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'Jerry Garcia Was My Banjo Instructor'

A new book entitled 'California Slim' is an endearing journey through two decades of Bay Area rock and roll music, and the story of a Palo Altan smack dab in the middle of it all.

 

Sometimes, a guy is just lucky enough to be born at the right time and in the right place.

Andrew Bernstein seems to be one of those guys.

From page one of his new book, California Slim:

It was March 1962 when I invested in a hundred-dollar banjo and began lessons on Tuesday nights at Dana Morgan Studio Music Shop in downtown Palo Alto. A young guy with a shock of black hair, a goatee, and black horn-rimmed glasses on his nose came out to meet me when I checked in for my first lesson.

"Are you my seven o'clock?"

"Yeah."

"What's your name?"

"Andy Bernstein"

"I'm Jerry Garcia. Follow me."

©California Slim: The Music, the Magic, and the Madness

"He was kind of a severe teacher because he was such a purist at the time," says Bernstein. "Even a little uptight, not really relaxed. But I later produced many shows for his side bands, and we became pretty good friends. As (The Grateful Dead) became famous, it was just the reverse. (Garcia) became very relaxed, earthy, down-to-earth, funny, a regular guy."

Andrew Bernstein was born in San Francisco and raised in Palo Alto. Now in corporate sales in the East Bay, but still living on the Peninsula, he returned to Palo Alto Sunday afternoon to reminisce about the turbulent 1960's and 1970's with an audience of about 100, many aging hippies. A look around the crowd spotted at least one peace medallion on a necklace.

Bernstein took 13 years to write his book, and "set the record straight."

To show the depth of Bernstein's involvement in the Bay Area music scene at the time, one only needs to view the index of the book. Well-known names like Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Boz Skaggs, Leon Russell, Bonnie Raitt, Country Joe McDonald, and Van Morrison make Bernstein a leading candidate to host a stunning name-droppers party.

"There's only people in the book that I worked with," says the six-foot-seven-inch man. "I didn't go looking for any of those people."

Country singer Willie Nelson's name comes up on more than 90 pages. "The most soulful man I ever worked with," says Bernstein, "and the closest to my heart."

The book is filled with some sex, a wisp of 60's drugs, and a heavy dose of rock and roll. There are the shows he produced for Bill Graham at the Fillmore.

Page Mill Road, Pescadero and Palo Alto's Peninsula Creamery are there.

So is his 1961 VW Microbus. And the night he thought death was imminent, when, stoned on LSD, the father of the young girl he was groping came home and confronted the nude dude with a gnarly knife.

"The big question for me was whether I could re-create these events in such a way that I could transport our readers to be in the time, and in the same mindset that I was when these events occurred," says Bernstein.

"It was big climb and a big challenge, but that was my goal, and personally I don't think I wasted 13 years. I only had to please one person." "But," Bernstein adds, "he was a pretty tough critic."

Comedian Robin Williams once famously said "If you remember the '60's, you weren't there." As the back jacket of California Slim notes, "Thank god Bernstein took notes." 

The book is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions. Reviewers are heaping on five-star praise.

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