Working with Bernard "Barney" Beck
by Pete Weiss
Barney Beck was the night shift (5:30 pm to 1:30 am) engineering supervisor at Columbia Records studios during my time there as an engineer. Barney was a gentle giant of a man, generous of spirit, tolerant of the nonsense that often accompanied the creative process, including the clouds of pot smoke that wafted in the hallway of the fourth floor of 49 E. 52nd St., where the mixing rooms were located. His face could have been on the cover of a Zane Grey western novel, and many people who came to work on the fourth floor started to call him "the sheriff." He definitely looked the part, so much so that one producer (I don't recall which) brought him a white Stetson hat, which he sometimes wore. Barney lived in Huntington, Long Island, where he kept several hives of honeybees. Many of us bought raw honey from his hives as well as beeswax candles his wife made by hand. He never pushed the "merch," just let us know it was available. Ironically, Mrs. Beck was severely allergic to bee venom, but supported Barney's efforts and created beautiful paintings of bees and blossoms.
But the Barney story that stands out in my memory more than any other is the one he told me one evening, probably 1970 or '71, when we were both sitting in his office, neither of us having anything pressing to do. Barney proceeds to tell me that as he was driving home on Jericho Turnpike (a major east-west road on Long Island) two nights prior, a racoon ran out from the side of the road and struck his car. Barney pulled over, and found that the racoon was deceased. Anyone else might have moved the body to the side of the road or just driven on, but not Barney. He got a blanket from his trunk, wrapped the racoon in it, put it in the trunk and drove home. He put the racoon in the freezer in his garage, and next day went to the library to find recipes for racoon, and instructions on how to preserve the pelt! Yes, he actually cooked the racoon! I asked him how it tasted. His response: "Gamey. I didn't finish it." I miss Barney to this day.