"Mother Earth But Rock 'N Roll," Barb Retires From Amoeba To Begin New Year and New Chapter In Her Life

Posted by Billyjam, January 1, 2015 11:55pm | Post a Comment

Barb (left) with Joan Baez, Roxanne, and Karen at Leopold's in Berkeley, pre-Amoeba.

"Mother Earth but rock 'n roll…and we're all gonna miss her a lot," said Amoeba's Karen about Barb, who is set to retire this week. Following decades of being a recognizable friendly face behind the counter of Bay Area record stores (including the better part of the past two decades at Amoeba Music in Berkeley), passionate music fan and much beloved maternal figure Barbara (or Barb as most know her) is readying to begin a new chapter in her life in the new year.

When Barb began working at Amoeba Music in Berkeley in 1997, she was already an integral part of the Bay Area's rich record store scene following decades of being at Leopold's in Berkeley. She also worked at the Leopold's Oakland store on Telegraph, as well as at her husband Eddy's record store in San Francisco's Mission District. But it was at Leopold's on Durant in Berkeley where most folks at Amoeba first go to know Barb either as record store shoppers or as fellow employees.

Once a vital component of the music world, the long-gone but still missed Leopold's (profiled in two parts on the Amoeblog here and here) was where many Amoeba employees started out their record store careers before the founding of Amoeba Music. Folks such such as Roxanne and Karen (pictured above with Barb when Joan Baez stopped by Leopold's in Berkeley) as well as others including Gail, Jim Henderson, and Mark Beaver all worked at Leopold's before Amoeba. Mark Beaver along with Amoeba Marc and Karen all address the Leopold's/Amoeba connection in the short video below. 

"Coming from Leopold's, she just brought that sense of community with her and a lot of people who used to shop at Leopold's then began shopping at Amoeba because of Barb," said Karen who used terms like "mother earth," "down to earth," "special spirit," and "no nonsense" in describing Barb. "When you first walk into a store, you see this person who really knows their shit and who is really together and that's who Barbara was for record stores from Oakland Leopold's to Berkeley Leopold's to Amoeba." Karen was only 17-years-old when she began working at Leopold's in Berkeley where she met Barb on her first day of work. Barb took her under her wing and made her feel comfortable in what would become her career in record retail.
Amoeba Marc on Barbara who retired end of 2014


Barb's Top Five Album List of the Past Year:

1) Queens of Stone Age ...Like Clockwork

2) Tom Petty Hypnotic Eye

3) Santana Corazón

4) Goapele Strong As Glass

5) Sturgill Simpson Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Amoeblog: Karen mentioned to me about how you had been a part of the rock n roll scene in the Bay Area from early days and how, over the years, you have built a strong relationship with some great artists in the Bay Area such as Bonnie Raitt, Pete Escovedo, and Carlos Santana. Is that accurate?

Barb: Yes, especially Santana. I got to see him when we first came out to San Francisco when my daughter was like one. We were actually able to sit in in a studio in Washington Heights [San Francisco] that they used to practice in and sit on the floor and hear him play and we were like 'Who is this guy?' And the Escovedos - I know the family and they're really nice people. Pete, I call him Pops, and Sheila actually did an in-store for our little record store in The Mission. Eddy, my  husband, had a little record store on 24th and Mission called Fast Eddy's Records and he got them to come in and perform. Those were interesting days because we gave battle with Music Latina and Discolandia Records. We had price wars.

Amoeblog: Speaking of artists doing in-stores, at Leopold's you had a lot of artists who would make a point, it seemed, of doing in-stores there and sometimes they wouldn't do them anywhere else.

Barb: Yes, as I was going over my database recently I realized that there were a lot of artists who would do in-stores or just meet-and-greets at Leopold's and sign the wall. We had a wall there back then and it had tons of autographs of great artists. I distinctly remember Queen Latifah coming in, and without an entourage and without a rep, and just walked in and walked up to the counter and introduced herself to me and she was just the nicest person. 

J. Mark Beaver on Barb from Leopold's to Amoeba

Amoeblog: What would be your best memory of Leopold's

Barb: Hmmm. I think it would have to be the day back in the eighties when we had George Clinton do an in-store and we set up the table for him to sit there and there was a mass of people showed up and everybody was really cool and there was no problems whatsoever. But he was such a character. It was fun to see. 

Amoeblog: When did you leave Leopold's and when did you join Amoeba? Was it in 1990 when Amoeba Berkeley opened?

Barb: No, it was later. It was '97. I stayed at Leopold's until it closed which was 1996 and then I took a year [off] and went to school and learned computer programming. I thought I would go work in an office but then after that year was up I ran into Karen and we started talking and she got me in here and I've been working here ever since.

Amoeblog: Although you and everyone who work at Amoeba have no specific job titles, you've held a sort of human resources role here and consequently dealt with a lot of good people, including many talented artists such as DoseOne and the late Matthew Africa. What have you personally gained from that?

Barb: Yes it's so interesting to think about all the talented people that work here or that have worked here but moved on to do other things in music. It's really amazing and I think that's probably one of the main things that I've loved about this job; yes I'm a little older and they're younger people, but it's such a great thing because I learn from them and hopefully they learn from me.

I mean I can't think of a better job; you're coming to work and you're listening to music. It's like a smorgasbord. You're listening to whatever you want - whatever kind of music you want to get into which is great because over the years my music tastes range and that's good to share with them and they with me. So the love of the music is what bonds us.

Karen on Barb at Leopold's and Amoeba

Amoeblog: So now that you will not be working here at Amoeba anymore do you think you are going to miss out on hearing all this music, new music especially?

Barb: Oh yeah, definitely. And especially since I'm not a downloader. I like to physically see it and feel and play it. But it shouldn't be too hard to keep up since I live just across the street. [laughs]

Amoeblog: So what is next for you now that you are retiring from Amoeba?

Barb: I'm going to think of it as a grand adventure - a new chapter in my life. I'm going to keep busy, going to try to take some classes maybe in the summer and fall just to keep the brain going and I'm going to do some volunteer work. And since I am always on the floor here walking around all the time, I'm probably going to join the gym. And of course I'm going to spend more time with my family. My daughter and my granddaughter live in Castro Valley and a lot of times it's difficult to get together. We're on the phone a lot but to physically get together has been hard, so I'll be able to do that now. 


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Leopold's Berkeley (1), Amoeba Music Berkeley (26), Barbara (1), Barb (1), Leopold's Oakland (1)