of this two-part Amoeblog on Leopold Records.

Leopold's tech history addendum:

Also of interest to tech-oriented historians, according to several sources including this Wikipedia posting, in the early seventies Leopold Records was the home for Community Memory, which predated email and the world wide web by many years and was the first public computerized bulletin board system. It was reportedly established in 1973 in Berkeley, where it used an SDS 940 timesharing system in San Francisco connected via a 110 baud link to a teletype at Leopold Records, and it let users enter and retrieve messages.

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Joan Baez (4), Leopold Records (4), Amoeba Music (74), Del (12)