A chat with Dave Prinz of Amoeba Music, the world-famous indie-record store (2024)

Amoeba Music – you don’t have to be a microbiologist to recognize that name.

Started in Berkeley in 1990 by music-loving record collectors Marc Weinstein, Dave Prinz and Mike Boyder, Amoeba sprouted locations in San Francisco and Hollywood and soon became the biggest independent music store in the world. Amoeba sells and trades records, sure, but it has also delivered legendary in-store concerts with Valhalla-level artists like Patti Smith and Paul McCartney.

Downloading, streaming and the pandemic took their toll in recent years, and Amoeba was forced to temporarily close its L.A. store. But it’s since reentered the good times, surging on a wave of vinyl demanded by a new generation of vintage record lovers. Step into the Berkeley location, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the delightful things on offer. There are sections for jazz, metal, New Orleans, soundtracks and spoken word (like “Allen Ginsberg Reads Kaddish,” which the poet wrote on Dexedrine and LSD). There are $100 sealed Miles Davis LPs and $1 cassette tapes, T-shirts for The Germs and Public Enemy and clothing patches for James Brown and the Sex Pistols.

A chat with Dave Prinz of Amoeba Music, the world-famous indie-record store (1)

These days, Prinz lives in Point Reyes but spends time on Maui, where he paused during a recent tropical squall to chat.

Amoeba wouldn’t exist without cannabis >>>

After Prinz sold his Bay Area chain of Captain Video stores in the 1980s, he was looking for something else to get into. Shopping at San Francisco’s Streetlight Records, he met Weinstein, the store manager, and formed a fragrant bond. “I used to bring back pot from Hawaii, which he’d never had,” Prinz recalls. They decided to open an independent music store in a college town — Berkeley. “We became pretty good friends, and that’s how Amoeba started – me smoking Hawaiian pot with Marc Weinstein.”

A huge day in Amoeba history involved Sir Paul McCartney >>>

Amoeba has held in-store concerts for everyone from Nancy Sinatra to Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, The White Stripes and Billie Eilish. Prinz’s favorite memory? In 2007, Paul McCartney and his touring band recorded a secret concert at the Hollywood Amoeba. In the audience was Alanis Morissette, Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr. “Ringo didn’t really like to be in crowds, and he was a little nervous,” says Prinz. “I said, ‘Why don’t you stand in my row, and I’ll guard the end?’ Ringo felt comfortable enough in the crowd to watch his old bandmate.”

Celebrities love (and love shopping at) Amoeba >>>

Eric Clapton was swarmed by customers on his visit, but Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have shopped there with no problems – though Plant, when asked to step around a security gate, joked that “for a bunch of hippies, you guys sure have a lot of rules!”

A chat with Dave Prinz of Amoeba Music, the world-famous indie-record store (2)

Prinz was “totally surprised” that vinyl came back >>>

For a while, the customer base at Amoeba was aging. It was like a baseball team with no farm system – you need young people coming up through the ranks to shop and trade, and that wasn’t happening. Then somehow, vinyl became popular again. “Kids are buying vinyl, and it’s cool,” says Prinz. “I can’t tell you why, exactly. I guess people came to the realization that it’s cool. It’s always been cool. It wasn’t viewed as cool for a while, but now it’s cool again.

“We love to have kids from UC Berkeley shop in our stores, because they’re the future of America and the future of people who are going to support the music industry. Having kids shop for vinyl again has changed everything. Go to a store on Record Store day, and you’ll see how many there are, looking for artists they care about.”

CDs aren’t headed for the landfill, just yet >>>

Sales may be down for new compact discs, but Amoeba is selling more used CDs than ever before. “There’s a big market for those, because there’s a lot of stuff not on vinyl right now,” Prinz says.

A chat with Dave Prinz of Amoeba Music, the world-famous indie-record store (3)

And don’t throw away your old boombox >>>

Everything has its cycles. Right now, physical media is experiencing a huge boom. “Even cassettes are popular again, which is really crazy,” says Prinz. “That’s a format you’d think would be totally dead by now.”

A chat with Dave Prinz of Amoeba Music, the world-famous indie-record store (4)

Expect a big Louis Armstrong project to drop soon >>>

Prinz has spent almost a decade hunting down items from the jazz giant’s 400-page discography and hopes to do, he says, what “iTunes and Spotify couldn’t do, which is actually put a discography of an artist together correctly.” Armstrong was never beholden to one label – he recorded for more than 50. When Decca tried to lock him up by sending thugs out to “persuade” him (this was a real practice), he moved to France to record for a couple of years.

Prinz tracked down hundreds of sources from around the planet to gather and remaster his catalog. “It was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle,” he says. “At least half the songs in that discography weren’t official releases, and most people haven’t heard them. I’d like to get those out sometime soon as a downloading site (supported by donations). I think that’d be a real gift to the world.”

A chat with Dave Prinz of Amoeba Music, the world-famous indie-record store (5)

The jams an independent record-store founder listens to are … obscure >>>

“I love collecting records, that’s how I got into this business,” Prinz says. “My dream was, I used to go into a record store, right? And I’d see this big stack of cool records that just came in and see a guy going over them and then the owner coming over to look at them. I said, ‘I want to be that guy – the guy who gets to look at the stack of records first, before everybody else gets in there, and you have to fight for the ones everybody wants.’ And now I am.”

Prinz has about 4,000 CDs and perhaps 6,000 LPs, but what he’s digging at the moment is playing 78s on a 1948 Wurlitzer jukebox. “I have almost every Django Reinhardt 78 – he’s one of my favorite artists – and a lot of rockabilly 78s. I just got this amazing 78 of Eddie Bond doing ‘Slip, Slip, Slippin’ In,’ which I’ve been looking for for years. I got Ray Charles’ ‘Hit the Road Jack’ recently, which is a great 78 to hear, and 10 Beatles 78s, real ones, like an acetate of the Beatles doing ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’ at a BBC session. That’s what I’m really into, so I’m really retro.”

More…

Amoeba Music is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday at 2455 Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily at 1855 Haight St. in San Francisco.

Hear Bay Beats — streaming music playlists that showcase local artists, a collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library — at baybeats.sfpl.org.

A chat with Dave Prinz of Amoeba Music, the world-famous indie-record store (2024)

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